Over Stacked

My TBR piles are out of control. I have more books than a person can read in a lifetime. If there is a support group for book hoarders, I could be elected its president. But it's all good. I'll just build more bookshelves.

"Burning Up" Turned Out to Be a Fizzle


I got about 25% of the way through Anne Marsh's "Burning Up" before I couldn't take it any more and had to chuck it into the DNF pile. Perhaps some of the issues I had might have gotten cleared up by the end, but too many other things irritated me too much to persevere.


I won't summarize the story because you can get that from Amazon or Goodreads.


Specifically bothersome for me:


Hero and smoke jumper Jack Donovan is insanely pushy and overbearing. He calls heroine Lily "baby" constantly and practically sexually assaults her when he shows up at her house, insisting that she do whatever he says because she's in danger.


Speaking of danger...how coincidental that Lily's stalker just so happens to be a pyromaniac when the book is about men who fight fires for a living. Really? And it took Jack all of five minutes and a single google search to figure out that Lily was being stalked and that was the reason she'd moved back to their tiny hometown.


Lily and Jack had some kind of big history, yet all that is mentioned is one night when Jack gave her a ride home and kissed her goodnight. Big deal. Maybe there is more that is shown later, but this certainly didn't make for any big romance in my book. They never dated because "Jack/Lily was off limits because he/she was dangerous/innocent" yet both seem to know everything about each other. When did this happen?


Besides, Lily and Jack are supposedly four years apart in age, so how is it that they were ever even in high school together? When they have their one big romantic moment, Lily is 16 which would have made Jack 20. This is just wrong.


Perhaps most annoying, however, is Marsh's writing tic of including a character's name in nearly every single line of dialogue. It got beyond tedious.


"So, Jack, what are you doing back in town?"

"I've come home to fight fires, Lily."

"Well what are you doing at my farm, Jack?"

"You are in danger, Lily. You need to leave."

"No, Jack. I"m not leaving. This is MY farm."

"Then I'm just going to move in with you, Lily. I'm going to harass you until you agree to sleep with me."

"But at the end of the summer you'll be leaving, Jack."

"Yes, I will, Lily."


Glad I got this one on sale.



My Story

My Story - Elizabeth  Smart, Chris Stewart I listened to this on audio, and while I was riveted by Elizabeth Smart's story and the horror that she endured, I have to agree with others who admit to having problems with the book itself.

The audio is narrated by Elizabeth Smart herself, who very often took a sarcastic tone when reading parts where her disgust and disdain for Mitchell and Barzee were obvious. While I have no doubt that she did have sarcastic thoughts, the tone gave her the feeling of an irritated teenager rather than an abused kidnap victim. It was almost as if, in her overzealous effort to assure readers that she never developed Stockholm syndrome or ever had any positive feelings at all for her captors, she's allowing her grown-up self to interject a higher level of disdain than I can imagine her teen captive self would have felt free to express without fear of retribution.

Too, I became very frustrated by Smart's constant suggestions of abuse and horror only to be followed by a complete lack of detail. Not that I expected a prurient description of the degrading things she was forced to endure, but it does no good to say simply that Mitchell "described a disgusting act" without any context. The spectrum of "disgusting acts" is pretty broad. Or another example - she states that when she tried to escape once, she was severely chastised to such a degree she wasn't willing to risk it again. In my mind, a severe scolding doesn't seem so dis-incentivising. What, exactly, had her punishment been? She talks about how Barzee treated her like a slave, but she doesn't mention what that meant. Did she have to do all of the work in camp, and if so, what was there to do? They lived in filth and Mitchell would never have let her go off on her own to get water or food, so how was she treated like a slave? Details like that would have better fleshed out her story and helped to paint a clearer picture of what she went through. If she truly wanted to express her real experience, she chose to leave far too much in the dark.

And while I know that this is strictly Elizabeth Smart's story and she stated up front that she had no desire to ever understand what drove either Mitchell or Barzee to commit their twisted evil crimes, there were parts of the story that could have benefited from objective, pscyhological input. For example, at one point it appears that Mitchell has abandoned Barzee and Smart, leaving them to starve to death in their camp. While Smart re-iterates ad nauseum why she never felt capable of trying to escape even when Mitchell had left the camp, I kept wondering why the adult Barzee would remain there without food for that long. We get no insight as to her actions at all.

One thing that I found strange - Smart was taken when she was fourteen, turning fifteen while in captivity. Many, many times she describes herself as a "little girl", giving this fact as a key reason for her absolute submission to Mitchell and belief in his ability to kill her entire family should she try to escape, thus her inability to speak up when the chances of rescue were within reach. I am the mother of a fifteen year old girl, and I would never consider her "little". When I hear the phrase "little girl" I see a six or seven year old, or even a ten or eleven year old. I think this means that at the time of her kidnapping, Elizabeth must have been relatively immature or extremely sheltered to view herself as so much younger than a person in their teens would be. NOT that I am saying she didn't truly believe her life was in danger and wasn't in constant fear and thus had good reasons for her actions, just that I needed some more backstory to correlate her reactions with her chronological age since they seem a bit shifted to me.

For those who know nothing or very little about the Elizabeth Smart case - I vaguely remembered the news stories but never paid attention to the story once she'd been rescued and didn't know anything about the trials - this is an informative way to learn the story. However, after listening to the book, I don't exactly feel like I got the behind-the-scenes truth about what she went through.

Cruel Beauty

Cruel Beauty - Rosamund Hodge Would actually give this 3.5 stars if possible. Had a great premise, but the story got weighted down by a convoluted mythology and a heroine who seemed to have multiple personality disorder. This book could have been great if Beast would have been a demon and Beauty a true assassin sent to kill him in order to save her kingdom. Instead, we get a watered-down love triangle that smacked of insta-love and a 'trained killer' who had no idea how to fight her husband.

Beauty Queens

Beauty Queens - Libba Bray I alternated between listening to the audio version read by author Libba Bray - excellent and hysterical - to reading the book, which I didn't enjoy nearly as much. Bray's accents kept the action moving and made the characters feel more real. However, the book is such a heavy satire, that parts of it were so over the top as to make me cringe. I would have liked this a lot better if it would have taken itself just a bit more seriously.

Crash into You

Crash into You - Katie McGarry I gave it the solid 100+ page try, but I just couldn't finish this book. It makes me sad, because I loved "Pushing the Limits" and liked "Dare You To," so I really expected to like Isaiah's story. But when he thought about Rachel as "the angel" for the umpteenth time, I got eye strain from heavy rolling. Throw in the fact that she is the wimpiest, door mat of a girl as I've ever come across and I just couldn't get over how much these characters filled me with not caring. Then there was the insta-love/protectiveness. Please.

Plus, I'm sorry, I know that cars and racing are a big thing for some people. But really, I can't relate to characters who refer to their cars as "their baby". Just didn't get this at all.

Maybe I'll try again some day. But for now, this one just fell flat for me.


Pretenders - Lisi Harrison Consider yourself WARNED - this book is the first of a series and it just ends. Full stop, no closure for any of the characters. You will have to read the next book if you want to know how any of this works out.

I LOVED this book until it ended. Everything about it drew me in, and I turned pages like crazy. And then...it just ended. Every single character was left dangling with a full-stop cliff hanger. I've never been so furious. I don't mind books that are part of a series with an over-all arc, but I expect each individual book to have some form of closure at the end. This had none of it. Worst of all, there was no warning that this would be the case - that this was the first book in a series. If I had known that, I wouldn't have started it until the next book was available. I feel so used and frustrated.

The Edumacation of Jay Baker

The Edumacation of Jay Baker - Jay  Clark I wanted to like this book more than I did. Jay Baker is a fun character, a self-proclaimed geek who really had more going for him than he understood. But unfortunately, the affected writing style distracted me so much from the story that this is what I will remember about this book.

Almost every other sentence contained a pun, pop culture reference or a play on words. Both the dialogue and the narrative are full of over-the-top cleverness, and not a single word spin was left unspun. Rather than making Jay sound hip and cool, the affectation created a lack of relatability to a character who was otherwise very likeable. No one, not even the coolest of cool teens, talks this way. And if one doesn't understand the basis of the word play, the reference falls completely flat.

If you can overlook the high concept writing style, the story itself is adequate. Jay has a crush on his long time best friend, Cameo, a girl who seems to like having Jay available as her backup when her other relationships crash and burn. Jay's parents' marriage is self-destructing at an alarming rate. And his former best friend turned enemy, Mike, has ramped up his bullying efforts to a high pitch. The only bright spot in Jay's life is new girl Caroline, a tennis star with an overbearing father and secrets of her own.

Jay's story is mildly amusing due mostly to his jaded outlook, but Cameo and Caroline are not given enough personality to make me care who he ultimately chooses as a romantic partner. A 3.5 star read.

Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss - Stephanie Perkins A nice, light read with a likeable heroine and a romantic hero.

Anna's father thinks spending her senior year studying at the School of America in Paris would be a fantastic experience, shipping her overseas against her wishes. I found this setup to be a bit thin - what parent would actually force his child to change schools during her senior year for no truly good reason? Anyway, at first, Anna is nervous about leaving the school's relatively safe environment to explore the exciting city of Paris, but her new friends step up to introduce her to the joys of Parisienne living. The handsome and charming Etienne St. Clair - half French, half American, raised in London - becomes Anna's closest friend and ally, and before she knows it, her feelings become love. However, St. Clair already has a girlfriend.

Anna was a likeable character, and with his English accent, St. Clair (as everyone calls him) is just the right amount of appealing. The author did a great job invoking the sights and foods of Paris. The pace of the book move along quickly, and the romance between Anna and St. Clair was genuine and sweet.

The few missteps - a cardboard, stereotype mean girl villain, a predictable subplot, and the fact that half way through the story, Anna begins calling St. Clair by his first name, Etienne, which seemed silly by that point. But overall, I really enjoyed this book.

Tales from Foster High

Tales from Foster High - John  Goode Overall a good story, but I found it a bit too preachy. While I'm sure that the traumatic experience of coming out of the closet as a teenage boy is very real and that this story depicts some of the worst aspects of such an event, the soap-box tone of the story left a bad feeling about it. More than once characters launched into monologues that felt like they'd been lifted straight from an After School Special. This kept the story from being a raw, honest depiction of this life-defining experience and made it into a bull horn for the author's obvious agenda. Perhaps because I agree with the author's assertion that bullying and homophobia are to be condemned that I felt like he was preaching to the choir.

The Raven Boys

The Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvater This book is a hard one for me to grade. I both loved and hated it in the extreme with very little middle ground. Ultimately, since it kept me turning pages like crazy, I give it a neutral 3 stars.

My main issue with the story was the pacing. The first third of the book absolutely dragged. Blue Sargent, the main female protagonist, didn't even meet the "raven boys" until the book was this far along. Around the mid point, when Blue joined Gansey and Adam and Ronan on their quest for the magical ley lines, things began to pick up. And the ending, which involved a genuine mystery, was very well done. Most upsetting, however, is that the story never did touch upon the premise that is used to sell it - that it is fortold that Blue will kiss and kill her one true love. We got hints of what may happen, but nothing of substance leaving me feeling a bit like a victim of bait and switch.

Another issue I had was the psychic women that make up Blue's family. Much of what happens in the scenes involving Blue's mother, aunts and other family friends seemed flighty and disjointed. These women take the concept of eccentric to a whole new level, and it didn't ring true to to me. It wasn't the magical element that I had problems with, more the tangential style of dialogue and the fact that so often these women spoke to each other via body language that meant nothing to the reader. Too, the entire subplot involving Neeve dragged the story to a screeching halt.

Speaking of Neeve, I had a lot of problem with the names. Stiefvater was very creative with her names, but some of them didn't lend to easy reading. How, exactly, does a reader mentally pronounce "Gansey," "Aglionby", or "Neeve?"

My last quibble is that much of this story was downright confusing. While a few of the meandering threads tied up at the end, the whole search for the Welsh King Glendower felt very McGuffinish. I was never wholly convinced why this would drive the characters as they did. The ending was not so much of a cliffhanger as it was just a break in the story, which is not a nice thing to do to readers. I don't need all the answers, but I do need to feel like the time I've just spent has been somewhat concluded.

All of these things aside, I did enjoy the main characters who were very fleshed out and three-dimensional (except for Noah). Once the story kicked into gear, it read very quickly and kept me interested. I knew going in that this story was the first part of a series, so I wasn't too upset by the very abrupt ending. And the twist involving Noah was a surprise. I do want to know what happens, so I guess that means I'll be reading the next installment.

Something like Normal

Something like Normal - Trish Doller Fantastic. I really enjoyed this book. I began reading it at 9:00 at night and stayed up until 2:00 to finish it.

Travis "Solo" Stephenson is an amazing character. At 19, he's already seen more of the world's troubles than most people do in a lifetime. He's home for a four-week leave from his gig as a Marine deployed to Afghanistan. His best friend has died, and Travis struggles with survivor's guilt and a bad case of PTSD. His ex-girlfriend, who dumped him for his brother while Travis was overseas, keeps showing up in his bed. His father remains a first class asshole, and his mother is clearly unhappy in her marriage. And the girl whose reputation Travis ruined back in middle school punches him in the face.

Writer Doller does an amazing job getting inside the head of a unique Young Adult character. Travis is far from perfect and keeps making mistakes, but he works to build a better relationship with his mother and to earn forgiveness from Harper. I really enjoyed watching Travis stand up to a father who never deserved his respect.

All in all, a great book that I know I'll reread again and again.


Easy  - Tammara Webber To be honest, I'd give this book a 3.5 stars review if I could. Overall, the story kept me turning the pages which is a great thing. And the effect of the whole was very much greater than the sum of the parts, which is why I have problems giving it a higher rating.

The main problem I had with this book is the fact that it's a kitchen sink story - everything but the kitchen sink was in it as far as cliches.

Perfect Mysterious Bad Boy? Check
Damsel In Distress Heroine? Check
Jerk of an ex-boyfriend? Check
Perfect Perky Roommate? Check
Deep, Angsty Past for one Character? Check
Evil Rapist who Goes Unchecked? Check

And it goes on.

Lucas, while the perfect fictional guy, was very much a Gary Stu. He was beyond perfect to the point of eye-rolling. Smart. Hot. Protective. Great fighter. Artist. Engineer major. (BTW, I generally find the idea of an engineer major who is also a fantastic fine artist to be a bit odd - the mindsets are generally opposites for these two vocations.) Has a cute pet that he rescued. Angsty past. Uber-volunteer. Has to work his way through college by tutoring and working at Starbucks. He was not human. And the things the writer gave him to make him a "bad boy" were just surface effects. Tattoos are fine, but the ring in the lip? Served no purpose other than to make him edgy. Nothing about his personality made him a bad boy. He wasn't a man-whore. He didn't get into any trouble. In fact, he was practically a choir boy. Oh, well, he did ride a motorcycle. Of course.

As for the heroine, Jacqueline, while she was likeable enough, again the writer short-cutted her personality by telling the reader that Jackie was all of these things but never showing us. Apparently, Jackie is a Julliard-level upright bass musician. At that level of talent, music would be her entire life. But all we get are mentions of her missing a practice here or there and how she teaches middle schoolers. Never once did Lucas even seem interested in hearing her play. It was as if Jackie needed some character traits and so the writer gave her that one after picking it out of a bag.

As for the story, overall I liked the premise - girl is saved from a rape by a mysterious guy. But then the writer had to throw in the dual-identity plot. And the Lucas-has-a-tragedy-in-his-past plot. And the dealing-with-the-rapist plot. And the ex-boyfriend plot. It was all over the place.

Finally, there were portions of the story that felt like they were written by a real young adult as opposed to a professional writer. For example, when a teacher tells Jackie about Lucas's past, the dialogue reads like a novel. Very unrealistic - nobody (even a college professor) tells stories verbally that way.

Oddly, for all of the issues I had with characters, plot and writing, I still kept turning the pages. So like I said above, the whole overcomes the problems of the parts.

Beautiful Disaster

Beautiful Disaster - Jamie McGuire This book is a hard one to review. I enjoyed it when I know I should have found it horrifying, and I did find much of it horrifying. Too, a big plot point caused enough eye-rolling that I found myself skimming nearly the entire middle of the book.

The biggest problem/best part of this book is hero Travis. Travis is seriously messed up, with anger management issues and a borderline-stalker personality. Once he falls in love with heroine Abby, his behaviour becomes beyond obsessive and controlling. In reality, a guy like this would be someone to avoid at all costs. But in fiction-land, Travis's over-the-top devotion to the woman he loves seems romantic and intense. Travis and Abby have one dysfunctional relationship, but it's compelling and tragically perfect. The title "Beautiful Disaster" truly does apply.

Too, Travis and Abby both come across as Marty Stu/Mary Sue perfections. Travis is a hot stud who happens to be a fight club champion without lifting a weight, spending a second training, and all while consuming copious amounts of booze. Abby is so stunningly beautiful and desirable that every guy she meets hits on her or tries to assault her, mostly so that Travis can react possessively. Add in her ability to hustle poker like a professional gambler and she's beyond unrealistic.

The entire Las Vegas plotline is very unbelievable and unnecessary. Much of the plot serves simply as a series of reasons Abby and Travis can't be together, none of them making any sense at all. And I won't spoil the ending, but any last attempt at realism flies right out the window.

All of this complaining makes it seem like this book is horrible. The problem is that it's not. I did skim the middle and found myself skipping to the end just to get past Round #33 of Abby breaking Travis's heart. But like I said, Travis is a romantic figure in the vein of Heathcliff and this saved the book from being unreadable.

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity  - Elizabeth Wein Fantastic book. Should appeal to both adults and young adults - in fact, I'm not sure why this is classified as a young adult novel.

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two - Joseph Bruchac An interesting read about the Navajo code talkers of WW II. The story itself was fascinating, and the author did a great job of distilling the complexity of the Pacific Campaign portion of WW II down to a readable level that didn't overwhelm a non-war-historian reader like me. However, I found the narrative style - more storytelling than actual showing - kept the characters at arms length for me. This ended up reading more like a history text than an actual story with real people. Definitely worth reading because of the fascinating subject, but I wish it had more of a novel feel to it.

Catching Jordan

Catching Jordan - Miranda Kenneally Very good. A few things kept if from being great.

Jordan Woods has football literally in her blood. Her dad is an NFL Quarterback, her brother is a college football star, and Jordan herself - despite being a girl - has the best record of any quarterback in the state of Tennessee. Jordan is such a great player, she fully expects to move on to play college-level ball on a full-ride scholarship with the prestigious U. of Alabama football program which has been courting her recently. In addition to being her passion in life, playing football has supplied Jordan with a posse of guy buddies who range from protective, adorable meatheads to her best friend for life, Sam Henry. The way Jordan sees it, the world of football is pretty much perfect.

When Tyler Green arrives as the new guy at school, he rocks Jordan's world. First of all, he's hotter than hot, and Jordan finds herself attracted to the guy in a most inconvenient way since it distracts her from football. Ty also causes conflict because he's a stellar quarterback who threatens to take Jordan's position away. But as Ty and Jordan grow closer and Jordan's romantic feelings begin to awaken, she starts to see her best friend Henry in a whole new way. She begins to wonder if the best thing for her has been under her nose all along.

I liked Jordan because she was very driven and competitive and didn't expect any special treatment just because she was a girl. Her hurt over the fact that her father seemed completely disinterested in her football career was well explored. That said, Jordan frustrated me to no end because it became so clear that Alabama had no intention of actually letting her play football and planned only to use her as some kind of poster girl for publicity and recruitment purposes. Yet Jordan clung to her dream of playing for Alabama and simply wouldn't see the truth in front of her.

Too, for such a tough, fierce girl, Jordan cried a lot. A lot. And not just tears in her eyes, but tears dripping into the river levels of crying. If her crying was intended to show that deep inside, Jordan really did have the feelings of a girl, it didn't succeed so much as make her look emotionally fragile, and not in a vulnerable way but in a needs medication way.

My second issue with the book was with Jordan's best friend, Henry. I suppose high school boys often act in completely irrational ways, but Henry's behaviour once Jordan began dating Ty became downright bizarre. I wanted Jordan to smack him upside of the head and tell him to stop being such a major jerk.

All in all, the author did a great job of selling the concept of a girl star quarterback as a reality. I did have some questions, like what was the likelihood that a man old enough to have a son in college would still be able to play NFL football, the way Jordan's dad still does. Also, despite Jordan's success on the Tennessee high school football circuit, I simply could never believe that she'd ever be allowed to play college level football.

This said, the book kept me turning pages wondering what Jordan would do. She's a very likable heroine. I also liked the kind of off-hand behind the scenes look at what it might be like to be the child of a professional sports star. Jordan lives a life of luxury and sits in the owner's box for NFL games, but to her, it's just her dad's job. No big deal. That was kind of cool.

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