Hearts at Stake by Alyxandra Harvey

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

author’s website: www.thedrakechronicles.com
release date: December 22, 2009
genre: Paranormal (vampires)
length: 256 pages
publisher: Walker & Company

*the back cover*
Solange Drake always knew she was destined to become a vampire queen. And as the only female vampire ever born, not made, she is surrounded by danger on all sides – from vampire suitors who want to join with her lineage to bounty hunters who are set on destroying her and her family. When she is kidnapped, it’s up to her older brother Nicholas and her human best friend, Lucy, to save her. But can Lucy save herself from Nicholas, who tempts her with his every look? And what will be Solange’s own fate if she surrenders her heart to the vampire hunter helping her survive the deadly intrigue at the royal court?
Let the Drake family be your guide into a secret vampire society full of epic battles, gothic seduction, undead drama, and wicked humor.

*my thoughts *
I am a sucker for vampire stories, but lately have been burned out on the huge quantity of stories being released, but this book definitely brought me back into the vampire genre! The story is told in alternating chapters by Solange (the vampire princess) and Lucy (her quirky and pretty fabulous – human – best friend). The alternating point of view made for an interesting story because you really get into two different perspectives and can see why different decisions are being made – something that couldn’t be achieved by a single narrator.
With every vampire book out there, the writer has to create his or her own set of rules for those vampires. The “rules” found in the Drake Chronicles combine the traditional vampire lore with some more modern “rules” and form a new version of the vampire world. I especially liked that the vampires in this story tend to dress in the style that was the height of fashion during their lives. It added something by creating a group of people dressed in everything from Victorian finery to jeans and t-shirts.
I flew through this book, looked forward to the second one (which I have already finished), and am awaiting more from Alyxandra Harvey in this fun series!

I'm Back!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hello blog followers!

It's been a while, but I'm glad to be back!! This school year was crazy, so I wasn't able to blog as much as I'd like. I had time to either read or blog, and I chose reading!

Now that it's summer vacation, I'm going to have a bit more time, so I'm excited to already have several posts ready to go. I'll also be working on finishing my Masters (in Reading), which means that I'm doing a bunch of research and writing a huge paper this summer.

My research focuses on teaching nonfiction writing in the classroom, so if you are a teacher who teaches writing and might be interested in answering a few questions for my research, please shoot me an email (I'd REALLY appreciate the help!!).

Otherwise - Happy Summer and it's good to be back :)

Historical Fiction...any suggestions?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hello Readers!

You may or may not know, but my full time job is teaching 5th graders, and this month, my genre focus in class is on Historical Fiction. I am pretty good at recommending titles, but since the book blogging community appeals to so many readers with SO many tastes, I thought I'd ask for suggestions. I'm trying to compile a list of books to suggest to my readers (who mostly read Middle Grade titles, but many can also tackle the YA books, too).


If you have any suggestions of great historical fictions titles to share with my students, I'd love for you to leave a comment with the title, author, and (if possible) the time period/topic.


Illegal by Bettina Restrepo

Monday, March 14, 2011

author’s website: website
release date: March 8, 2011
appeals to: Young Adult
*2011 Debut Author*
genre: Contemporary Fiction
length: 272 pages
publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

*summary* (from author website)
Nora is on a desperate journey far away from home. When her father leaves their beloved Mexico in search of work, Nora stays behind. She fights to make sense of her loss while living in poverty—in wait of her father’s return and a better day. When the letters and money stop coming, Nora decides that she and her mother must look for him in Texas. After a frightening experience crossing the border, the two are all alone in a strange place. Nora must find the strength to survive while aching for small comforts: friends, a new school, and her quinceaƱera. This gripping, deeply hopeful debut novel captures the challenges of one girl’s unique, yet universal immigrant experience.

*my thoughts *
This story is absolutely, devastatingly, realistic. From the very beginning, we learn the story of Nora, a (nearly) fifteen year old girl, living in rural Mexico in a town that is falling apart because of the extreme poverty. The people in the town don’t have anything. Their farms aren’t producing goods, they have lost hope, and even the church and school have shut down. The images of poverty in the town are as clear as if they were photographs; making it easy to understand the utter hopelessness that the people feel. That is what leads Nora and her mother to form a plan for escape. The two women travel across the border by hiding in a truck, in what Nora describes as an absolutely terrifying experience, only to arrive in a completely new city, in a new country, with little money, and very little knowledge of English.

While getting to America is supposed to be the hard part of this voyage, Nora and her mother quickly learn that life in America is much harder than they could have imagined. Luckily, they stumble upon some luck when they find a caring couple who given them jobs and an opportunity for housing. From that point on, this book tells the story of Nora growing up so much faster than anyone should have to. She works furiously to earn money, learn the language, make friends, and find her father.
I don’t often read realistic fiction about different cultures, so I am especially glad to have read this story. I feel like I learned a great deal from Nora and her experiences - not only about what the secretive voyage from Mexico to America is like, or what life as an illegal immigrant is like, but about the amazing things that courage and strength can lead people to do. Overall, this was a beautiful story and an incredible debut novel!

On her website, Bettina Restrepo offers a Discussion Guide (link) and information about other stops on the blog tour (link) for the release of this novel.

Siren by Tricia Rayburn

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

author’s website: website / blog
release date: July 13, 2010
appeals to: Young Adult
(ok for younger teens too)
genre: Contemporary Paranormal
length: 352 pages
publisher: EgmontUSA
overall rating: 5 of 5 stars

*the inside flap*
Vacationing in Winter Harbor, Maine, is a tradition for Vanessa and Justine Sands, and that means spending time with the Carmichael boys. This summer, Vanessa is determined to channel some of her older sister’s boldness, get over her fear of the ocean, and maybe turn her friendship with Simon Carmichael into something much more.
But when Justine goes cliff-diving after a big family argument, and her body washes ashore the next day, Vanessa is sure that it was more than an accident. She is more certain of this, when she discovers that her sister was keeping some big secrets and Caleb Carmichael’s gone missing. Suddenly, the entire oceanfront town is abuzz when a series of grim, water-related accidents occur, with the male victims washed ashore grinning from ear to ear.
Vanessa and Simon team up to figure out if these creepy deaths have anything to do with Justine and Caleb. But will what Vanessa discovers mean the end of her summer romance, or even life as she knows it?

*my thoughts*
I have heard about this book for quite awhile, but never really thought twice about it until I noticed it at the library last week. I have loved mermaid stories since I was a little girl, but never really read about sirens (other than during the mandatory mythology lessons). And, truthfully, the cover of this book drew me in more than anything.

Vanessa and Justine Sands are sisters with the kind of friendship that I had always hoped to have growing up. They are close in age, get along well, and spend their summers in Winter Harbor, Maine as half of a foursome that has been fabulous for years. (The other half of the foursome is made up of Caleb – Justine’s summer boyfriend - and Simon Carmichael from next door.) The book starts off on the first day of a new summer season, and the foursome is cliff diving – well, three of the four – since, Vanessa is afraid of everything and refuses to jump. Things seem to be going splendidly until dinnertime, when a fight breaks out in the Sands family, and Justine storms off angry at her parents, and at Vanessa. Abruptly, you are taken back to Boston where Vanessa is trying to deal with the proceedings of her sister’s funeral. At this point of the story, it started to become obvious that Vanessa didn’t really know her sister, and that bothers her greatly. It also leads her back to Winter Harbor, by herself, to spend the rest of the summer in search of herself and in search of answers about Justine.

The story of Vanessa’s summer is really a combination of a “coming of age” story and a fantasy tale. Obviously there is a siren ingredient to the story (thus the title), but there is also the story of Vanessa’s struggle to understand herself, and to understand the sister that she thought she knew. I was drawn into this story from nearly the first page, and didn’t want to put it down, even after it was finished. At the same time, I thought the ending was absolutely perfect. It provided wonderful closure, but with a hint at what may happen in the future.

*short and snappy*
: Rayburn brings Vanessa’s story to life by taking you through the summer from Vanessa’s perspective. The writing flows in a way that is easy to read... I was drawn in, and couldn’t read it fast enough!
plot: The combination of mystery, romance, and the coming of age summer vacation story are woven together beautifully. The paranormal element was almost secondary, even though it played a crucial role.
characters: I liked that the characters had depth that was revealed slowly throughout the novel as Vanessa figured out different aspects of each character.
judging by the cover: I was intrigued by the cover, but I think I may actually like the new cover even better. It will be on the paperback (releasing in May) and is different so that it will blend better with the cover for the sequel (releasing in July). Tricia wrote about it on her blog (here)
miscellaneous: There is a book trailer for Siren here
* The next book in the series – Undercurrent – comes out July 12, 2011!

Wish by Joseph Monninger

Monday, March 7, 2011

author’s website: website
release date: November 9, 2010
appeals to: YA or Middle Grade
genre: Contemporary Fiction
length: 208 pages
publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
overall rating: 4 of 5 Stars

*the inside flap*
Bee’s brother, Tommy, knows everything there is to know about sharks. He also knows that his life will be cut short by cystic fibrosis. And so does Bee.
That’s why when a wish foundation sends him on a trip to swim with great white sharks, Bee vows to make it an unforgettable memory.
But wishes don’t always come true. At least, not as expected. Only when Bee takes Tommy to meet a famous shark attack survivor and hard-core surfer does Tommy have the chance to live one day to the fullest.
And in the sun-kissed ocean off a California beach, Bee discovers that she has a few secret wishes of her own. . . .

*my thoughts *
When I picked up wish, I glanced at the cover, saw a girl swimming under water, and thought it would be some kind of mermaid story. (I know, I know – Read the cover, right?! However, I preface this admission with the fact that my selection occurred during a rushed library trip when I was given 5 minutes to “get in and get out.”) I realized as soon as I started reading, that my prediction was about as far from correct as possible! Wish is actually the story of a fifteen-year-old girl named Bess who is accompanying her eleven-year-old brother Tommy to California where he is going to swim with great white sharks. Tommy has Cystic Fibrosis, and at his sister’s urging, he applied to the Blue Moon Foundation for a wish. Since Tommy is obsessed with sharks, his wish was to swim with great whites – something that sounds terrifying to me! Obviously, Tommy was selected, and in this story, he, Bess, and their mom travel from their home in New Hampshire to San Francisco for a long weekend of shark related activities. Along the way, you realize that Tommy’s obsession with sharks goes beyond that of most 11-year-olds...in fact, he probably knows as much as some of the “experts” whose books he reads. When they get to California, and realize that the Blue Moon Foundation didn’t understand his knowledge level, both Bess and Tommy are a bit disappointed. Fortunately, Tommy’s friend Ty – a shark attack survivor – lives close by, so Bess and Tommy go to visit him, and that is when the fun really begins.
If I had known that this was a book about a young boy with CF, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up, but I am really glad that I did. The story is quick moving, and has several funny parts. There are also shark facts interspersed within the story that were fun to read. While the story was fun, there were constantly reminders of the strain that Tommy’s condition put on him and on his family. It was interesting to read about the lives of people who are so impacted by something so uncontrollable. It was also amazing to read about how dedicated a 15-year-old girl can be to her brother. While most teenage siblings fight and bicker, she honestly watched out for him and took care of him at all times. Often she even put his needs before her own. Overall, this was a great story, even though it was out of the norm for my book picks.

Tangled by Carolyn Mackler

Saturday, March 5, 2011

author’s website: website / blog
release date: December 29, 2009
appeals to: Young Adult
(language & some content are not MG appropriate)
genre: Contemporary Fiction
length: 320 pages
publisher: HarperTeen
overall rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

*the inside flap*
Paradise wasn’t supposed to suck.
Not the state of being, but a resort in the Caribbean. Jena, Dakota, Skye, and Owen are all there for different reasons, but at Paradise their lives become tangled together in ways none of them can predict. Paradise will change them all.
It will change Jena, whose first brush with romance takes her that much closer to having a life, and not just reading about those infinitely cooler and more exciting.
It will change Dakota, who needs the devastating truth about his past to make him realize that he doesn’t have to be a jerk just because people think he’s one.
It will change Skye, a heartbreakingly beautiful actress, who must come to terms with the fact that for once she has to stop playing a role or face the consequences.
And it will change Owen, who has never risked anything before and who will take the leap from his online life to a real one all because of a girl he met at Paradise...
From confused to confident and back again, one thing’s certain: Four months after it all begins, none of them will ever be the same.

*my thoughts *
I’ve seen several of Carolyn Mackler’s books on shelves in bookstores and the library, but had never read one until now. . .but after reading Tangled I’ll be very inclined to try another of her books!
Tangled tells the story of four teenagers whose lives cross paths at a resort in the Caribbean called Paradise. The book actually has four separate parts - one for each of the main characters (Jena, Dakota, Skye, and Owen) – and is told over the course of four months (again, one for each character). When I began reading, I was expecting to re-read the same time period from each character’s point of view, and was pleasantly surprised to find that that is not the case. Instead, time continues to pass as you move from character to character; an approach that adds depth to the story, since each character alludes to the others after time has passed.
Jena begins our story with the actual trip to Paradise. She is 16, sees herself as a plain Jane, and doesn’t understand why she can’t find romance…until she meets Dakota – an all too stunning, 18-year-old who is also vacationing with his family. While we meet all four of the characters in Jena’s section of the book, her perspective gives tainted descriptions of the others, so it isn’t until you read each character’s section that you can fully understand the actions they take.
While I didn’t initially think I would like him at all, I found Dakota’s portion of the book to be my favorite in terms of understanding a different person. Dakota is a foul-mouthed, aggressive, stereotypical jock with a really bad attitude. What most people don’t realize though is that all of those traits are a front that can make him appear to be strong while he is going through his own personal hell. It takes things crashing down for him to be able to explore the “real” Dakota, and that is what I really enjoyed reading.
While it wasn’t what I initially thought, I really enjoyed this book. I could have read a full length version of each character’s story, but enjoyed the way that the characters’ perspectives were combined in the telling of this story.

*short and snappy*
writing / plot
: This story is interestingly woven together across four characters and four months in a way that cleanly transitions into one fluid story.
characters: Each character is overwhelmingly different from the others, which is amazing since one author created all four. Their personalities shine through their descriptions of their daily lives.
memorable line: “A day without sunshine is, like, night.” (p. 28 – this is mentioned as being on a bumper sticker, but I like it!)
judging by the cover: I love how the cover shows the tangled ribbons connecting to each other. It is definitely representative of the concept of the story!
miscellaneous: On her website, Mackler offers an excerpt (link) and a “behind the book” (link) feature for the book. She also offers a reading group guide (link) if you need one.
*a side note* I thought that this book would be like the movie “Go” (a pretty fabulous movie from the late ‘90s) which tells the story of one evening, but from three different perspectives. “Go” is definitely R rated (for drug content, language, sexuality, and some violence) but is a pretty good movie otherwise. (IMDB link)
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