Friday, September 30, 2011

All These Things I've Done

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011
354 pages
YA; Speculative Fiction
4.5/5 stars

Source: Received a review copy through Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

I'm going to break this down into five elements to help me better process my thoughts and to hopefully convince you to read this because I really enjoyed it.

Setting: The setting is established on the back cover. The year is 2083, chocolate and caffeine are illegal, paper books are scarce, and New York City is rife with poverty and crime (although it kind of is now, right?) Anyway it didn't feel very futuristic except for specific references to the illegality of chocolate and the rareness of books. Life goes on much as it does today. However it does provide an intriguing entry point; I know that I wanted to know about life without much chocolate as a diehard chocoholic!

Plot: The fact that chocolate is illegal is an important plot point though because main character Anya Balanchine is the daughter of a now slain mob boss and her family's money comes from chocolate. The majority of the book revolves around Anya trying to take care of her brother and sister as they are orphans and their grandmother is near death; as a 16-year old Anya cannot officially be the guardian and taking caring of her family is her number-one priority. The other main plot threads are the Balanchine crime family as well as Anya's budding romance, which will be discussed later.

Characters: Anya is the make-or-break it element of this book. She's the narrator, you're in her head so if you hate her, then you will not like this book. However I warmed to her easily. A. she's pro-family and I enjoyed her struggles against her selfishness to do what would protect her family (not all YA-heroines can handle that) B. She's pretty lippy, which is just funny. I enjoyed her voice a lot. Then there are the other characters: Anya's family, her best friend Scarlet, the boyfriend, and various authority figures. In general, I felt they were distinct personalities with specific reasons for being in the narrative.

Writing: The writing connects with the characters as it is told in Anya's voice. I felt this was a little shaky (although as this was an uncorrected proof, perhaps this will be edited later?) because the story was mostly told by Anya to the reader as flashback with her making little interjections for foreshadowing. The other element relating to this is how Anya inserts her father's words of wisdom, which some people may not like but I loved.

And lastly, Romance: I was not sure I was going to be sold on this as their romance is cliched: the mob boss's daughter and the assistant D.A.'s son as star-crossed lovers fighting societal and parental expectations-blech. However there was more depth and more heat that got me rooting for them. The 4.5 rating was basically clinched due to the last page with them on it.

One last note is how the back cover states "a groundbreaking new series," which sounds hyperbolic to me; not sure what's in this book lives up to that statement. However I am eager for the next book to see what Anya's going to do next!

Overall: Highly recommended! Do you have any questions that I didn't answer or that I was vague about? I would love to answer and hopefully encourage you to give the book a try for yourself!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Poisoned House

The Poisoned House by Michael Ford
Albert Whitman & Company, 2011
319 pages
YA; Mystery
4/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was a little nervous to pick this book up because I don't read a lot of Gothic infused novels and I'm a complete wimp when it comes to anything related to horror.  However this book wasn't really scary, which was both good and bad, for my own state of mind and the story.

This was good because it meant that I wasn't terrified throughout the entire book. Abigail Tamper is a maid in a manor house as the Crimean War blazes away. She is dominated by the tyrannical housekeeper Mrs. Cotton and soon feels that a the ghost of her mother is haunting her, attempting to get vengeance for her murder. Then the son of the house returns home from the Crimea, badly injured and that's when the tension really kicks up.  All of the characters are pretty basic with one or two defining traits and nothing else going for them.

The bad though was that I was able to predict pretty much everything that came, every revelation that was supposed to be surprising.  I think many people would be bored. Additionally there were some things that didn't work for me; namely that the housekeeper is the sister-in-law to the lord of the house. How does that happen? Wouldn't they be of different social classes, rigidly separated by Victorian society? This is especially odd to me because otherwise the different social classes were separated and any interaction was disapproved of.

I also really loved the epilogue although I can't really tell you why without spoiling it. Let's just say that it pleased me very much and was a fitting wrap-up to the book.

Overall: A decent ghost story if lacking the suspense for a true horror junkie.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Sweetest Thing

The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski
Egmont USA, 2011
334 pages
YA; Contemporary
3/5 stars

Source: Received a free copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

While reading this, I felt like I was reading a lot of other modern YA contemporaries. There's a heroine who alternately annoys and resonates with me; problematic parents; hot popular boy who's really a player; male best friend who secretly has a crush on her; socially unpopular; and somewhat weird interest that isolates her from others.

In this case, Sheridan's "weird" interest is in decorating cakes. Although I never seek out any of those cake/cupcake decorating shows, whenever I find one on the TV, I end up entranced. I'm fascinated with the amount of effort put into creating these beautiful canvases that will soon be eaten and destroyed. So gorgeous and yet so ephemeral! This was definitely my favorite part.

But the rest of it was often frustrating. Sheridan longs for the mother who abandoned her when she was young, assuring herself that her mother would return soon. Meanwhile her father has always been there. However because Sheridan was telling the story, for most of the book, her father seems just as awful as the mother with cruel words and generally ignoring Sheridan's emotional needs. By the time this biased opinion is revealed, I already loathed the father as much as the mother and didn't want to change my mind.  Additionally Sheridan frequently runs from having to make tough decisions, which rings true to her age but aggravated me.

Then there's the love interest. Sheridan has long had a crush on Ethan who finally starts to pay attention to her, only to later have her interest diverted to her long-time best friend Jack. I hate that Jack didn't have the nerve to say anything to Sheridan until it looked like she was happy with Ethan; I really hate that trope. Ethan is later revealed to be somewhat of a famewhore player while Jack is oh-so-perfect, something I called pretty much from the start.  And Sheridan has basically only two friends: Jack and Lori, both of whom she shunts aside when things get tough. Is it really that hard to confide in your friends? And is it that hard to be friendly with lots of people?

However there were some other aspects I liked. I loved the small-town in which Sheridan resides. She works at her grandmother's bakery and also sometimes at her father's restaurant, decorating cakes and garnering some level of fame. There's also a bit of religion as Sheridan is nominally Catholic and has several conversations with a priest that help her. I love when religious beliefs are worked into largely secular YA novels without being preachy; need more of those!

Overall: A fairly typical YA contemporary with some sweet things and some sour.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Beautiful Dark

A Beautiful Dark by Jocelyn Davis
HarperTeen, 2011
225 pages
YA; Paranormal; Angels
2/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I thought the cover of this was very striking and the premise had promise. And the beginning was good. Skye had great camaraderie with her three best friends even as they ignored her wishes to throw her a surprise birthday party. It was fun. But then...

Then two guys show up; two polar opposites who each appeal to certain parts of Skye although the bad boy playboy flirt/jerk speaks to insides just a bit more. And that's where the book lost me. As soon as she meets Asher (the jerk) and Devin (marginally better), the good things about her mostly disappear. She can no longer concentrate on anything, she's irrationally jealous of other girls, and she deserts her closest friends even as they need her.  I mean, I feel a little bad for her because she was orphaned and she seems to have a dark destiny coming for her. But does that mean she has to suck in the meantime?

Additionally while the pull of her toward each guy is strong, she seems to like the aforementioned playboy/jerk more which is just unfathomable to me. Yeah there are other reasons to prefer Asher to Devin (that Devin seems to be promised to another woman) but why did she like either beyond the fact that there is a mysterious connection?

I was also really uncomfortable with the mythology which is that the two sides attempted to secure Skye for their side by appealing to her lust. They each sent someone to take on the appearance of a hot young guy who it seems was supposed to get Skye to fall in love with him and thereby secure her potentially majestic powers for their vision of the world. They are relying on her teenage hormones, rather than her brain to win her loyalty!

Overall: Promise of the first chapters is squandered on yet another YA paranormal love triangle, which soon overtakes the interesting elements of friendship and mythology.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Queens of All the Earth

Queens of All the Earth by Hannah Sternberg
Bancroft Press, 2011
159 pages
YA; Contemporary
3/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I read the first two chapters of this and then stopped because I was not feeling it at all. The next day I picked it up again and moved slowly through it. It's inspired by A Room with a View by E.M. Forster and I've seen a movie adaptation of it so I enjoyed catching the references. Furthermore the writing was absolutely gorgeous, with long, luxurious scenes filling me up with details.

However the characters were what lost me. Olivia and Miranda are sisters (!) embarking on a trip to Barcelona after Olivia suffers a nervous breakdown instead of attending Cornell. They are separated by a big age difference and it is eventually revealed by Olivia feeling somewhat abandoned by Miranda.  But neither is very likable. They both scorn the Browns for...well, no reason that I could see. Snap judgments are made and stubbornly stuck to. Meanwhile Mr. Brown and Greg, who seemed like perfectly nice people and much better potential protagonists, wander in and out of the story.

Additionally while the writing was beautiful, the plot meandered with seemingly no specific end in mind. As I've never read A Room with a View, I can't compare if that book also had such a slowness of plot. But I didn't like it. However it is different from the majority of YA which can sometimes suffer from an action overload and/or poor writing.

Overall: A well-written coming-of-age story; prepare to marinate in the atmosphere as you slowly move through the book.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

In My Mailbox 25SEP11

In My Mailbox
I've actually never participated in this before but I got some good books this week so I figured, why not start now?
From the Library: 
As I Wake by Elizabeth Scott-Haven't seen many reviews for this despite the popularity of Elizabeth Scott; nonetheless I'm excited as she is one of my favorite YA authors.
From Amazon Vine:
Dearly Departed by Lia Habel-this has been on my radar for a while so I eagerly requested it; review to come at the end of October.
Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George-I've actually already finished this and posted my (4-star) review on Amazon (it won't be on my blog until November 4). This first came on my radar through a Waiting on Wednesday post by Small Review.

From the Author: 
Torrent by Lisa T. Bergren-I have absolutely no idea how I got this but I am SO incredibly grateful! Unfortunately I do have some review books to finish first but then I'm diving in and not stopping until I'm done.

So that's my mailbox! Have you read any of these? What books did you pick up this week?


Variant by Robison Wells
HarperTeen, 2011
220 pages
3.5/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I'm not entirely sure how to classify this book as it might be science-fiction although at the beginning it seemed like a dark contemporary.  Benson Fisher is a foster kid leaving Pittsburgh, PA for New Mexico and an exclusive boarding school. Once there he discovers many weird things. First there are no adults but there are four big rules.  If one of those is broken, then the punishment is "detention," death. Second the place is divided into three gangs, each with a different philosophy about how to survive in the school: act like everything's just peachy keen, act out of anger, or just keep your head down and try to survive. Benson chooses the last gang but with immediate plans to somehow escape And third that somebody seems to be watching them but for what purpose?

For the most part, this book was a lot of "hurry up and wait." Nothing much was happening and we were not getting enough information for my liking.  A lot of the same information was repeated to me. And while Benson is desperate to leave the school, no one else seemed as motivated, which was weird. How long does it take for the spirit to dissipate from a person? I really had trouble understanding that.  There are also several paintball games which are one of the constants of the book; these games made me think of Ender's Game except not as interesting. But then...

There's a twist probably about halfway through the book that I can't tell you about because OMG SPOILERS! Regardless, that upped the tension as Benson realizes he can trust no one and the stakes get higher in his need to escape.  But my confusion also increased as the action moves. In fact the final scenes were somewhat confusing as there is an explosion of movement and excitement. I have some theories but nothing definite about the pretty big cliff-hanger at the end.

Overall: Definitely picks up toward the end but you might not have the patience to make it there.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Blue So Dark

A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler
Flux, 2010
266 pages
YA; Contemporary
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library

I wasn't sure what to expect with this book and I wasn't very impressed in the beginning with much more swearing than I was comfortable with and a boy who's presented as hot when he sounds gross and in need of a haircut. But as the book progressed, I was drawn in to this dark and twisty story.

See Aura is the sole caregiver for her schizophrenic mother as her father has abandoned them for a new "perfect" family. Aura is slowly drowning in the burden of caring for her mother alone, school and friend troubles, and her growing fears that creativity will lead her down the same path as her mother.  I really fell in love with the writing as Aura's mother's schizophrenia gets worst and Aura almost completely withdraws from the rest of the world to care for her. I was caught up and involved and it made me feel so much. I applauded Aura when she finally found the strength to admit that she couldn't care for her mother alone.  I also applauded when Aura's grandmother steps in; the grandmother and mother were estranged but the grandmother is pretty awesome and the later scenes with her were fist-pump worthy!

I also enjoyed reading about her fears that her interest in art and genetics will ensure that she is schizophrenic. Any one who suggests that she has an artistic talent is viewed by Aura with skepticism and suspicion. She will protect her mother as best as she can but she will try to keep herself from following the same path.

I did take half a star off for the cursing, which I felt was largely unnecessary, for the lame romance, and for the description of Aura and many of the students as a "gypsy"-what?! I didn't really understand it and those were among my least favorite parts.

I don't think this is really my usual kind of novel as it's much more literary and perhaps a little less plot-driven; regardless, I really enjoyed it and I highly recommend it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pirate King

Pirate King by Laurie R. King
Bantam Books, 2011
302 pages
Mystery; Historical
4/5 stars
11th Mary Russell book

Source: Received an ARC through Amazon Vine's program in exchange for an honest review.

While I read the first few Mary Russell books, I fell behind as my interests diverged from the mystery genre. Still I enjoyed what I read so I eagerly requested the latest book featuring Mary Russell and her now husband Sherlock Holmes, who is presented as very much non-fictional. I was also excited about the insight into the burgeoning film industry in 1924.

The plot is simple in that Mary is dispatched to become attached to a British film crew with a history of questionable dealings around drugs and such. This is complicated by the director's commitment to "Realism," his interest in pirates, and the fact that they get caught up with some sketchy characters. However the plot is leavened by Mary's keen sense of humor and the meta nature of their film, which is about a film crew making a movie of Gilbert and Sullivan's famous operetta The Pirates of Penzance.

As usual, I loved Mary and Holmes but overall I thought there were too many characters to keep track of. Additionally all sorts of mini mysteries popped up that the initial mystery around the film crew was overshadowed by the possibility of real-life would-be pirates and the various petty dramas that arise from a large crowd of people in such close confinement for such a long time.  With all of that going on, there's also the insertion of the real-life Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, a complex figure, with many layers. He was...interesting to say the least.

I appreciated the general light tone even when some darker events take place. It's my understanding that the lightness is a bit of a change from the previous books and I liked it; I'm not a fan of really dark mysteries.  I had hoped for more interaction between Mary and Holmes but at least they don't spend the entire book separated.

Overall: Will probably not be a standout in the series but a decent way to spend time.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Prada and Prejudice

Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard
Razorbill, 2009
328 pages
YA; Time-Travel
2/5 stars

Source: Library

I was really excited about this book but in the end I felt way too old for the characters and misled by the title. Main character Callie is young, self-conscious, and has been made an outcast by the popular crowd. Now I think you're supposed to feel sorry for Callie because she only has one friend. But maybe she only has one friend because she gossips about people behind their backs-I certainly wouldn't want to be her friend! Then she decides to buy an expensive pair of Prada shoes in order to get in good with the in-crowd while on a school trip to London.

Then seconds after walking out the store in the shoes, she trips and wakes up in a forest. Turns out she has traveled back to 1815...into a world of lords and ladies, servants, and corsets.  Now I'm willing to accept the time travel but there were so many other things that I felt Callie ought to have known. For example, dukes are referred to as "Your Grace." Has she not seen Cinderella? Or read any historical fiction? She doesn't understand any etiquette (of course this is a girl who gossips behind people's back so...) and she makes so many gaffes that had me banging my head against the wall. Now admittedly I am a long-time reader of Regency romance and historical fiction, which has certainly helped with my understanding of behavior and decorum for the times. But Callie seemed to have no understanding of how things change over time and the fact that she may have to moderate her behavior.

Did I applaud her stands for woman's equality? Yes. Did I love the scientific facts she dropped on the unsuspecting crowd? Yes. Did I like how she unconditionally supported her newfound friend? Yes. But I kept thinking she was a moron and needless to say that really detracted from the story.

One other annoyance was the title which hints at a much stronger resemblance to Pride and Prejudice than I received. The setting is similar although I think Austen's work is supposed to be set a little earlier. Another similarity is her meeting with an incredibly arrogant guy who it turns out is very upstanding and honorable, a la Darcy.  Her first impression of him was wrong.  But while I liked this guy Alex, Callie is no Lizzie.  Happily she has some character growth but I don't think she had enough sense smacked into her by her time travel.

Overall: May be a better fit for a middle-grade reader as this is very clean and there are some wacky hijinks.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pregnant Pause

Pregnant Pause by Han Nolan
Harcourt Children's Books, 2011
340 pages
YA; Contemporary
3.5/5 stars

Source: Received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book dives right into the drama with main character Eleanor Crowe admitting her pregnancy and marrying the father, her long-time boyfriend Lam. Her parents then live for Africa to help children of AIDS, her older sister lives in California and is attempting to convince Eleanor to give her the baby, and Eleanor is left practically alone to serve as a counselor at a fat camp run by her new in-laws. As time passes, the pressure mounts and Elly must make some difficult choices.

This is a bit of a change in YA for me. Elly is somewhat of an abrasive character. She smoked, drank, and got high while messing around with her older boyfriend and she fully anticipated having a miscarriage, which would make the decision for her.  She's always felt like a disappointment to her parents and she's quick to judge and get defensive. Elly is so self-destructive and emotionally immature, definitely not ready to be a mother. But as the book continues, her snarky attitude made me laugh and she was able to gain some of my sympathy. She's in a tough situation but she's a fighter.

Additionally she begins to discover a maternal side as she interacts with the kids at the camp.  Elly had zero experience going in but begins to find her way, feeling sorry for kids under pressure from their parents to lose weight and for the bullied among them. I also appreciated the big cast. Sometimes so many characters can be confusing but Nolan did a great job of fleshing them out and keeping them distinguishable for me.  Furthermore, none of the characters were perfect; they were SO imperfect with many different facets and they seemed like real people.

Of course that meant, that there were a lot of stuff I didn't like. People frequently made the wrong choices especially Elly and Lam and their relationship.  I just wanted to save them from their stupid mistakes but I could only keep reading.  The other part I didn't like was the ultimate ending, which seemed just a bit too pat; no spoilers here though-read it for yourself!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Goliath by Scott Westerfeld
543 pages
YA; Historical; Steampunk
3.5/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC courtesy of Simon & Schuster's GalleyGrab program.

Although I loved the previous books Leviathan and Behemoth, I was disappointed in this book as will be discussed later in the spoiler section because it's potentially a big spoiler. The things I did like were continued incorporation of real-life events but with a twist. The inventor Nikolai Tesla plays a big role in this book as do movie pictures, the Mexican Revolution, and American neutrality during this alternate history steampunk version of WWI. The stakes are getting higher for our intrepid heroes Alek and Dylan (really Deryn) Sharp.

They are still on the Leviathan but are attempting to prepare for their imminent farewells as Deryn continues in service to the British Army while Alek pursues the Austrian-Hungary throne and attempts to end the war.  There are many exciting adventures in and around the Leviathan as they travel from Istanbul to New York City with stops in Russia, Japan, California, and Mexico.  There are only a few new characters but some of those introduced in Behemoth resurface. Additionally many secrets are uncovered and Alek and Deryn's friendship is strained by some of those secrets.

Again for me the lovely illustrations were a highlight, helping me visualize the distinctive world created by Westerfeld.  As someone not interested in the action scenes, I did feel like there were a few too many featuring Deryn doing something daring aboard the Leviathan. But I just skimmed those and got on with the story. Unfortunately it was harder to skip the part I didn't like as it increasingly took up page space-see the spoiler below.

I was so sad that Alek and Deryn fell for each other! I was really excited about a book where a guy and a girl were just really good friends without the romantic interest.  Additionally I guess I'm kind of a snob because I wanted Alek to marry a princess. Not that she'd necessarily understand him like Deryn does but I was so happy about a YA novel with opposite-sex best friends who weren't romantically involved that it crushed my spirits a bit to see that not-at-all-desired ending occur.

Overall: Although I was not very pleased with the ending, I mostly enjoyed the ride and heartily recommend at least the first book to readers of YA, even if they don't read much historical.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dark of the Moon

Dark of the Moon by Tracy Barrett
Harcourt Children's Books, 2011
309 pages
YA; Greek
4/5 stars

Source: Received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I didn't know much about this book before starting other than that it was sort of a retelling of the Greek myth about Theseus and the Minotaur's Labyrinth.  Thus I struggled in the beginning when I read this boring girl's whiny monologue about her difficulties as She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess and her fears about the time when she takes her mother's place as She-Who-Is-Goddess. Who was this girl? (Ariadne) Why did I have to learn about her confusing religion? Did the religious figures govern the country with no king? Where was Theseus?

Soon though he appeared and I relaxed a bit. Was he whiny too? Yes a bit, but he was familiar and his narration really helped me get into the narrative. Once it switched back to the first narrator Ariadne, I was engrossed in the world of the story and I was able to sympathize more with her as the story switched back and forth between the two perspectives to shine new light on the myth of Theseus.

And while I was more settled, I wasn't entirely comfortable. Remember this is the world of Greek myth, a bloody, bloody place with regular human sacrifice. And those ugly aspects are discussed. Although routine for Ariadne and her people, they are new to Theseus. The hardest part for me to read about was a bullfighting sequence, which I think is an absolutely disgusting activity. My mom told me about a time on a school-trip to Mexico where they attended a bullfight and it just sounded horrifying, so caution to sensitive stomachs.

One big theme I noted was the treatment of religion. Although the Goddess has been revered for generations, there are suspicions about Ariadne's suitability to follow her mother as well as rumblings about putting a male king in the high priestess' place. So there's also gender politics and examination of the prominence of religion and how it can fall.

And of course there's family! Ariadne's family and their entanglement with the Goddess are intrinsic to understanding their religion and system of governance.  I did find it all a little confusing (and more than a little appalling with the whole system of human sacrifice) but I think I understood enough especially as Theseus understood more.

Overall: Good twist; I'm definitely pleased with the spate of YA books dealing with Greek myths although I highly recommend that you read the original myth first. I think it's preferable to see what the author was dealing with and it helps you to pick out what was consciously changed and to ponder why.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Updates and To-Do List 18SEP11

This is the third week of the vintage bookworm's To-Do List Meme and I've found it tremendously enjoyable. I also add a few of my own updates about what's going on in my real world.
A lot of red dresses...a lot. At first I thought my favorite was Sofia Vergara but then after the Lead Actress in a Comedy bit, I added Martha Plimpton's dress, which yes was red but I love the sparkles and its relative simplicity (sorry that the picture isn't very good). I enjoyed Jane Lynch's hosting for the most part and I enjoyed getting to see Zachary Levi and Joel McHale (Community should have been nominated). I was also BEYOND THRILLED that Friday Night Lights won a writing Emmy and that Kyle Chandler won for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series as Eric Taylor is my TV dad. All five seasons are available on DVD and they are well worth an investment of your time and money.

Well, this is some great news!  The Phillies have clinched their division (unsurprisingly-we've had a great year overall if not recently) and us fans are on the way to a happy October with hopefully some great games. Will we win the whole thing? Who knows but at least we have a shot.
Then there's the Eagles; I waited to post this meme specifically so I could mention if we won or lost against the Falcons. And I should have not bothered as we ended up losing and our QB has a neck injury; severity is undetermined at time of posting.

I created a new page, which you can click through at the top, featuring my YA Book Boyfriends. I'm planning to add more links to the page and add and delete as other guys strike my fancy but as of now these are MY guys. Who would you keep from my list and who would you throw away? (Hopefully you've read some of them and if not, well then enjoy picking them up!)

To-Do List:
I actually completed all 7 items on last week's list (just barely-I am so slow at completing my reviews lately!) so that means I'm all ready to attack another week.

1. Finish and review Eve by Anna Carey-it's meh so far
2. Finish and review Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor-very different and intriguing.
3. Post on amazon vine.
4. Read and review Flirt Club by Cathleen Daly
5. Read and review Sass and Serendipity by Jennifer Ziegler
6. Update goodreads shelves.
7. Pick up Ender's Game from library for comfort reading.
8. Read and review The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
9. Read and review Wisdom's Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Okay for Now

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion Books, 2011
360 pages
YA; Historical
5/5 stars

Source: Library

I originally saw this on Netgalley but skipped over it because I wasn't sure I'd like it. Then I saw several favorable reviews and rethought my previous assessment. I'm so glad I did because I LOVED this book!

It's about an average boy named Doug who moves to a new town in upstate New York in the beginning of the book with his abusive father, his long-suffering mother, mean older brother, and with another older brother serving in Vietnam and follows him as he adjusts to the new town, falls in love, and learns a great deal over the school year 1968-69.

Thus this is a historical novel with appropriate references to Doug's beloved Yankees, the impending landing on the moon, and increasing distaste with the war in Vietnam. However it still feels very contemporary as Doug deals with family, friends, and school just like kids today do. He has similar hopes and fears and I absolutely loved him. He grows up in so many ways and develops into a better person. You also get to see many of the people in his life grow too including his brothers and father, a real nasty piece of work for much of the book.

Besides the story, there was also a lot to learn in this book particularly about drawing, birds and baseball, three things that greatly interest Doug and help him rise above the bitter angry young man he could be.  That was another thing I loved, whenever Doug realized that his go-to response didn't help the situation but that instead he could respond another way.

I'm sorry this isn't the most coherent review; I just really loved this book and I HIGHLY recommend it! So what are you waiting for? Go find a copy and devour it!

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Pearl by Jo Knowles
Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2011
216 pages
YA; Contemporary
1.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Some spoilers-I mean it!

I chose to read this book because it is part of the Contemps challenge; that is also the main reason I finished this book besides its short length because I really didn't like most of the characters.

Bean, born Pearl, lives with her mother and grandfather, the two often at odds. Bean is lonely with a mother, Lexie, who seems indifferent to her and a grandfather, Gus, who tries but can't fill the place of a mother in her heart. Her best friend is Henry, who lives with his mother as his father abandoned them when Henry was young.  After her grandfather suddenly dies, Lexie seems to feel liberated and Bean begins to wonder about her history.

Where to start? I found Bean rather annoying with her mopey and boring self. She was also very melodramatic. There were a couple of times where she was mad at her mom, then they seemed to calm down, and then she was screaming again. I hated those up and down, roller-coaster scenes. I guess a fifteen-year-old can be very dramatic and it's not like Bean has had good examples of personhood from the people around her. But I just didn't like her.

Then it turns out that Lexie is gay, which is why her father hated her, and her best friend Claire has been her girlfriend all these years. As soon as the grandfather dies, Claire is right there, stepping into Bean's life with absolutely no warning to Bean and often acting like an evil stepmother, trying to lay claim to Lexie. Now, Lexie is not a good mother and we've seen no inkling that she has any idea how to parent but it is still baffling to me how she moves Claire in without ever talking to Bean. I'm pretty sure it's a basic rule of parenting that the kid comes first. That's not to say that Lexie doesn't deserve happiness but she is supposed to think of her child at least some of the time. These women were 30 and in many ways they still acted like incredibly immature teenagers. So that's why I hated Lexie and Claire.

At the beginning Gus seems really nice but as the story unfolds we read about his prejudiced reaction to his daughter's queerness, which is full of so much hate. This opens another facet of his personality and helps explain some of Lexie's actions. It doesn't quite explain why Lexie didn't work harder to get away from him permanently.  Another character who I liked at the beginning was Sally, mother of Henry, who I thought was an agoraphobe but who does end up leaving the house easily in support of Bean and then sort of becomes friends with Lexie and Claire.  However she ends up almost collapsing in on herself in another extremely dramatic outburst.

One character I didn't hate was Henry...but that was mostly because he didn't seem to have a personality; he was there but he was easily forgettable.

One last thing I hated was the depiction of An Affair to Remember as some great romantic movie. I happen to think that it is one of the least romantic movies ever and I adore Cary Grant movies as he's my favorite actor and he makes everything better. But not this one. In Affair Deborah Kerr is hit by a car and becomes paralyzed. Instead of telling the man she loves and wants to marry that she's undergone this huge life change, she hides from him. He deserved to know! And if she had told him  right away, and he accepted this change as part of "for better or for worse," then it could have been romantic. Or he could have fled, proving his true colors. But instead she hides from him for months and never displays any intention of telling him until he figures it out! What's romantic about not trusting the person you claim to love to know such a big thing about you? S/he should be able to handle every aspect of you (except for things that are your fault such as cheating). Ugh, I hate that movie.

Overall: Not recommended; definitely my least favorite of the Contemps Challenge.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Princess Curse

The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell
Harper, 2011
325 pages
YA; Fairy Tale
4/5 stars

Source: Received an ARC through Amazon's Vine program in exchange for an honest review.

I held back on reading this because I wanted to save it for a special occasion, such as being my 300th book read for the year! I had been reading some disappointing books and I was hoping for something to lift me out of my doldrums. Well I accidentally read a different book first so this was 301 and it wasn't as great as I had hoped.

The main character is Revelka, a herbalist's apprentice who serves in the castle where the twelve princesses have been cursed to dance their shoes to pieces for years, resulting in extreme danger for them and the kingdom as enemies encircle their land. Additionally all who have attempted to break the curse have been put into a almost deathlike sleep. And yet the curse has not been broken. After Revelka's friend falls under the curse, she becomes even more motivated to solve the mystery and secure the prize.

I mostly liked Revelka, who has the bad habit of lying but who is smart and spunky. Well, mostly; she's also drawn to a forbidden love interest in the plot aspect that really let me down.  I was very creeped out by the dynamics between her and the love interest as she is only thirteen and while I guess he's a decent man, I didn't really like him.  Additionally, I thought his appearance coincided with the pace of the book slowing down. Although I read the whole book quickly, the first half definitely moved better than the second.

Another thing I didn't like was the princesses.  There are twelve, of course, with various mothers; only two are technically legitimate but the king actually decreed that they should all be considered full princesses. They do not like each other nor do they seem to like anyone else.  Although there are twelve princesses, I only have a vague idea about three of them; I don't think the rest even got names, making them indistinct presences. I know it would be too much for me to have twelve princesses with distinct personalities in addition to all of the other characters but if I didn't know the story, I would think there were only three.

Another thing was the politics. The small kingdom of Sylvania is facing multiple threats as outsiders fail to understand the curse and covet the land. The discussion about these threats was BORING! I tuned out whenever it talked about the neighboring lands and how they're threatening the country in various ways.

Although I have a lot of complaints about this book and it may seem like I didn't like it, I loved the little tweaks on the traditional story and the explanation of how that story came to be the prevailing one. I loved the insertion of Hildegard as Revelka's patron saint because of her interest in herbs too. However in the end I must recommend Entwined by Heather Dixon over this story as its rich story and atmosphere created better princesses, strong family ties, sweeter romances, and overall a more pleasing twist on "The Twelve Dancing Princesses."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Guantanamo Boy

Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera
Alfred Whitman & Company, 2011
343 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Although I read a lot of contemporary YA, I haven't seen much dealing with one of the most pivotal events of my generation. Now I'm older, I've spent nearly half my life with my country waging the War on Terror, and though I'm interested, I've still seen very few books touching on it. I was doubly intrigued when I realized that Perera was British, lending a different perspective to her story.

This book is set about 6 months after 9/11 in England following 15 year old Khalid, an Englishman of Pakistani descent living an ordinary life in a small British town. He goes to school, has a crush on a girl, and lives for soccer.  For the Easter holiday, his family travels to Pakistan to help his family. Although he was been warned about the increasing risks of looking Muslim, he has no fear being confident in his British citizenship. Yet soon into his visit, he is kidnapped, held without benefit of trial, and eventually sent to Guantanamo Bay. All told, he is held captive for over two years while his family frantically searches for him and many abuses against human rights are perpetrated against him and the other prisoners.

This is a hard book to rate because while I think it is important and well written, it's not the kind of book I can love. A book I love leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy, has generally made me laugh, and frequently has some swoony romantic scenes. This book is basically the opposite of that but still recommended to all of you out there with the caveat about some intense scenes with violence.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bitter End

Bitter End by Jennifer Brown
Little, Brown and Company, 2011
354 pages
YA; Contemporary; Issues
3/5 stars

Source: Library

My younger sister actually checked this book out of the library because she likes darker YA. Although she didn't like it, I decided to give it a try because I knew how acclaimed Jennifer Brown's Hate List was.  Well, I should have listened to her.

The relationship between main character Alex and her abusive boyfriend Cole was well-done. Alex is vulnerable and craving love after the death of her mother and the splintering of her family. Cole seems charming and also a product of a broken home, meaning that they seem to understand each other. Cole loves her poetry, she loves his music, and everything seems great. Except of course for my feelings of dread as I knew the book was about an abusive relationship.

Besides the inherent brutality of a physically abusive relationship, which was very hard to read (I may have done some skimming), these kinds of books are hard for me to read because I want to believe that people can change, that mistakes are made but also learned from. But Cole has been an abuser in at least three relationships and seems unlikely to change, which is just so sad to see in a human being. As you may be able to see, I wanted to like Cole because he did have the ability to be very charming even as his true colors were revealed. And he did have make some good points.

Because I agreed with Cole about Alex's friends-they suck. They are immature and annoying. It seemed like they were friends because they had all lived next to each other and had known each other for ages; are proximity and history really good reasons to be friends? Bethany was shockingly nondescript for someone who is supposed to be a best friend. I could not form a picture of her and I would forget about her whenever she wasn't around.

Meanwhile Zach was so annoying, way too flirty, and from what the book showed, obviously in love with Alex. Why was he always trying to tickle and touch her?  Obviously Cole's expression of his uncomfortableness with Zach was taken too far but I would have been uncomfortable with such a flirty relationship between my boyfriend and his female friend.  Additionally Zach finds out early about some of Cole's bad traits but instead of trying to have a sober conversation with Alex, he attempts to threaten Cole and just tells Alex that Cole's a jerk. Nothing to support that accusation and it did make Zach look like the bad guy. I think there's a problem when the reader hates the friends who are supposed to help the abusee more than the actual abuser.

This book just did not work for me; I would recommend Stay by Deb Caletti and especially Dreamland by Sarah Dessen for a superior reading experience (My sister, also agrees with me on these recommendations-so that's two of us urging you to read these other books.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Top 10 Books I Read Because of Another Blogger

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

These are 10 books I read and enjoyed that were recommended by another blogger. In some cases I had turned my nose up, others I wasn't aware of the book but I ended up reading and enjoying it. I have made note of and linked to each blogger if I remembered. And of course this is really only a small selection of the books I've read due to other bloggers' influence.

1. Babe in Boyland by Jody Gehrman (recommended by Small Review)
2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Clarke (recommended by so many bloggers!)
3. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher (recommended by Jan von Harz from Eating YA Books after I loved Whale Talk)
4. The Julian Game by Adele Griffin (recommended by Small Review)
5. Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis (recommended by Small Review)
6. Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg (no idea)
7. Divergent by Veronica Roth (recommended by SO many bloggers)
8. The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke (recommended by Irena at This Miss Loves to Read)
9. Ripple by Mandy Hubbard (recommended by Mimi Valentine)
10. Okay for Now by Gardy Schmidt (recommended by Forever Young Adult and The Book Smugglers)

Juliet Immortal

Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay
Delacorte Press, 2011
306 pages
YA; Paranormal
4/5 stars

Source: Received a free ARC through Amazon's Vine program in exchange for an honest review.

Did you have to read Romeo and Juliet in high school or college? Well I did and this book is here to say that it was false. While there was a great love story, Romeo betrayed Juliet and stabbed her in his zeal for immortality, leaving her to die forsaken on the cold stone floor. However just as Romeo lives sustained by magical forces, so does Juliet, battling him throughout the centuries. He needs to convince one soulmate to kill the other and give strength to his cause while Juliet must convince them to fully trust each other and thereby thwart Romeo.  But this time, it's different...

Normally both Romeo and Juliet possess considerable powers when they take over a new body to complete a task but this time they are weaker than usual. Additionally their watchers don't seem to be in town, leaving them alone to do battle.  Juliet takes over the body of Ariel, a girl literally and figuratively scarred by her mother while Romeo takes over Dylan's body, a body who was going to sleep with Ariel for a bet.  As Juliet flees Romeo/Dylan, she jumps into the car of Ben and starts to fall for him.  The next day she begins to look for the soulmates she has been sent to help and is horrified to discover that they are Ben and Ariel's mean best friend Gemma.  How is she supposed to get them to fall truly in love AND protect them from Romeo when she feels that Gemma is undeserving of Ben and that she, Juliet, would be a much better match? This might sound confusing but this aspect made perfect sense to me as I read.

Needless to say, there is a lot talk about love in this book. What is love and how do you act when you are in love?  I'll admit that I'm not a big fan of people in high school finding their forever "soulmate" despite the pervasiveness of that idea in YA lit.  But it does connect back to Romeo and Juliet as told by Shakespeare where I believe they're 16 and 13 respectively.  Anyway there's a lot of talk about what love is and isn't and I liked that.

What I didn't like was that Ben had little presence. I understood that Juliet liked him because she talked about it a lot but Ben didn't make an impression on me. If I'm going to root for a romance, I need to be able to feel for both parties and this book failed in that respect.

I was also a little confused by the rules governing the paranormal elements of Romeo and Juliet throughout time. Some explanations are provided (some not soon enough for my taste) but it was a little confusing and I'm still not sure I completely understand. There are also a couple of chapters narrated by Romeo, denoted by a different font, and most of them were really good, drawing me into his state of mind. I did not like his conclusion though.  However I loved the ending for Juliet's narration and its little twist on Shakespeare.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Demon's Surrender

The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2011
387 pages
YA; Paranormal
3/5 stars

Source: Library

Although I didn't love either The Demon's Lexicon or The Demon's Covenant, I have enjoyed many of Sarah Rees Brennan's blogposts and thus wanted to try the third book. Based on the cover, I had expected it to be told from Alan's point of view but I was mistaken and it is actually told from Sin's.

That's kind of a weird decision because she's always been on the periphery of the story. As Alan, Nick, Mae, and Jamie moved between the mortal world and the Goblin Market, Sin seemed firmly connected to it and thus not in the best position to convey all of the information that the reader wants to know.  Admittedly I had hoped for Alan, who is indisposed for part of the book, so my disappointment may color that assessment.

This book also has Sin explaining what I feel is the main reason for my inability to connect with this series when she states that she doesn't really get demons and magicians and their whole world. Although I've had plenty of exposure to that world throughout the three books, it never came to life, never threatened me, never dug deep into my skin and made me care. I think part of this is due to the limited third-person narration; first-person is more immediate and thrilling for me to read (in general).

The other main part I didn't like was the climax and all of the terrible actions therein; Sin encapsulates the finale with the statement that "It had been worth the cost. But it was such a cost" (375).  I have to disagree; I feel that the solution to their problem with magicians and their lust for power was a very poor one and will bring great future harm to the Market. Fighting for that solution would not leave me gratified or optimistic about the future.

Overall: A lackluster conclusion.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Updates and To-Do List 11SEP11

Last week, I participated in the vintage bookworm's To-Do List Meme; excited to participate again and because I enjoyed it so much, I elaborated a little bit.

I think I remembered this in a good way-first I exercised my freedom of worship. Then I went for a nice jog/walk-beautiful day, very peaceful. Then my Eagles beat the Rams, with ample encouragement on my part. I talked with my grandparents on the other side of the country. And my dad made my favorite dinner for the family. We also caught some of the news specials in honor of the day and remembered where we were when we first heard.

Mostly good news. Although my beloved Phillies lost, so did their division rivals the Atlanta Braves, which puts our magic number at 6. I am very optimistic about our chances for winning the NL East and cautiously optimistic about winning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. We shall see.
Other good news would be the Eagles beating the Rams, quite handily! Always good to start the season with a win.  I'll also be talking about the Flyers when hockey season starts so be prepared.

Work has been crazy! I have so many little details to take care of this week but it's good and my boss is happy with my work. I'm definitely happy that business is booming as it's preferable to the other option.  Orchestra has been good; I'm especially enjoying the bonding time with my sister as we both play viola and our stand partners. One thing I'm looking forward to this week, besides reading as I've got an amazing looking stack of books-see below, is the new movie Drive starring Ryan Gosling; it's gotten some good reviews and Gosling is supposed to be crazy hot in it.

Last week's list:
I finished almost everything on my list from last week except for writing two reviews, which I plan to finish tonight. Thus this week has (almost) completely new stuff!

To-Do List for this week:
1. Review Circle of Fire and Queens of All the Earth (from last week)
2. Read and review Past Perfect by Leila Sales (I've already read the first two chapters and laughed a lot so I'm excited).
3. Read and review All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevins
4. Post that review on Amazon as it's a Vine book.
5. Read and review Exile by Anne Osterlund.
6. Read and review A Beautiful Dark by Jocelyn Davis
7. Read and review The Poisoned House by Michael Ford.

What I'd like to do too:
8. Read and review Sass and Serendipity by Jennifer Ziegler
9. Locate a copy of and reread Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
10. Download the next five titles I plan to read from Netgalley

So that's my rambling-what's up with you?

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