Hooked – How Do You Escape When They’re Always Watching?

Book Review :

Hooked
Hardwired #1

By Deanna Browne

 

e-book

ARC received in return for an honest review.

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

When virtual reality surpasses people’s wildest dreams, many struggle to remain in the real world. Sixteen-year-old Ari has watched the financial and emotional cost of virtual reality addiction for years as her father continues barely existing in a VR coma. Unfortunately, her only option to help her family escape poverty is if she studies the one subject she hates and fears: virtual reality programming.

Despite her misgivings, Ari soon develops a rare talent that makes her question everything. Now she must hide her ability or risk becoming a priceless commodity that governments and corporations will fight, steal or even kill to possess. As officials tighten the shackles surrounding Ari, she rebels against her imposed future and searches for a way to save those she loves. Yet, running proves impossible, when the government is always one click away. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

Hooked is aimed at the upper YA market for dystopian sci-fi and I recommend it as a fun read with some thought-provoking themes. It’s full of teens concerns with caffeine, drugs and social standing, government conspiracies and a romance. What’s not to love, right?

I like it when books have a racially diverse cast, and when the whole book doesn’t focus on race. Ari – the protagonist – is Hispanic and is downtrodden due to her family circumstances (her dad is in a VR coma and her mom is working two jobs). Her advisor at school is a total jerk to her but his bias is because of her poverty rather than race. There are no racial slurs in the book. Another big plus.

Reed, Marco, Garrett, and Tess are equally interesting characters with loads of flaws and multiple motivations. Reed is the nearly squeaky clean boy from the old neighborhood. He doesn’t like school and wishes he could pursue art. Marco is the angsty older brother, haunted by his addiction to VR and his shady operations. Garrett is in on the illegal business along with Reed and Marco, but he’s completely lost his moral compass. Even so, he takes the moral high-ground with Ari when he doesn’t like her behavior. Tess is the spoiled rich girl but she also is at peace with herself in her slightly chubby body and her mad game skills.

The setting is believable, and not that far off if you’ve ever watched teens today. Even in the same room, they are on their media so the jump to VR bars and VR comas seem logical. The school with armed gunmen, religious fanatics, unreasonable teachers, and bullies also seems reasonable. Dave, the man from the corporation could be seen as a stretch except we have head-hunters come to schools to find talent, so I even found his role believable.

There are characters virtually drinking – meaning that the drinking and drugs (and implied sex) are in the VR. Garrett even points out how if it happens in the VR it doesn’t count because it’s not real, but he also argues everything is as real as you want to believe it is while in the program. Characters also go ‘tab’ which is the equivalent of drugs and drinking but the government has controlled the substances so it’s not as harmful to teens. I think all of these themes provide a great opportunity for a dialogue about drugs and how actions always have consequences. There are other themes like forgiveness and sacrifice that could be explored.

Hooked has a grit, making it feel current and alive for readers. It doesn’t ever push things too far to be inappropriate for upper teens because they deal with the issues presented in this story, well, except for government conspiracies and such.

4 out of 5 stars

4 star

Michelle

If you liked Hooked try Unwind by Neal Shusterman, Legend by Marie Lu Spoiler, and Delirium by Lauren Oliver.

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Beauty and the Baron – What if Your Employer is a Beast?

Beauty and the Baron

A Regency Fairytale Retelling
(Forever After Retellings Book 1)

 

By Joanna Barker

 

Spoiler Alert!

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SUMMARY:

A penniless maid determined to save her father, a broken baron bent on isolation and the undeniable draw between them that will lead to happiness—or disaster. 

Rose Sinclair has run out of options. With her father in prison and their bookshop sold to pay his debts, she has no choice but to turn to Henry Covington, the Baron Norcliffe. But the baron has more than earned his harsh reputation, and Rose must face his wrath in order to save her father—and herself.

Since the deaths of his parents, Henry Covington has isolated himself from society, ensuring the solitude of his estate with his deliberate callousness. However, when the beautiful Miss Sinclair appears on his doorstep, begging for a chance to repay her father’s debt to him, a moment of weakness finds him offering her a position—as a maid in his own house.

They both soon learn that first impressions are not to be believed. Henry is surprised—and intrigued—by Rose’s optimistic charm, while Rose slowly uncovers Henry’s true self, his compassion concealed behind the pain of loss and betrayal. But when a shadow from Henry’s past returns, their newfound hope is tested. They must decide for themselves who to trust—and what they will risk for their happily ever after.

Beauty and the Baron is a Regency retelling of Beauty and the Beast. It is a sweet/clean romance novella, and is Book 1 in a series of Regency retellings.

(Courtesy of goodreads.com)

ADULT POINT OF VIEW:

In this retelling of Beauty and the Beast, there are some points that make it unique and worth reading.

First, the setting: is Regency England, which is a great time period for a clean read because of their social structure – not that there wasn’t misbehavior, but society expected good behavior. Barker does a great job crafting the world. She shows how different the serving class life is compared to the nobility. She uses gentlemanly vices common to the era – such as gambling – in the plot in logical ways. The barriers to changing social status are also addressed.

Second, the characters: The two principal characters, Beauty and the Baron, are both developed with a back history. Rose is strapped because of her father’s poor choices. In trying to solve her problems, she sells off the family business and gets a job with semi-favorable terms (at least the employer is handsome – not that she notices). She is more than plucky, she is resourceful and realistic in her outlook. The Baron, Henry Covington, has a reason for being a beast. He isn’t unpleasant because of ill-breeding or a spell, but he’s been abused by friends and family, so he’s distrustful and prickly. Their story is about building relationships.

Third, there are surprises: and I’m not going to say too much here because you deserve to have the opportunity of discovery. I will say, not all is as it seems (and I’m not talking magic here, but human nature) and so the plot takes a twist, logical and well laid out, but I’m guessing it will surprise you too.

Finally, there is the best rainstorm scene ever. We all know it isn’t wise to date someone from the workplace, but sometimes someone seems different than we expected under different circumstances. After this, I think you’ll want to get caught in the rain, with the right person.

I enjoyed this novella and think it’s an enjoyable romance. I recommend it!

4 out of 5 stars

4 star

  • Michelle

 

If you enjoyed Beauty and the Baron, I recommend Austenland by Shannon Hale, Bride of a Distant Isle by Sandra Byrd, and The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley.

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The Sisters of the Winter Wood – A Ukrainian Fairy Tale Filled With Wonder Where Every Family Has A Secret

Book Review : 
The Sisters of the Winter Wood

By  Rena Rossner

 

e-book

ARC received in return for an honest review.

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

Raised in a small village surrounded by vast forests, Liba and Laya have lived a peaceful sheltered life – even if they’ve heard of troubling times for Jews elsewhere. When their parents travel to visit their dying grandfather, the sisters are left behind in their home in the woods.

But before they leave, Liba discovers the secret that their Tati can transform into a bear, and their Mami into a swan. Perhaps, Liba realizes, the old fairy tales are true. She must guard this secret carefully, even from her beloved sister.

Soon a troupe of mysterious men appear in town and Laya falls under their spell-despite their mother’s warning to be wary of strangers. And these are not the only dangers lurking in the woods…

The sisters will need each other if they are to become the women they need to be – and save their people from the dark forces that draw closer. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

An acquaintance recommended The Sisters of the Winter Wood to me, and I’m so glad she did. I was mesmerized from the beginning with the fairytale quality of the world and their problems.

I found three major fairytales that served as the inspiration, The Goblin Market, men who turn into bears (at the moment I can’t come up with a name, but it’s familiar) and women who turn into swans (think of Odette). These story roots were accompanied by Jewish history, scripture, and Yiddish (with translations). It sounds like a lot to juggle, but the author does a beautiful job of intertwining all these elements.

The format of the story is from a dual POV. Liba’s voice is in traditional prose with dialogue. We go on the journey with her, feeling every emotion, knowing what she’s thinking and exactly what she’s doing. She has always felt less valuable than her sister and needs to come to appreciate her own qualities.

Laya’s voice is sparse and poetic – organized on the page with only a few words on a line and repetition of the important idea she’s experiencing. In ways, Laya seemed more foreign to me because of the way her portions were written and in part because she’s the sister who makes the poorer choices.

The heartbreak of choices is illustrated by the mother and father. She gave up her people to join her husband and converted to become a Jew. In their insular community, she’s never been accepted. The heartbreak continues in the community as misunderstandings arise between the Jews and the non-Jews. How can man be so cruel to man? More heartbreak occurs as the sisters find their way – losing each other and working to regain their relationship. Even so, by the end, I felt a sense of hope – a feeling of resiliency inherent to these characters and especially the Jewish community.

This is one of those books that I loved and will read again. The writing is poignant and the characters complex. In a way, the story is one of faith and hope – something we could all use.

4.5 out of 5 stars

4 1:2 star
Michelle

If you liked The Sisters of the Winter Wood, I’d recommend Jennifer Nielsen’s  The Traitor’s Game, The Hawkman A Fairy Tale of the Great War By Jane Rosenberg LaForge, and Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier – each of these has a different fairytale quality.

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The Paper Magician – What Can A Girl Do With A Snip and Fold of Paper? Can She Save A Life?

Book Review : 
The Paper Magician

e-book

By  Charlie N. Holmberg

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic… forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turns out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined — animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner — a practitioner of dark, flesh magic — invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

I’d heard of The Paper Magician, but it’s been on one of my interminable stacks to read at an unspecified future date. Next, I discovered Charlie N. Holberg at a writing conference and attended one of her classes. Then I found out, she’s friends with Jeff Wheeler (another one of my favorite authors) which only made sense because they both write amazing books. After all of that, I bumped her book to the top of my list and am so glad I did.

Now that you know I have a slight predisposition to like Holmberg’s story, I will continue with the review. I loved the setting, the magic system, and the characters. That about covers the entire book, right?

The world building feels like a genuine place and time, rather than an exaggerated parody of Victorian England. The role women play isn’t fully explored, but I felt like they are not discriminated against – however, the poor still are undermined in their society. This is aptly shown through a boorish, rich man’s behavior to those he feels to be his inferiors. In this world, man-made materials may be manipulated by the magical arts magicians employ. But all is not well in this land, because some have discovered a dark magical art and with it, they can rip out the very heart of a man.

Ceony desperately wanted to be under the tutelage of a different discipline of magic, but alas, she got stuck with paper. Boring paper. What can a folded piece of paper do? She was assigned to this discipline because there was an extreme shortage of paper magicians.

She soon discovers, that she’s been an ungrateful twit, gets over herself and sets to work. Using the same wits she used to finish school, she thrives learning new magic and is amazed when she can bring a story to life. As wonderful foreshadowing and a means to be used later, this skill will be needed for her to escape from being murdered.

Mg. Thane, a paper magician, appears to be erratic, cryptic and kind. Why would anyone want to kill a man like that? As Ceony tries to save him, she comes to know his heart. Both the good and bad, successes and failures – even his dreams. In the process, she sees herself in a new way.

This was a thoroughly satisfying read and terribly creative. I love a good magic system, that makes sense. I highly recommend this book.

4-4.5 out of 5 stars

4 star
Michelle

If you liked The Paper Magician, I’d recommend Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law along with the rest of that series. I also recommend Incarceron by Katherine Fisher, Jeff Wheeler’s Kingfountain series, and Patrick W. Carr’s series, A Cast of Stone. 

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The Trouble With Fairy Godmother – Happily Ever Is Just Another Disaster Away

Book Review : 
The Trouble With Fairy Godmothers

e-book

By  Kimberly King

Spoiler Alert!

40978078

Summary

All Nikki Baker wants is her first kiss. All her fairy godmother wants is to get the job done as quickly as possible. Hilarious adventures follow when Nikki discovers her fairy godmother’s magic isn’t quite up to par…along with her taste in boys. Nobody is safe as spells bounce around from the school’s biggest nerd to the biggest jerk in ninth grade and everyone else in between.

As love triangles grow ridiculously complicated, Nikki soon discovers that being a boy magnet has its downside. One best friend starts hating her, and another stops at nothing to prevent Nikki from getting her happily ever after. Is love really worth the cost of friendship? Nikki must decide for herself, but that means betraying either her best friends…or her impatient fairy godmother. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I didn’t know what to expect with The Trouble With Fairy Godmothers and was delightfully surprised. Anytime I jump into a book, I want to feel like I’m really there. Entering the pages of this book felt like walking into high school, along with all the teen concerns and angst.

Nikki sounds like a normal 15-year-old girl: a little self-centered, a little shallow, and a lot insecure. More than anything she wants that first kiss, not true love, just a kiss. But there’s actually more to it than that. Her fairy godmother, Harriet Snodgrass, assures her a particular boy would be happy to get the job done, but Nikki turns up her nose at that suggestion. So, she wants more than that first kiss – she wants a swoony kiss. A kiss to remember forever. I agree with her on one point, at 15 she isn’t ready for a true happily ever after.

Nikki’s friends add to the confusion in her life with miscommunication. I wonder if girls can move beyond the kinds of hurt they inflict on one another. It’s emphasized how they’ve had their friendship for such a long time, and I thought that was a good way to make it believable. But between you and me, I thought their behavior was shocking! Don’t we all have a different standard for others than ourselves though? You’ll have to see if you could forgive your friend for man-stealing, blatant advances towards every guy you’ve ever liked, lying, manipulating and dishonesty.

One of the moments that is a little funny-sad is how Nikki is shocked when her older sister treats her well. As parents, we always want all our kids to treat each other well, but we all know that doesn’t always happen. Nikki’s relationship with her sister feels genuine.

Harriet Snodgrass made me smile. Things just didn’t quite go her way. The details of her outfits of mismatched shoes, pumpkins and mice, sparkles and even a pesky wand were clever reminders of what we expect out of a fairy godmother. Bippity-boppity-boo! She was a bit more of a bippity-boppity-bungle kind of fairy. She also had strange taste in men – though she easily saw past the surface qualities.

By the end, if you think Nikki will be a whole new girl you might be surprised. Everything doesn’t quite turn out the way she thought it would. I’d hoped that she’d be a little less shallow as she talked to the nerd, but she remained a true 15-year-old girl and couldn’t get beyond his spit-filled braces. Another minor character, Nancy, fleetingly leaped through the pages, and stomped in red heels across the dance floor – she remained angry and disillusioned. I’d hoped poor Nancy would catch a break.

This is a perfect fun read and I’d recommend it. I like the fact that the story emphasizes friendship even more than the perfect first kiss. And did Nikki get her first kiss? So sorry, to find that out, you’ll have to read the book.

4 out of 5 stars

4 star
Michelle

If you liked The Trouble With Fairy Godmothers, I’d recommend Chelsea Hale as an author, who once told me she wrote about nothing but butterflies and sparkles – her clean romances are enormously fun.

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The Gilded Wolves – Are You Ready For A New Magic World?

Book Review : 
The Gilded Wolves

e-book

By  Roshani Chokshi

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

Set in a darkly glamorous world, The Gilded Wolves is full of mystery, decadence, and dangerous but thrilling adventure.

Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can’t yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much.

Together, they’ll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

I absolutely loved so many things in The Gilded Wolves. I think the title is intriguing and it made me want to read more. Chokshi is a master storyteller. I love how she weaves in the story of the tower of Babel into the fabric of this alternate Parisian society.

The characters were some of the favorites that I read in 2018. Séverin is snarky and made me laugh. He’s a perfect main character because he’s full of flaws and believes he has all the answers. His own confidence gets in his way.

The engineer, Zofia, is a drawn perfectly as a girl on the autism spectrum. In one moment, the dancer tempts her with a line of cookies that made me chuckle. Zofia expresses the difficulty sarcasm and other types of subtext in conversations cause to someone with her set of circumstances. She’s even influenced by textures. We aren’t given a diagnosis, but if I chose one, I’d say she has Aspergers because she’s very intelligent, reclusive and functions in society.

Laila the dancer is mysterious with a complicated past – she’d like to know who’s pulled the strings in her life. She is a sensual dancer and lives a double-life as a baker. Knowing the power of costume and branding she has carefully built her reputation, but she believes her life is fleeting.

I had a harder time keeping track of Tristan and Enrique for some reason. One had the greenhouse, and a deep need to protect. He’d been like the brother Séverin never had as they bounced around to other homes as orphans. While the other was the brilliant historian who dreamed of being respected by his people.

The magic system was delightful, full of mysterious house rings and enchanted objects with a steampunk feel. The rules of the magic were clearly laid out and at the heart of what Séverin believes he wants to change in his life. The prose is filled with gorgeous images and the dialogue is witty. Mystery underlies the story and they’re under a strict amount of time to solve all their problems, which keep getting bigger and bigger.

I hate to give away the fun things in the book. I wondered who were the gilded wolves from the beginning. I’ll just say that each house has their own symbol and if you can figure out who’s mascot is the wolf you’ll have it. To me, gilded implies a surface veneer of worth or respectability. So, if the wolves are gilded, they may not be what they hope to seem.

I would have given this book 5 stars if not for one element. Any book that crosses the line, of what I would consider clean of sexual, content gets marked down. Though not overly detailed there is a running theme of two characters having had a sexual liaison, homosexual innuendo, and a same-sex kissing scene. I didn’t mention him earlier, because I feel like he’s a secondary character, but Hypnos is the contemporary of Séverin, who’s central to the gay themes in this story. It’s something parents should know before their children read it.

The Gilded Wolves is billed as YA, but I think adults will like it just as much or more than the teens.

4 out of 5 stars

4 star
Michelle

If you liked The Gilded Wolves, I’d recommend Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law along with the rest of that series. I also recommend Jeff Wheeler’s Kingfountain series.

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Turing Test – Who Writes Humorous Sci-Fi? I’ve Got The Answer!

Book Review : 
Turing Test
AI Diaries

e-book

By E. M. Foner

Spoiler Alert!

39024165

Summary

Mark Ai goes to work every day as a PC repairman, but fixing computers is just a cover job. Along with his mission managing the observation team, he’s attempting to fill in as a parent for a teenage neighbor, provide a good home for a dog, and pick up a little money on the side. It’s a juggling act that understandably leads to breaking a few rules, but things really start spinning out of control when competing aliens arrive. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

E.M. Foner is the author of the Date Night On Union Station series. He has a unique way of writing science fiction, making me laugh every time. Humor must be one of the hardest things to write. I think the next hardest would be a mystery.

In Turing Test, Mark and his team are a zany bunch with the additions of Spot, the dog, eBeth and her online boyfriend.

I don’t have a lot of experience with dogs, but I must say I was suspicious of this canine from the beginning. Who goes by Spot, the proverbial Smith or Jones in the dog world? Was he a master-mind orchestrating a take-over of earth? Did he have an agenda to build his own empire? Or perhaps, he was just a dog, a very smart dog. You’ll have to discover the answer to these questions yourself.

Mark, and his relationship with eBeth, is hilarious. He lectures eBeth about her driving. She’s awful, and you’d hope to never meet her on the street.

“You don’t have a license, you don’t even have a learner’s permit, and you’re not old enough to be behind the wheel at night.” I always felt that it was important to remind her of the rules before I handed over the keys. (Loc. 237)

“… there’s just something about being in a car with a teenage driver that triggers a primal fight-or-flight response, even in AI.” (Loc. 247)

We all agree that raising teens can be a challenge, but Mark has it harder than most. She’s not even his child.

“I was about to tell her she wouldn’t be coming, but then I realized that bringing eBeth along on a Federal crime was likely the only way to keep her from Helen’s party, so I chose the lesser of two evils.” (Loc. 991)

The premise of Turing Point is that the AI’s are observing humans, determining if we’re ready to join a federation of aliens. Frequently, us mere humans seem underwhelmingly average and probably shouldn’t be included in such a superior collection of beings.

“We’re less concerned with evaluating your intelligence than your manners,” I admitted. “Nobody likes a rude alien.” (Loc. 2179)

But the human’s might have a few surprises for the aliens since with the help of Mark several have already relocated to “Australia”. A big problem the AI’s face is going “native”, or in other words, reacting more like humans than an artificial intelligence.

“That’s because humans are functionally illiterate,” Paul grunted without looking up. “Let’s play cards.”
“We play games at team meetings?” Helen asked.
“Poker,” Justin told her. “It’s our canary in the coal mine.”
… I told Helen, “We’ll know there’s something wrong if any of us start displaying human behavior in our betting patterns.” (Loc 187)

“Maybe there was something to be said for slowing things down to the point that I could really consider what I was saying.” (Loc. 3348)

I don’t know how Foner comes up with these things, except that he must be a genius. Here’s another one of my favorite quotes:

“Sometimes I call the IRS with a question just to see how many automated phone queues they’ll pass me through before disconnecting my call. I once made it to seven hours on hold without ever talking to a human.” (Loc. 1203)

If you don’t find any of these quotes funny, or at least mildly amusing, I might determine you’re an AI. Even reading them again to write this review had me smirking.

I highly recommend this series as well as

4 out of 5 stars

4 star
Michelle

If you enjoyed this book try The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger, Larklight by Phillip Reeve, Cinder by Marissa Meyer and Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.

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