My brother the king does not like that he has to share a bedroom with me.

I don’t like it either. So I pretend he’s not there. I ignore his king-sized tantrums and the dirty royal socks that he leaves on my bedspread. I pretend not to hear him when he tells me what to do.

“Mom!” Bastien shouts. “Laila isn’t obeying me. Tell her she has to obey. I’m the king!” He pouts in a very regal way.

The Tyrant’s Daughter (J. C. Carleson)

Around the lunch table everyone seems to have given something up – dairy, meat, gluten, sugar, carbs. Only in a land of plenty could people voluntarily go without so much.

The Tyrant’s Daughter (J. C. Carleson)

ARC review: The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson

The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Goodreads • Amazon
Publication Date: February 11, 2014
Source: ARC from publisher (via Netgalley)

From a former CIA officer comes the riveting account of a royal Middle Eastern family exiled to the American suburbs.

When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations?

J.C. Carleson delivers a fascinating account of a girl—and a country—on the brink, and a rare glimpse at the personal side of international politics.

Laila is a princess. Her little brother, six-year-old Bastien, is next in line for the throne. Or so she thinks. It’s what she’s been lead to believe her entire life. But when her father, leader of an unnamed Middle Eastern country, is assassinated, Laila’s world is turned upside down. The CIA relocates her, Bastien, and their mother to the US, where they are expected to assimilate into the completely foreign culture.

In America, Laila lives a different life. The palace she had lived in is replaced with a tiny apartment. The servants bringing her food have been replaced with empty cupboards. Her private tutors have been replaced with public school. Back home, she was royalty. In America, her family can’t even keep up with the rent.

Laila thought she knew everything, but she had been sheltered. She’d been steadily fed a stream of lies about her family. In America, she finds, the internet is unrestricted. Unfiltered. She finds an article calling her father a dictator. She finds out that he was responsible for the death of thousands of innocent people. She is no princess. Her brother will not be king. Her entire life has been a lie.

The Tyrant’s Daughter was an incredible story. I read a few chapters before bed on a Thursday, came home from work on Friday night, and devoured the rest. Everybody should read this book. It’s one thing to hear about Middle Eastern conflicts on the news. It’s another thing entirely to read a fictional book, told through the eyes of a teenage girl, that perfectly illustrates what nobody wants to think about. This book tackles serious issues – war, racism, and women’s rights, just to name a few – and does it in such a way that you don’t even realize that you’re learning.

I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.

Goodreads | Amazon

I bought Leviathan a good year or two ago. Unlike most people, I really enjoyed Westerfeld’sUglies series, though I read it nine years ago, when it first came out and I was still in high school. I wanted to immerse myself in another world he’d created. He’s good at creating worlds entirely unlike our own, but not so different that they’re unrelatable.

Things happened over the last year or two. Other books caught my attention. I moved across the country. Leviathan fell to the back of my mind and the back of my bookshelf. I remembered that I had it last week. I read it over four days.

I wanted to like it more than I did.

Again, Westerfeld created a beautiful world. The Clankers and the Darwinists, with their Walkers and their Beasties. Huge, living air ships. Entire ecosystems of animals working together. The characters were likable too. Deryn was a believable girl-disguised-as-boy who never fell into any of the common traps or tropes that come along with it. Alek had beautiful character development, going from an insolent teenage boy who thinks he deserves the world to a real soldier, fighting for what he thinks is right. Even the side characters were great. And the setting – we’re in a re-imagined, steampunk version of WWI.

But despite all this, the book somehow lacks a plot. Descriptions abound. Action does not. Our characters, who supposedly are in their mid-teens, occasionally act like small children. Was it actually written for a much younger audience? I’m not sure. Maybe it just wasn’t my kind of book. My biggest question throughout the book was when someone was going to finally find out that Deryn/Dylan was a girl.

I liked Leviathan enough to finish it, but not enough to read the next book in the series.

Final rating: 

[also posted here]

Goodreads | Amazon

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of Selling Scarlett via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I’m still trying to figure out what to think about this book. It has its positives and negatives, its ups and downs, much like a lot of books I’ve read recently. Sometimes the action was flying off the pages so quickly I could hardly keep up, and other times I could hardly keep reading because absolutely nothing had happened for several chapters. From the description, it sounds like a fluffy romance, but there really isn’t much romance there. I’m still a little confused about what I just read.

Elizabeth is a former rich girl, heiress to an almost defunct bottled water company. Hunter is a billionaire poker player and whiskey heir who just can’t be bothered to settle down with a girl. When Elizabeth’s friend Cross gets in an accident and ends up in a coma, she decides to sell her virginity to pay his medical bills. Not wanting the transaction to be linked to her family, Elizabeth becomes “Scarlett” and heads to a Las Vegas brothel to prepare herself.

Honestly, throughout most of the book, I couldn’t decide whether the story was sad or creepy. Turns out it’s really neither, because that plot point takes a backseat to most of the action. Instead of focusing on this, what the book is marketed to be about, we really get a story about political corruption, sex slavery, child abuse, and drug abuse. Oh, and about 500 unnecessary characters who are named and given backstories, only to never be spoken of again. There’s not much resolution to any of these topics. Basically, Elizabeth just has to smile and everything is automatically better.

The book falls prey to many common cliches. Elizabeth and Hunter fall in insta-love after about a day? Maybe a week? I can’t really tell, since the timeline is confusing. Elizabeth is not at all put off by the fact that she finds Hunter strangling a woman at party, or by the fact that he’s the number one suspect in a murder investigation. Although she barely knows the guy (despite having a crush on him for basically her entire life), shejust knows that he isn’t like that. Elizabeth also describes herself as fat at the beginning of the book (why is this relevant?) and then tries a “caveman diet” and is suddenly skinny after like two days, because that’s how diets work. Also, everybody is constantly saying how beautiful and perfect this girl is, as if that’s all that matters in life. Elizabeth starts off having a personality at the beginning of the book (she’s a grad student studying ethics and has friends that she actually hangs out with) but by about 30% in, she’s just hanging off every word that Hunter says and ignoring him when he tells her to leave him alone. By the end of the book, her only personality trait is kindness. And somewhere in about the last ten pages, Hunter goes from constantly telling Elizabeth to leave him alone and just go home to spending every waking (and sleeping) moment with her? I don’t understand.

Still, for some reason, I kept coming back for more. Something must have kept me reading. Maybe I wanted to find out what happened to Sarabelle, the escort Hunter was accused of murdering. Maybe I wanted to find out if Cross would ever come out of his coma. I’m not really sure, but despite all the problems I had with the plot, I wanted to know what would happen next.

Final rating: 2.5/5 stars. I liked it enough to keep going, but will not be reading the second book in the series.

Note: The Kindle version of Selling Scarlett is currently free on Amazon.

[see my original review here]

Goodreads | Amazon

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of The Little Book of Thin from Perigee Trade in exchange for an honest review.

I found it really difficult to review this book. On the one hand, I was happy to see a list of what to do and what not to do in terms of healthy eating, but I also felt like a lot of her advice was questionable and even condescending at times. Let me just say, I’m happy I got this book for free because I would not have been happy if I’d paid for a book that took this attitude, and I certainly would not pay an RD to talk to me like this or to tell me I’m no longer allowed to even think about eating many foods with good nutritional value.

I’d really like to break down all the issues I had with the book, but then I’d be basically giving away all of Ms. Slayton’s advice for free. So let me just discuss my few biggest issues. I want to preface this by saying that at one point, I thought about becoming a dietitian, and I did take a few introductory classes in college, including a seminar on how careful you need to be when giving nutritional advice. I am by no means an expert, just someone who is extremely interested in the field of nutrition.

1. Ms. Slayton advises that we avoid fruit nearly altogether. I’m sorry, but I have difficulty taking anybody seriously if they think fruit is the enemy. Let me tell you, nobody ever got fat eating apples and oranges. Maybe apple pies and Orange Julius, but not pure, unadulterated fruit. 
2. She suggests that we bore ourselves thin by limiting ourselves to one or two choices per week. I don’t know about you, but if every lunch is a kale salad, every snack is 12 walnut halves, and every dinner is poached salmon, I’m going to boycott that diet on about day three.
3. She states that it’s important to plan for what we’re going to eat at our friends’ parties. “What if your friend serves risotto,” she asks, as if ingesting a reasonable portion of carbs is going to suddenly make you gain twenty pounds. Parties should not be stressful. Eat what you want for that one night. Eat well the next day. You’ll live. If you become that person who constantly turns their nose up at everything their friends cook, you’ll soon have no friends. I guess then at least you won’t have to worry about what you’re going to eat at parties.

Those aren’t all my concerns. I don’t really want to get started on the questionable pre-vacation advice or the sometimes condescending tone she takes. Instead, I’ll move on to what I did like.

1. Meal planning has gotten me through some intense takeout cravings. On Saturday, I make a list of everything I’m going to cook the next week. On Sunday, I shop and prep. There’s no excuse for ordering out when you have all that fresh food in the fridge waiting to be cooked. I did appreciate that planning is at the forefront of her advice.
2. Finally, someone agrees that we don’t need to worry about how many calories we’re getting from veggies. In this plan, non-starchy veggies are basically a free-for-all. Go ahead and eat all the celery, broccoli, carrots, and asparagus you want. (Good, because I already do!)
3. The holidays chapter was really nice. Sometimes we do need to be reminded that we don’t need to stuff our faces with two pounds of butter on Thanksgiving and Christmas just because it’s traditional. And if we do, we just need to dust ourselves off, put in some cardio, and do better tomorrow. 

So all in all, I’m kind of ambivalent about The Little Book of Thin. It’s far from the best nutritional advice I’ve been given, but it’s also far from the worst. I think the important thing with any diet plan or nutritional guide is to customize it to your specific situation. No diet is one size fits all. If it sounds questionable, don’t do it. If it sounds like it will work for you, give it a try. You’re not locked into one plan for the rest of your life, either. I’m taking some of Ms. Slayton’s advice this week when I do my grocery shopping. If it works and I feel healthier, great. If not, there’s no harm in trying. There’s always next week.

FINAL RATING: 

[also posted here]

Goodreads | Amazon

Full disclosure: I received a free advance copy of Glitter and Glue from Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review.

After college, Kelly Corrigan packed up for a whirlwind trip around the world with her best friend. They planned to have life experiences and learn things that couldn’t be learned at home. What they didn’t plan on was burning through all of their money so quickly. After unsuccessfully attempting to get a job as a waitress or bartender, Kelly took a job as a nanny to a family that had recently lost their mother. And there, in that suburban Australian home, Kelly suddenly understood her mother’s formerly inexplicable practicality.

I wouldn’t have appreciated this book if I’d read it a few years ago. When I was living at home, rolling my eyes at my mom and ignoring everything she said, the words would have been lost on me. But now that I’m living a thousand miles away from her, making my own decisions and maintaining my own household, I value everything she has to say. I look forward to our weekly conversations. I bounce all my ideas off of her, from how to deal with people at work to what order I should tackle the spring cleaning. Now that I don’t see my mother with any regularity, I appreciate her more than ever before. And that means that I appreciated Glitter and Glue and Kelly’s evolving relationship with her mother all the more.

I don’t really have anything else to say about this book other than to recommend it to anyone who is a mom or has a mom. I know I’ll be recommending it to my mom.

FINAL RATING: 

[also posted here]