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!

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)

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Thursday, March 3, 2011

author’s website: website / blog
release date: February 1, 2011
appeals to: Young Adult
genre: Dystopian Fiction
length: 448 pages
publisher: HarperCollins
overall rating: 5 of 5 stars

*the inside flap*
Ninety-five days and then I’ll be safe.
I wonder whether
the procedure will hurt.
I want it over with.
It’s hard to be patient.
It’s hard not to be afraid
while I’m still uncured,
though so far the
deliria hasn’t touched me yet.
Still I worry.
They say that in the old days,
love drove people to madness.
The deadliest of all
deadly things: It kills
you both when you have it
and when you don’t.

*my thoughts *
Wow...I was absolutely captivated by Delirium. Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall was one of my favorite books of 2010, and this may score as one of my favorites of 2011. Delirium is a fantastic example of dystopian fiction, but the honesty of the emotions that fill this story hit home in a way that makes it seem more realistic than futuristic.

Delirium tells the story of Lena, a teenager growing up in a futuristic America. One that prides itself on the fact that it has completely eradicated amor deliria nervosa – a disease we know as love. The book even starts with the prideful statement that, “It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure.” Lena literally lives in a world in which love is seen as a debilitating disease that should be banned and destroyed if possible. While we obviously know that love isn’t a disease, the clinical descriptions of love that sprinkle the pages of this story make a pretty good argument for the disadvantages of the “condition.”

While love is forbidden, the citizens of this world can’t get the procedure that “cures” them until they are 18. Before that, every step possible is taken to keep girls and boys apart to protect them from becoming infected.

Lena is a huge advocate of the cure and is looking forward to her procedure. . .until she meets the boy that is able to change her mind. Her descriptions of falling in love are captivating, not only because they are so accurate, but because she is constantly scared of the forbidden feelings. Her internal debate between what she is feeling and what she has always been taught about the dangers of the deliria is fascinating.

I am a huge fan of dystopian fiction, so this novel appealed to me before I even picked it up, but the way that this story is written paints a picture of a world so similar to our own, that it is actually possible to imagine living there. Perhaps scarier, is the way that everyone in this new America wholeheartedly believes that love is a dangerous and deadly disease!
This is a beautiful story raging with realistic emotions and forbidden love. Lauren Oliver has delivered another breathtaking novel, and I look forward to anything (and everything) she has to offer next!

*short and snappy*
: Beautifully written in a way that pulls you directly into the story so that you can feel Lena’s conflicting emotions firsthand.
plot: There are several ingredients in this story, but they all come together in an easy to follow way that keeps you turning pages as quickly as possible.
characters: Amazing...Lena’s description
judging by the cover: The cover is gorgeous, but make sure you look underneath the dust cover to get the whole experience!
miscellaneous: On her website, Lauren Oliver offers fun things related to the world of Delirium, including: A Guide to Your Evaluation, A Partial List of Forbidden Books, and Testimonials of people who have undergone the cure. There is also a link to the HarperTeen Delirium page which offers a discussion guide and an excerpt from the book.
The Amazon page (link) has a pretty awesome playlist for the book.

Vesper by Jeff Sampson

Monday, February 28, 2011

author’s website: website / blog
release date: January 25, 2011
appeals to: Young Adult
genre: Paranormal
*2011 Debut Author*
: 304 pages
publisher: Balzer + Bray
overall rating: 4.5 stars

*the inside flap*
Emily Webb is a geek. And she’s happy that way. Content hiding under hoodies and curling up to watch old horror flicks, she’s never been the kind of girl who sneaks out for midnight parties. And she’s definitely not the kind of girl who starts fights or flirts with other girls’ boyfriends. Until one night Emily finds herself doing exactly that . . . the same night one of her classmates – also named Emily – is found mysteriously murdered.

The thing is, Emily doesn’t know why she’s doing any of this. By day, she’s the same old boring Emily, but by night, she turns into a thrill seeker. With every nightfall, Emily gets wilder until it’s no longer just her personality that changes. Her body can do things it never could before: Emily is now strong, fast, and utterly fearless. And soon Emily realizes that she’s not just coming out of her shell . . . there’s something much bigger going on. Is she bewitched by the soul of the other, murdered Emily? Or is Emily Webb becoming something else entirely – something not human?

As Emily hunts for answers, she finds out that she’s not the only one this is happening to – some of her classmates are changing as well. Who is turning these teens into monsters – and how many people will they kill to get what they want?

*my thoughts *
The story begins with a transcript of an interview that is being conducted at The Vesper Company. It is clear from the transcript that Emily (our main character) is being interviewed, and that she’s not exceptionally happy about it. The interviewer refers to Emily’s documentation of “the incident” and asks her to explain. That basic introduction leads into a more traditional format, in which Emily tells about how her life changed the night “the other Emily” was murdered. Initially, this seems like a Jekyll and Hyde type of scenario with Emily exhibiting two completely different personalities by day and by night. A strange ingredient in this transformation comes in the form of enhanced abilities that Emily has during her night time changes. She can see more clearly, run quickly, jump great distances, and she has incredibly increased strength. Even more interesting is the acknowledgement that each of Emily’s personalities gives the other. The confident nighttime Emily is annoyed by daytime Emily’s insecurities. And daytime Emily is often envious of the confidence she is able to exhibit at night. As the story continues, Emily becomes more conscious of when and how she will be changing, and she starts to look for answers.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when I picked up this book. I hadn’t read any reviews, so my only knowledge of it was the title, author, and the snippet from the inside cover. But I must say that I was more than pleasantly surprised by this story. The combination of murder, suspense, paranormal transformations, and an incredibly well planned plot, came together to create a story that kept me intrigued to the final page (which, I must say, contains a fabulous cliffhanger that makes me want the next book even more!)

In My Mailbox (#20)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme that talks about books that have been bought, swapped, received for review, or borrowed from the library. It is hosted by Kristy at The Story Siren.

This week I did a TON of reading...really...a TON. More snow and ice hit the mid west this week, so instead of teaching, I spent Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday with school cancelled and a huge TBR pile calling my name. I did manage to make it to the library before the snow and ice hit, so here’s what I got:
Delirium – Lauren Oliver
Vesper – Jeff Sampson
Wish – Joseph Monninger
Tangled – Carolyn Mackler
Fairy Tale – Cyn Balog
Siren – Tricia Rayburn

I’ll be posting reviews for most of these books in the next week or so.

Also, be sure to come back on Tuesday for a review of Driven – a debut release by Shellie Neumeier!

Waiting on Wednesday (#2)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. It is a place to spotlight upcoming releases and books that you are eagerly anticipating.
*the basics*
: Dead Rules
Author: Randy Russell
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Amazon Link
Summary: (from Randy’s Website)
Romeo and Juliet meets Heathers in this darkly comedic paranormal romance.
Jana Webster and Michael Haynes were destined to be together forever. Of that, Jana was sure.
But Jana just died – in a bowling accident. And when she finds herself in Dead School her carefully planned future unravels. All she can think about is reuniting with Michael, so she decides to take matters into her own hands and bring Michael to her. And nothing – not even handsome, mysterious Mars Dreamcote and his irresistibly warm touch – will distract Jana from making her dreams come true.

*why I’m waiting*
Besides having a fabulous cover, any story described as “Romeo and Juliet meets Heathers” sounds like an entertaining read.

Waiting on Wednesday (#1)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. It is a place to spotlight upcoming releases and books that you are eagerly anticipating.
This is my first time participating in WoW, but I’m really looking forward to some upcoming releases, so I thought I’d start!

*the basics*
: Hourglass
Author: Myra McEntire
Release Date: May 24, 2011
Publisher: Egmont USA
Amazon Link
Summary: (from Myra’s website)
Since the age of fourteen, Emerson Cole has seen strange things – dead things – swooning Southern Belles, soldiers, and other eerie apparitions of the past. She’s tried everything to get rid of the visions: medication, counseling, asylums. Nothing’s worked.
So when Emerson's well-meaning brother calls in yet another consultant from a mysterious organization called the Hourglass, Emerson’s willing to give it one last try.

Michael Weaver is no ordinary consultant. He's barely older than she is; he listens like no one she's ever met before; and he doesn't make her feel the least bit crazy. As Emerson ventures deeper into the world of the Hourglass, she begins to learn the truth about her past, her future--and her very life.

A seductive time-slip novel that merges the very best of the paranormal and science fiction genres, Myra McEntire’s Hourglass is a stunning debut from an author to watch

*why I’m waiting*
Strange visions + mysterious organizations + paranormal + debut author + time-slipping
ALL are fabulous ingredients for a great story!

In My Mailbox (#19)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme that talks about books that have been bought, swapped, received for review, or borrowed from the library. It is hosted by Kristy at The Story Siren.

This week I spent a LOT of time snowed in. We got about 4 inches of snow into Tuesday, and then got about a foot of (HEAVY!!) snow (mixed with layers of ice – thank you freezing rain and sleet) into Wednesday. Then it all started blowing...
So while I only got a few books, I was able to make quite a dent in my TBR pile!

From the Library:
The Queen of Second Place by Laura Peyton Roberts (amazon)
The Lying Game by Sara Shepard (amazon) My Review (link)
Wanted by Sara Shepard (amazon)

Sleepless by Cyn Balog (amazon) My Review (link)
Evil in Carnations by Kate Collins (amazon)
Sleeping With Anemone by Kate Collins (amazon)

Thomas Jefferson – A Film by Ken Burns
Alice in Wonderland (amazon)

From Jim (who teaches next door):
The Eight by Katherine Neville

I also posted reviews for:
The Lying Game (link)
Sleepless (link)
How NOT To Spend Your Senior Year (link)

What did you get in your mailbox?

How NOT to Spend Your Senior Year by Cameron Dokey

Thursday, February 3, 2011

release date: January 1, 2003
appeals to: Young Adult
genre: Romantic Comedy
length: 304 pages
publisher: Simon Pulse
overall rating: 3.5 stars

*the back cover*
Rule #1: If at all possible, don't pretend to be something you're not. Specifically, don't play dead. Trust me on this one. I did it, so I should know.
Jo O'Connor has spent her whole life moving around. When it comes to new schools, there's not a trick in the book about starting over that Jo doesn't know. But life is about to teach her a new trick: how to disappear entirely.

Rule #2: Always expect the Spanish Inquisition, no matter what anyone else does.
They have to move again. Now. This very night. Jo knows better than to argue. Her dad is the key witness in a major case against a big-time bad guy. But Jo just can't resist one last visit to the school where she's been so happy. All she wants is to say good-bye. That can't cause any problems, can it?

Rule #3: Never assume you can predict the future.
Now Jo's one last visit has landed her smack in the middle of a ghost story. Specifically, her own. By the time it's over, she'll have a whole new set of rules about what's real, what's make-believe, and -- most of all -- what's important.

*my review*
I initially grabbed this book from the library’s paperback shelf hoping for a quick light read...a little plot, a little romance, a little fun, but nothing too extravagant. Boy was I shocked! This story had a much more complex plot than I had counted on, and it actually kept me guessing about what would happen next. Don’t get me wrong...there was still the lighthearted romantic comedy that I had hoped for, there was just a little depth, too!

In “How NOT to Spend Your Senior Year,” we follow the life of Jo O’Conner, who has spent her entire childhood switching schools ALL the time! When we meet Jo, she is ready to start her senior year, and is just hoping to stay in the same place long enough to graduate. She has mastered blending in, and hopes to do just that until she falls head over heals for Alex on her first day at Beacon High. When Jo and her dad have to move again, she is not only frustrated, but decides to take matters into her own hands and offer a possible solution. . .which works. . .kind of.

This book is written as though Jo is telling you all about her senior year and the crazy sequence of events that it contains. She narrates in a lighthearted, somewhat snarky, tone that feels like a conversation with a friend. I appreciated that Jo was down to earth, and even self-deprecating at times. She seems to know her weaknesses, but isn’t always ready to accept her strengths – something most teenagers can relate with.

While this isn’t an overwhelmingly complex book, it is a quick fun read that will keep you guessing, and probably laughing.

The Lying Game by Sara Shepard

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

author’s website: website
author’s HarperTeen website: link
release date: December 7, 2010
appeals to: Young Adult
genre: Suspense / Contemporary
length: 320 pages
publisher: HarperTeen
overall rating: 4 stars

*the inside flap*
I had a life anyone would kill for.
Then someone did.
The worst part of being dead is that there’s nothing left to live for. No more kisses. No more secrets. No more gossip. It’s enough to kill a girl all over again. But I’m about to get something no one else does—an encore performance, thanks to Emma, the long-lost twin sister I never even got to meet.
Now Emma’s desperate to know what happened to me. And the only way to figure it out is to be me—to slip into my old life and piece it all together. But can she laugh at inside jokes with my best friends? Convince my boyfriend she’s the girl he fell in love with? Pretend to be a happy, carefree daughter when she hugs my parents good night? And can she keep up the charade, even after she realizes my murderer is watching her every move?
Let the lying game begin.

*my review*
I was a little hesitant to pick up “The Lying Game” because I have read a few reviews that described it as similar to the Pretty Little Liars series that Sara Shepard is famous for. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the PLL series! But I wasn’t sure that I wanted to read a similar series with different characters. However. . .when The Lying Game came in at the library, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read it, and I am SO glad that I did!

Are there similarities between “The Lying Game” and Pretty Little Liars? In a word, yes. Both books have an unknown killer, rich popular girls as the main characters, and mysterious notes warning that secrecy is the only way to stay safe. BUT if you think about the mystery/suspense genre, ALL mystery stories have the ingredient of an unknown killer – that’s why they are mysteries!

Beyond those minor similarities, I felt that this book was quite different from the PLL series! In “The Lying Game” we meet Emma and Sutton; twin sisters separated for a lifetime, who learn about each other because of a tragic event – Sutton’s murder! Though the story is narrated by Sutton, Emma (who was raised in the foster system, and is two weeks shy of turning 18, when the story begins) is really the main character (since she’s alive). Sutton accompanies Emma in a very interesting way. Sutton can hear and see everything that Emma can hear or see. She can also “hear” Emma’s thoughts and understand her memories. What is even more interesting is that Sutton can’t seem to remember her own memories with the exception of quick images or feelings here and there. When Emma goes to Arizona and is forced into assuming Sutton’s life, there is suspense, excitement, and mystery at every turn.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and read it in one sitting! Having a narrator that knows everything about the main character, but isn’t the main character, gave this book an interesting perspective. (It almost felt like the voice-overs that Mary Alice gives on Desperate Housewives, if you’re familiar with that show.) The story line itself was excellent. The style that Shepard developed in the PLL series of introducing a ton of seemingly minor characters, who will eventually play larger roles, seems to be continued in this series. The secret identity ingredient also adds to the suspense, because throughout, I was just waiting for someone to figure out that Emma wasn’t really Sutton.

Overall, this was a great read, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to the next installment!

*short and snappy*
writing: Character driven and filled with details and suspense, but in a way that was never confusing or tedious to read.
plot: Suspenseful and entertaining with twists galore
characters: The main characters (Emma and Sutton) are obviously well developed, and tons of seemingly minor characters were introduced throughout the story, making me wonder what roles they will play
memorable line: “She swiveled to the computer, clicked the mouse on Sutton’s Facebook status update window, and began to type: Game on, bitches.” p. 204
(*Note: I try to keep the language on this blog clean, but after reading the PLL series, watching the TV show, and now reading this book; there are some times when adding “bitches” to the end of a statement just makes it more powerful. . .not necessarily appropriate, but powerful :) )
judging by the cover: I LOVE the juxtaposition of the twins on the front cover. It is also a fun way to keep the partial portraits that were used in the PLL series.
miscellaneous: The Lying Game website has several fun things including an interview with Sara Shepard

Sleepless by Cyn Balog

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

author’s website: website / blog
release date: July 13, 2010
appeals to: Young Adult
genre: Paranormal
length: 224 pages
publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
overall rating: 4.5 Stars

*the inside flap*
Eron DeMarchelle isn’t supposed to feel this connection. He is a Sandman, a supernatural being whose purpose is to seduce his human charges to sleep. Though he can communicate with his charges in their dreams, he isn’t encouraged to do so. After all, becoming too involved in one human’s life could prevent him from helping others get their needed rest.
But he can’t deny that he feels something for Julia, a lonely girl with fiery red hair and sad dreams. Just weeks ago, her boyfriend died in a car accident, and Eron can tell that she feels more alone than ever. Eron was human once too, many years ago, and he remembers how it felt to lose the one he loved. In the past, Eron has broken rules to protect Julia, but now, when she seems to need him more than ever, he can’t reach her. Eron’s time as a Sandman is coming to a close, and his replacement doesn’t seem to care about his charges. Worse, Julia is facing dangers she doesn’t recognize, and Eron, as he transitions back to being human, may be the only one who can save her. . . .
Even once they’ve become human again, Sandmen are forbidden to communicate with their charges. But Eron knows he won’t be able to forget Julia. Will he risk everything for a chance to be with the girl he loves?

*my review*
In a time when paranormal YA fiction is running rampant, this book was truly a fresh idea. I’ve read tons of stories about vampires, werewolves, fairies, etc. (and love the genre!!) but never a book about Sandmen. Not only was the paranormal “species” new to me, but the author herself was new to me, and I must say that I was very impressed!
In Sleepless, we meet Julia, a “normal” teenager who has just lost her boyfriend Griffin. While Julia puts up a strong front filled with sarcasm and constant verbal sparring (mostly with her friend Bret), her inner dialog makes it obvious to the reader that her hard exterior is just a faƧade, and she actually has some pretty big confidence issues. Throughout the book, Julia mentions and alludes to an event that happened to her when she was younger that seems to have supplied the confidence issues, but she never goes into the details of what happened.
In alternating chapters, we meet Eron, the Sandman responsible for aiding Julia’s sleep. He has been a Sandman for nearly 100 years, and it is obvious from his dialog and descriptions that he still holds the more “traditional” values. It is also pretty obvious that he is head over heals in love with Julia (at least, it was obvious to me!) Throughout the story, Eron is in the process of training his Sandman replacement so that he can rejoin the human world.
This story is full of emotion, and since the chapters alternate between Eron’s and Julia’s perspectives, the reader gets to experience the full range of emotion from both characters. Even though the novel is relatively short, I was very impressed by the way that this story unfolds. Cyn Balog creates a very realistic world and fills the story with details in a way that seems impossible with such a short page count. I was very satisfied with the ending, but could have kept reading for several chapters if they had existed! Overall, this was a great story that I’d definitely recommend for a fun, quick read, and I’m looking forward to more from Cyn Balog in the future!

*short and snappy*
: Smooth to read and filled with details, but in a way that never feels heavy
plot: I thought it was predictable, but there were a few twists that changed my predictions drastically
characters: Julia and Eron are both likable, and fairly realistic, but Balog also creates a few characters that you love to hate
judging by the cover: The cover is quite simple and doesn’t allude to the plot at all, but it’s pretty

In My Mailbox (#18)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme that talks about books that have been bought, swapped, received for review, or borrowed from the library. It is hosted by Kristy at The Story Siren.

In my Mailbox (and my e-mail-box):
This week was pretty exciting because I got two books from debut authors! On Tuesday, I got "Illegal" by Bettina Restrepo in my email-box, and on Wednesday, I got “Driven” by Shellie Neumeier in my actual mailbox. I don’t have an e-reader, so I’ll be reading that one on the computer. (If you DO have an e-reader, which one? And what do you like/don’t you like about it? I’m trying to decide whether I want a Kindle or a Nook or neither…)

From the Library:
Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials – Stephanie Hemphill
Blue Is For Nightmares – Laurie Faria Stolarz
White Is For Magic – Laurie Faria Stolarz

Firelight – Sophie Jordan
Beautiful Malice – Rebecca James (I included two covers, because I like them both)
Wicked – Sara Shepard
Killer - Sara Shepard
Heartless – Sara Shepard Kiss Me Deadly: 13 Tales of Paranormal Love
Zombies vs. Unicorns
I didn’t buy any books this week, but I did get season four of “Bones” on Wednesday. We had a school cancellation because my city was covered in ice, but we ventured out mid-afternoon and found it for $20 less than I’ve seen it anywhere…so of course, I picked it up!
That sums up my mailbox...let me know your Kindle v. Nook opinions, and what you got in your mailboxes!

The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren by Wendy Toliver

Monday, January 17, 2011

author’s website: Wendy Toliver
release date: December 26, 2007
appeals to: YA (ok for younger teens)
genre: romance
length: 280 pages
publisher: Simon Pulse
overall rating: 3.5

*the back cover*
Geeky to gorgeous in sixty seconds . . .
Roxy’s about to turn sixteen, but life isn’t so sweet. As a band geek, roxy can barely get the cute guys to notice her, much less go out with her. Then, on her birthday, Roxy is transformed into a Siren: seductively beautiful with the power to control all men. She thought Sirens were an ancient myth, but suddenly Roxy can get any guy she wants with just a few notes on her flute.
There are only two rules: don’t tell anyone about being a Siren, and don’t fall in love. When she starts dating Zach, the guy everybody’s crushing on, Roxy realizes she could get used to this Siren thing . . . but how can she keep herself from falling in love?

*my review*
This book is lighthearted, cute, and fun to read. It is basically a romance novel, but with the twist that Roxy can’t fall in love because of Siren Rule Number Two! Roxy begins the book as a normal 15-year-old high school sophomore who is ready for her 16th birthday to come. She is a flute player in the band, accepts the fact that she isn’t gorgeous, but still has a huge crush on the school heartthrob, Zach Parker. Roxy and her best friend, Natalie, are self proclaimed BeeGees (band geeks), and are constantly frustrated, mocked, and lightly tormented by the snobby members of the Proud Crowd.
When Roxy’s grandmother comes for her sixteenth birthday, and explains the transformation into a Siren that takes place, Roxy changes from invisible to unforgettable in one evening. She has gets the things that she always thought she wanted: attention from boys, a place in the Proud Crowd, and a good looking boyfriend. But she also realizes that the “perks” don’t always outweigh the costs related to them.
While the book was slightly predictable, the story was cute and it was nice to see a story about how the unpopular kids can be much more fun than the divas of the Proud Crowd. It was also fun to read about a flute player, since I spent my high school years dealing with the same flute-player jokes (…especially after American Pie came out my junior year). This would be a great choice for a beach read (or a snow day read)!

*short and snappy*
: light and fun
plot: slightly predictable, but very fun to read
characters: realistic and likable (except for the Proud Crowd divas, but you’re supposed to hate them)
judging by the cover: the bright cover is actually what made me pick up the book :)
miscellaneous: there is a trailer for the book here (on Wendy's site)

Virals by Kathy Reichs

Saturday, January 15, 2011

author’s website: author site / Virals website
release date: November 2, 2010
appeals to: YA
genre: Paranormal/SciFi
length: 464 pages
publisher: Razorbill
overall rating: 5 stars

*synopsis* (from Virals website)
Adventure has always been in fourteen-year-old Tory Brennan’s blood. After all, she is the niece of world-famous forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. So when she moves to middle of nowhere Morris Island, South Carolina, to live with a marine biologist dad she’s never known, Tory does the best she can to adjust to her new life.
There she meets a group of local kids who are just as “Sci-Phile” as she is—science geeks who’ve grown up exploring the backwoods marsh-lands of nearby Loggerhead Island. But there’s something strange going on at the Loggerhead Research Institute… maybe even something deadly. After rescuing a stray wolfdog pup from a top-secret lab, Tory and her friends are exposed to a rare strain of canine parvovirus, changing them—and their DNA—forever.
Now, with newly heightened senses and canine-quick reflexes, they’ll have to solve a cold-case murder that’s suddenly become very hot … that is, if they can stay alive long enough to catch the killer’s scent.
Fortunately, they are now more than friends.
They are a pack.
They are VIRALS.

*my review*
I initially picked up Virals because I saw that it was written by Kathy Reichs. As an absolute addict to the show Bones (which is based on the life and books of Kathy Reichs), I thought that I’d like to try one of her books. Then, I read the inside flap and realized that it has a paranormal ingredient, and I was even more excited!
The first line of Virals is fabulous. It draws you in, and creates a great hook to keep you interested. From there, the story is filled with suspense, friendship, mystery-solving, crime fighting teenagers, and the science fiction/paranormal aspect that will intrigue fans of those genres. The plot if this story is pretty complex, but it never felt heavy. The action moves quickly and the actual writing is very easy to read. In fact, it’s difficult to put down.
The main character in this book - Tory - is only 14 years old, but she is definitely wise beyond her years. She (and her three cohorts in crime) are so much more mature than most fourteen year olds that I have met (no offense) that is was often easy to forget that they were so young. In addition to the increased maturity, the characters were incredibly intelligent. All four of the teens are the children of professors working at the Loggerhead Research Institute, which may account for the increased interest in science and learning. Even with the extreme intelligence, the characters were all pretty down to earth, and seemed easy to relate to.
While I really enjoyed this book, there is a lot of language used. Since the main character is fourteen, that may be offensive to some younger readers (or their parents). However, I thought it was a pretty realistic portrayal of teenagers. Even though there is a lot of language, it always felt realistic rather than excessive.

*short and snappy*
: Quick and easy to read, but it still provides a lot of detail!
plot: Fast moving, but with a lot of twists and turns that keep it quite suspenseful
characters: The four main characters are all well developed and easy to relate to, but it is the amount of detail given to the minor characters that adds to the story
memorable line: A gunshot is the loudest sound in the universe. Especially if the bullet is coming at you. (p. 1)
judging by the cover: a great cover with details that I didn’t understand until I read the book
miscellaneous: An excerpt of the prologue to Virals is available here (and it includes that memorable line).

2011 Challenges

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Last year, I participated in two challenges the 100 book challenge from J. Kaye’s site & the Debut Author Challenge at The Story Siren’s site. I did manage to meet my debut author goal, but I missed my 100 book challenge by 4 books.

This year, I am going to be participating in a few challenges, but my main goal is to keep up on reviewing the books I read!

2011 YA Reading Challenge
Jamie at “For the Love of YA” is hosting the YA Reading Challenge this year. Since I read primarily YA books, I’m going to attempt the Mega Size challenge which is 50+ YA titles. The rules for this challenge and information about how to sign up are available here.

2011 Debut Author Challenge
The Debut Author Challenge is hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren. Last year, I read 13 debut books, but only posted reviews for 8, so I’m not sure if I officially completed the challenge or not! :) This year, I hope to read 12 debut books. You can learn more about this challenge here and sign up for it here. My tentative list (which has far more than 12) is below, and I’ll be keeping track in a sidebar on my blog.
The False Princess - Eilis O'Neal
Darkness Becomes Her - Kelly Keaton
Blood Magic - Tessa Gratton
Entwined - Heather Dixon
Wither - Lauren DeStefano
Bumped - Megan McCafferty
The Goddess Test - Aimee Carter
Spellbound - Cara Lynn Shultz
Falling for Hamlet - Michelle Ray
Vanished - Sheela Chari
My Un-Fairy Tale Life - Anna Staniszewski
Flawless - Lara Chapman
The Princess Curse - Merrie Haskell
Dead Rules - Randy Russell
The Sweetest Thing - Christina Mandelski
Wildefire - Karsten Knight
Unearthly - Cynthia Hand
Moonglass - Jessi Kirby
Illegal - Bettina Restrepo
Across the Universe - Beth Revis
Vesper - Jeff Sampson
Haven - Kristi Cook
Rival- Sara Bennett-Wealer
So Shelly - Ty Roth
The Revenant - Sonia Gensler
The Lipstick Laws - Amy Holder
Also, I find the “Elevensies” website to be helpful in finding information about the debut authors and books. It is here.

100+ Book Challenge
Last year I attempted this challenge and came SO close! This year, I’m going to try again to reach the 100 book mark. You can learn more about this challenge here.

In My Mailbox (#17)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme that talks about books that have been bought, swapped, received for review, or borrowed from the library. It is hosted by Kristy at The Story Siren. Kristy is taking a break from IMM, but will be bringing it back later this year.

This IMM is actually covering two weeks, so there is a lot to share!
I got a few things for Christmas: The big book in the background is probably the coolest present I’ve ever received from a student – especially because it shows that he really knows me! The book is an American History coloring big book. All of the pages are line drawings that can be colored in, but they depict different scenes from the very beginning of colonization through landing on the moon. I’m actually thinking about breaking the book apart and using them as posters in my classroom.
The other things are:
The Hunger Games boxed set (!!!) – Suzanne Collins
Linger – Maggie Stiefvater
Eclipse (the movie)
Bones Season 3 (this show is my new TV addiction)
The Presidents Little Instruction Book (I actually got 2 of these)

Then last week, I went to Half Price Books because they were having a 20% off of everything sale, and I left with 7 books for only $13! Two are for my collection, and five are for my classroom. Ballad – Maggie Stiefvater
Founding Brothers – Joseph Ellis
Pictures of Hollis Woods – Patricial Reilly Giff
The Best School Year Ever – Barbara Robinson
Bridge to Terabithia – Katherine Paterson
The Witches – Roald Dahl
Ginger Pye – Eleanor Estes

I also have to share a present that I got from my sister-in-law for Christmas. It’s called Things We Can Learn from a Dog. It has very cute advice and that is a picture of my puppy on her first Christmas (she’s three and a half now).

That sums up my week in books…what did you get?

Fallen by Lauren Kate

Saturday, January 1, 2011

author’s website: Lauren Kate
release date: December 8, 2009
appeals to: Young Adult
genre: Contemporary Paranormal
length: 464 pages
publisher: Delacorte Press
overall rating: 5 stars

*the inside flap*
There’s something achingly familiar about Daniel Grigori.

Mysterious and aloof, he captures Luce Price’s attention from the moment she sees him on her first day at Sword & Cross boarding school in Savannah. He’s the one bright spot in a place where cell phones are forbidden, the other students are screwups, and security cameras watch every move.

Except Daniel wants nothing to do with Luce – he goes out of his way to make that very clear. But she can’t let it go. Drawn to him like a moth to a flame, Luce has to find out what Daniel is so desperate to keep secret . . . even if it kills her.

Dangerously exciting and darkly romantic, Fallen is a page-turning thriller and the ultimate love story.

*my review*
Luce is a very strong character, but within the story, she is faced with a number of issues; beginning with the one that landed her at Sword and Cross - an issue that is hinted at and described in pieces throughout the book. There is also the problem (if you can call it that) of the two intriguing and good looking boys capturing Luce’s attention. Cam is the persistently interested and cute boy who oozes charm, but Luce can’t seem to get over Daniel – even though he shows zero interest. In fact, Daniel shows the opposite of interest, making every effort to push Luce away.
As the story progresses, the characters change and everything starts to fall into place. There is actually a lot of action in the story, with twists and turns happening when you least expect them to. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can’t wait for the sequel.
Overall, this is an intensely beautiful story that unfolds new surprises to the very last page. I would recommend it without question.

*short and snappy*
plot: intense – there are a lot of elements in this story and surprises literally happen until the last page
characters: incredibly developed! Even the “minor” characters have detailed backgrounds and personalities
judging by the cover: I absolutely LOVE the cover! Truthfully it is what drew me to the book. It reminds me of the cover of Evanescence’s “The Open Door” album & especially the Lithium video
miscellaneous: two book trailers for Fallen are available at Lauren Kate’s website. You have to scroll down and they’re on the right hand side.
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