Thursday, January 31, 2013

ARC Review: Scarlet

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
4.5/5 stars
Feiwel and Friends, 2013
452 pages
YA Fantasy Dystopia
Book #2 in the Lunar Chronicles
Scheduled to release February 5

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

-Spoilers for book 1 but no spoilers for Scarlet-

Unlike many bloggers, I didn't love the first book in this series Cinder and I think that was because I was expecting more of a Cinderella retelling, whereas Cinder seemed more intent on developing its own much more expansive world with the huge threat of the Lunar people. Consequently I was disappointed and approached Scarlet somewhat apprehensively. I was also nervous because it was incorporating the tale of Little Red Riding Hood and I've never had any interest in reading a retelling of that.

Yet when my copy came in the mail, I picked it up just a few days later and dove in, emerging breathlessly when I realized I needed to get some sleep. Then I finished it off the next morning. In short, this book was fantastic!

First we meet new characters Scarlet and Wolf, who bear a resemblance to the characters from the fairy tale but who get their own awesome spins. Scarlet is a pilot who works on her grandmother's farm, a grandmother who has been missing for two weeks, leading Scarlet on a quest to find her, aided by the Wolf, a street fighter who manages to earn her trust despite her hesitations. With a name like Scarlet, I expect a certain amount of spunk and I got that from her. She has words and bravado aplenty no matter what awful situation she gets herself into. Wolf has been a very popular figure in the blogosphere; he's not quite to my taste but I can see the appeal with this big tough guy and yet his vulnerability.

Soon we receive a parallel look at Cinder who is breaking out of prison, accompanied by Carswell Thorne (who Jen Ryland originally freaked me out about before calming me down-I love Cinder and Kai, thank you very much!) and set on learning more about her heritage. Cinder is shaken to be so chased but she remains kick-butt and determined to learn about her past instead of running away and curling up in a ball (I would not be able to blame her if she wanted to). Thorne is a more devil-may-care character, extremely charming, drawing comparisons to Han Solo. He's quick with a quip but I didn't really feel that I know him-perhaps he will have a more prominent role in book 3 rescuing Rapunzel from her tower of thorns? (See Heidi for this theory as pointed out to me via Jen Ryland)

Meanwhile back in New Beijing, Emperor Kai struggles with his complicated feelings about Cinder and fends off the intrusions of Lunar Queen, Levana, who continues to be as evil, all-knowing, and powerful as she was in the first book. She is absolutely ruthless and terrifying despite only appearing in a few scenes.

After reading the synopsis for Scarlet, I had been wondering how Scarlet would fit in with Cinder's story. I originally thought it would just be a companion novel set during the same time period. Instead it is more of a sequel, picking up as it does after the events of Cinder, but introducing loads of amazing new characters, settings, and plot points without overwhelming what we already know from Cinder and continuing to deepen our experience with her. Cinder is still very much the main character of the Lunar Chronicles. I thought every element was very well-balanced (except for my one criticism below) and that this was an excellent second book.

A scene I particularly want to shout out is the scene that pays homage to the original fairy tale of Red meeting her grandmother. I don't really have the words to describe how perfect I found this scene but it caught me completely by surprise and made me put the book down just to savor the exquisiteness.

Despite my praise, I didn't give this book a perfect 5/5 stars for two reasons. First I personally wanted a bit more Kai-I still think he's a fantastic guy. He's honorable and devoted to service, just the kind of upstanding hero I like. But he doesn't get to do anything fun and ends the book with an extremely painful decision. The situation is going to get worse before it gets better as we still have two books to make it through. And I also wanted to leave room for the next books Cress and Winter. If they are anything like this, I will be very pleased to award a perfect 5 stars rating. I am a little worried that there will be too many characters but am willing to give the benefit of the doubt.

Cover: While I love this book, I am less enthusiastic about the cover. I preferred the shoe on the cover of Cinder.

Other Opinions:
Good Books and Good Wine
Great Imaginations
Into the Hall of Books
Jen Ryland/YA Romantics
So Many Books, So Little Time
YA Book Queen

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Madman's Daughter

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd
3/5 stars
Balzer + Bray, 2013
420 pages
YA Historical Thriller Sci-Fiction

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

To start, I thought I had read The Island of Doctor Moreau but about halfway through this book, I looked at the wikipedia page and realized that I had not in fact read the book. That explained why so much seemed unfamiliar. Now that I have read the synopsis I do not expect to ever read it as I do not think I will enjoy it.

What I Liked: I loved the beginning, which is just a straight historical. Juliet Moreau is the daughter of a disgraced now deceased doctor, plunged from genteel life to eking out a living as a maid and fending off advances from predatory males. After stumbling across students attempting to duplicate her father's vivisections, the controversial procedure that led to his downfall, she is shaken but reunites with her family's servant Montgomery who reluctantly agrees to take her to her father's island for it is either that journey or resigning Juliet to a life of prostitution. The historical details were just the kind I liked-painting a vivid description of the dark side of Victorian London. Although there are some creepy moments as Juliet ponders her father's experiments, it is mostly the calm before the storm.

What I Was Neutral About: Once on the island, Juliet has an uneasy reunion with her father and learns more about how he has continued his work, playing God by attempting to turn animals into human-like creatures. She is mostly horrified as she knows polite society would be but she feels that she in part takes after her father and is thus also impressed with his work. This mix of feelings causes her great unease. Despite the measures taken to protect the safety of the island's human inhabitants, the wrongness of the experiments still hangs over and the unrest of the animal-men adds a very scary element to the book.

What I Disliked: or more appropriately perhaps, "What I Loathed": there is a love triangle. Montgomery is one component, having been close to Juliet in her former life and having now grown into a fine young man. The other is Edward Prince, a gentleman and thus closer to Juliet in status, who was shipwrecked and brought to the island due to Juliet's compassion. It's not that I hated either guy (although I didn't really like them); it's that I hated Juliet's feelings about the guys. Oh my, she could not have been more back and forth about them. One sentence she'd talk about how into Montgomery she was and then the very next sentence would be gushy about Edward. It was awful and ever so annoying.

Overall, because of how much time was spent on the back and forth over the two guys, I did not like this book and I think there will be others who hate that same aspect. On a more personal note, I as someone who was creeped out by the very descriptive scenes surrounding Moreau's work in creating his new animal-men-those of us with weaker stomachs will likely be turned off.

Cover: I've read quite a few Waiting on Wednesday posts that gushed over the cover but I don't really like it. I know I love covers with pretty dresses but this dress is not pretty and I find the red type so close to her red ribbon distracting.

Question: Have you read The Island of Doctor Moreau? If you did and if you liked it, can you give me some reasons why I shouldn't just write it off?

Other Opinions
Beauty and the Bookshelf-loved it!
Reading Under the Willow Tree-4/5 stars
The YA Kitten-3/5 stars

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

ARC Review: Me, Him, Them, and It

Me, Him, Them, and It by Caela Carter
3.5/5 stars
Bloomsbury, 2013
369 pages
YA Contemporary
Scheduled to release February 26

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

For a main character who is supposed to be smart, Evelyn sure is an idiot. In order to get her parents' attention, she decides to become "bad Evelyn." This means partying, drinking, smoking pot, and engaging in repeated acts of unprotected sex. When this unsurprisingly results in pregnancy, she withdraws and tries to ignore it, rejecting talking and making decisions. Once she does decide to carry the baby to term, she continues to reject everyone and avoids making decisions. I know she's in a tough situation and at only sixteen, she's largely incapable of maturity, but I just wanted to slap her at some points. As she grows to realize, she is surrounded by a group of people who will support her, provided she ask for some assistance and shares her feelings. That's ALL she has to do but she's mostly too stupid to do it.

At the beginning of the book, Evelyn is meeting with Mary from Planned Parenthood to discuss her options. She hates her parents: her cheating father who left them and her silent mother, who allowed him to come back for the sake of maintaining appearances. Although she had previously been the model daughter, she had rebelled (with long-term hookup Todd) in order to gain their attention. Her pregnancy is ultimately successful in this goal. After dithering for pages, she decides she still wants to continue to attend school but she does not want any one to know. Thus she moves from Florida to Chicago to live with her beloved Aunt Linda, her partner, and their children. The rest of the book follows Evelyn with them, as she continues to make no decisions or rushes through decisions only to regret them.

Although we have to spend our time in Evelyn's head with all her stupid thoughts, we still get to meet some characters who are actually endearing. Chief among them are Evelyn's adorable cousins Tammy and Cecelia. They are the sweetest cutest little girls and their innocent love and adoration of Evelyn was a much-needed pick-me-up. Another great character was Maryellie, a fellow pregnant student but her boyfriend is actually happy about the baby and her family is rallying around her to help her raise her child.

While I hope this review captures how annoying I found Evelyn, I can easily say that the writing was very engaging and the countdown to birth made the pages turn easily. The additional bright spots of Tammy and Cecelia and basically every character who wasn't Evelyn or the baby father Todd helped me get through the book.

Cover: Hair color and girl made of skin and bones is quite accurate actually so kudos for that-I also love the baby bump drawn on.

Question: I've read a couple of books about teen pregnancy now, always focused on the girl's perspective. Are you familiar with any that focus on the guy's? Or alternate between the two? If so, please leave a recommendation below (even if you didn't like it).

Other Opinions:
A Good Addiction
Blkosiner's Book Blog
Diamonds and Coal Book Reviews
Once Upon a Prologue

Monday, January 28, 2013

Unraveling

Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris
4.5/5 stars
Balzer + Bray, 2012
445 pages
YA Paranormal Science-Fiction

Source: Library

While I always hope to love the books I read, I know that doesn't always happen. But this book absolutely swept me away and it's for a reason I try to avoid letting take over. See there's this boy...and I try really hard not to let my feelings for a fictional boy sway my overall rating for a book but he gives our main character basically the best first date ever and after that I was hooked on him as well.

Before meeting this unexpected boy, I wasn't sure about the book. The cover and tagline made me think of "Heroes," a show I never watched and had no interest in watching especially after I heard how bad the second season and onward got. But I guess the title stuck in my head so it was one of the first books I picked up when going through my list of 2012 releases I still really wanted to read.

At first, I wasn't too keen on what was going on. I felt a little overwhelmed with all the new information before I settled into a rhythm. In the first few chapters, Janelle is hit by a car, dies, and is brought back to life by Ben Michaels (the aforementioned boy). While everyone marvels at her healing, nobody believes her that she died and this prompts her to seek out Ben. Additional backstory is that her father works for the FBI and she has always spied on him, including seeking out information about his latest case involving a mysterious device that is counting down.

As the book progresses, the plot goes insane and what seems almost like a contemporary turns out to be kind of science-fiction but not too much. Each chapter opens with the new time from that device, going ever forward to who knows what will happen. Consequently, the chapters are tense-are we going to be able to stop the countdown? Plus the chapters are pretty short, the surefire formula, in my opinion, of making a book a fast read.

I really liked Janelle although I had some trouble with her name-not sure why that was the element that threw me. She's very blunt and determined, family-oriented and loyal-some of my favorite qualities in a heroine. The other characters were pretty well fleshed out too. She has her best friend Alex and her younger brother Jared (who I confused several times before remembering that the "J's" are siblings). Then there's Ben and his two best friends Reid and Elijah, all of whom are more than they appear. Additional characters include Janelle's parents, her ex-best friend, an ex-boyfriend, and other people at the school. It felt like a pretty big cast but it focuses on the main ones I mentioned here.

Standout moments: Janelle and Ben flirting in class over a literary prompt; that *perfect* first date.

Content warning: The first few chapters are pretty clean but soon the profanity ramps up (a lot of f-words).

Other Opinions-generally positive
Badass Bookie
Jen Ryland/YA Romantics
My Overstuffed Bookshelf
The Readventurer
Teenage Fiction

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Week to Come: 27JAN13

I'm asking for YOUR help-I developed a blogging glossary with some commonly used blogging abbreviations, acronyms, and phrases after talking with some people in real-life who read my blog and were confused. Are there any terms you would have found helpful when you first started blogging? Or definition you could add? Leave a comment below and I'll add it with a link to you for credit.

The Week to Come:

Exciting week on the blog with lots of ARC reviews!

First up though is Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris, a 2012 debut that blew me away. I'm so glad I went back to check it out.

Then we have ARC reviews of Me, Him, Them, and It by Caela Carter; The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd; and Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, the highly anticipated (and with good reason) sequel to Cinder.

Friday's post will be a little different for the first of the month: instead of a monthly stats review, I'll be writing about my War and Peace readalong (this is also a reminder to myself to finish the section as I am a bit behind).

Saturday is a review of Christian historical romance Every Perfect Gift by Dorothy Love, the conclusion to the Hickory Ridge trilogy.

Looking forward to talking books with you this week! Happy reading :)


One last item to add is the new video from The Wanted (I can't not post this, you guys). This one is very retro (like they're on American Bandstand) and they're in suits-squee!



There are two things I really love about this video:
1. That Nathan winks after his solo because he did that in the other video for this song and it was my favorite part.
2. How it took the boys 2 hours to realize they were missing Nathan; I assure you I would always be acutely aware of where he was.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Trading Faces

Trading Faces by Ann Herrick
4/5 stars
Books We Love, 2012
110 pages
YA Contemporary Paranormal

Source: Received a review copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

I saw this book featured on some Book Hauls and was pleased to receive a review request from the author, allowing me the chance to partake in a switching places (or rather trading faces) story. As the time grew near for me to read it though, I became nervous wondering how does one distinguish a story that has been told many times?

Well, in the case of Herrick, it is by injecting a huge amount of personality into the characters, creating two fully formed awesome young women who learn some valuable lessons when they mysteriously change lives one day. On the one hand, we have Darcy, plain, longing for popularity and to kiss the cute boy while dealing with her lame parents. On the other hand, we have Cybil, beautiful new girl in school who has astutely latched on to what makes you popular but who sometimes longs to escape the attention and especially her overbearing mother and essentially absentee father. Voila, the girls switch! Of course Darcy is thrilled to be pretty and eagerly embraces her new role while Cybil is appalled at being so anonymous. An added complication is that Darcy's brother has a crush on Cybil, something that Darcy-as-Cybil does nothing to stop.

As I said above, the big lure of this book was the personality and fun. The book alternates between both girls' perspectives (with additional comments from a few other people) and it just zipped along, with the girls learning valuable lessons about appearance, personality, family, and real friendship. I can't pick any one moment as a real standout because it was all so fun, just a great ride for an afternoon read. Okay, that's kind of a lie. I did like when the girls volunteer to help displaced women get makeovers-they were learning, having fun, and doing good-a trifecta of good stuff!

Overall: I would definitely recommend this for people who like switching places as well as for those who like contemporaries since, except for the switch, that's what this is. I would also recommend this for younger teens looking for good life lessons.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Black City

Black City by Elizabeth Richards
4/5 stars
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2012
374 pages
YA Paranormal Dystopia

Source: Library

This book caught my attention quite easily with its gorgeous explosive cover. While I still retain a deep fondness for covers with pretty dresses, I am finding myself more open to other images and the destruction of this rose is simply captivating (and appropriate for the story).

Would that I could say exactly the same about the story. It's not bad by no means but the most accurate description I have is that I found it pleasant whereas I would prefer to rave incoherently about how much I love a book. This story does not push me to that level despite enjoying it and planning to read the second book.

What really worked for me was the dual narration. This is an example of a book where I basically liked both of our narrators equally which is not always the case. Natalie is the daughter of a prominent politician, returning to Black City with her mother determined to implement new legislation from the country's leader, her beloved sister broken from torture, and her father dead. She also recently discovered her boyfriend/body guard Sebastian cheating on her. So Nat's not in the best condition. But she's better off than Ash, a twin-blood (human father and Darkling* mother) in a city literally divided in to two with humans warily living their lives while the Darkling population is confined to ghettos. He is also peddling the Darkling drug Haze to humans in order to ensure his family's survival.

As the first book in a series, there was a lot of introduction. The politics and world-building were something I was intensely interested in at first but soon the characters took over much more of my interest. As you might have guesses, Natalie and Ash do end up falling for each other after a protracted struggle due to an instant mutual dislike and then the edicts against interracial relationships. Their relationship is further complicated by other love interests for each and various misunderstandings. The course of true love never did run smooth but I'm rooting for the pair.

However it took me a long time to finish the book (three days) which is not something I can say about the books I love most. When I'm enjoying a book, I fly through it and enjoy a leisurely reread. I never savor a book I'm loving because I'm so passionately involved in the story that I can't wait (of course I'm also dreading the moment I reach the end-it's a difficult bunch of feelings).

I would be remiss to not mention two of my observations of how this book relates to other YA. First was the frequent use of the word "sparkling" most often in reference to Ash's eyes but which always made me think of the sparkly Twilight vampires. The second note is how much the epilogue reminds me of the ending for The Hunger Games (book/movie, not trilogy as a whole). Did anyone else notice the similarity?
*Also Darkling is going to bring to mind Shadow and Bone for me. Plus dual narration makes me think of Legend.

Other Opinions:
Blkosiner's Book Blog
In Bed with Books
Young Adult Book Haven

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cinders and Sapphires

Cinders and Sapphires by Leila Rasheed
4.5/5 stars
Hyperion, 2013
389 pages
YA Historical Fiction

Source: Received an ARC from Jen Ryland/YA Romantics

Wow-this book basically has everything! It has so many of the plotlines from "Downton Abbey" and similar stories, all jam-packed into a very easy reading style. I polished this book off very fast and felt quite accomplished as I've been a bit behind on my reading goals.

Since I mostly liked the book, I'm just going to point out a few criticisms, not to be a downer but in order to be more balanced. The book is narrated in third-person past tense and although it mostly focused on just a few people, it shifted around, sometimes quite abruptly and caused some confusion. This mostly happened at the beginning so either it was edited out or I became accustomed. My second main criticism is just that there is so much stuff, much of which felt familiar (due to the fact that I actively seek out books set in this time) but also which subsequently didn't receive much treatment. There is only so much space and we have a serious amount of plot threads set up. The upside is that now there is so much to look forward to learning about in book 2. Third and final criticism would have to be the instant love that strikes Lady Ada in the prologue; one kiss and she's a goner, this secret, forbidden love motivating her for the entire novel. Never mind that there are a ton of cute boys to kiss (or at least to flirt with since kissing was much more serious back then); I just didn't feel the love for this guy since we barely got to spend any time with him.

Now that the negative is over, what did I like? Well I really liked our two main characters Ada and Rose, young lady of the house and maid respectively who have the lion's share of the narrative. I especially liked how Ada is a bluestocking, interested in studying at Oxford and promoting women's suffrage, a cause close to my heart (think about it: just 100 years ago, I would not have been allowed to vote! That makes me kind of mad!) Rose is the sweet and shy ladies maid with a secret past (that should be fairly obvious to most readers). Other characters include Ada's new stepfamily with a conniving stepmother, whose portrait was much more cartoonish than the similarly crafty Lady Summerset, really conniving stepsister, and two stepbrothers with their own secrets, more extended family, various politicians, and a household of servants. Although there are a lot of characters, I did not feel overwhelmed by them, keeping their names easily straight for the most part.

I also loved the many themes that were touched on, especially women's education as touched on above. I feel like this book has the potential to be fun and frothy while also exploring the fascinating history. Of particular interest was the British Empire's involvement with India as well as hints at trouble on the Continent (it is only 1910 so we still have quite some time before WWI breaks out-hope the series will reach that point!)

Overall: A light, fast-moving historical novel-perfect for those craving another hit of "Downton Abbey" as well as for people who like lighter stories in general.

Cover: Love! Although the title makes me think of Cinderella, which is not really a part of the story, I don't mind the misleading. I love the swirls all around although I feel bad for the girl (I'm guessing it's supposed to be Rose) having it go through her head.

Other Opinions:
Bookshelves of Doom
Forever Young Adult
Jen Ryland/YA Romantics
Reading Extensively

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

ARC Review: Destiny, Rewritten

Destiny, Rewritten by Kathryn Fitzmaurice
4/5 stars
Katherine Tegen Books, 2013
176 pages
MG Contemporary
Scheduled to release February 19

Source: Received an e-ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This book hooked me quite simply because of its cover. Look at how cute that girl is! Look how she's surrounded by books and a cat (that's kind of my life :) Plus I love the font for the title. Everything boded well for a good read.

And that prediction panned out. Emily Elizabeth Davis was named fortitutiously after her mother picked up a book of poetry from Emily Dickinson. Thus ever since birth, it has been ordained that Emily would grow up to be a poet. However lately the eleven year girl is struggling with that profession destination as well as with other times her mother says to leave something to fate, such as discovering the identity of her father. When her special book of poems goes missing, Emily goes against fate to track it down and get it back, discovering some very surprising truths along the way.

So I think a big draw here will be the heroine, Emily who is an absolute delight. She's bright and inquisitive, a good friend, and a lot of fun to be around. I would want to be her friend if she was real or if I was a book character. As a narrator, she led me quickly and simply through her story. Similarly the characters around her are fun to meet: a great mix of adults (like her mother and aunt) and kids. I loved their quirks like her English lit professor mother's love of five-paragraph papers and her cousin's interest in spy thrillers.

The big theme of the book is over how much control do we have over our destiny. Emily's mother believes in leaving everything up to fate, including whether or not she'll reconnect with Emily's father. Emily is more organized and interested in affecting her own fate. Her explorations of this idea play a big role in the story. I do believe that we as humans have a lot of ability to control our own fate and I ended up somewhat irked with the mother for what feels like to me a lackadaisical approach to life. I was especially disappointed with her refusal to tell Emily anything about her father (this is compounded by my love of advice columns where hiding such information never leads to anything good). Still everything turns out well with some remarkable coincidences that made me smile, which I think would be the end result if you picked this book up :)

Discussion question: What do you think about destiny/fate? How much can you affect it or do you just say "Que sera, sera"?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

ARC Review: Hooked

Hooked by Liz Fichera
4/5 stars
HarlequinTeen, 2013
351 pages
YA Contemporary
Scheduled to release January 29

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

Right off the bat, I would like to say that this book reminded me very strongly of PUSHING THE LIMITS by Katie McGarry so if that book appealed to you (and I have to say that I saw a lot of positive reviews of it), this one may as well.

Meanwhile I had thought this book would be about drugs, you know with at least the main character hooked on something and struggling to quit, possibly dying in the process. I don't know-I was in a dark place? Anyway, that's NOT at all what it's about.

Like Pushing the Limits, it has two narrators from different economic backgrounds whose paths start to cross leading to romance. In this book, though, the rich kid is the male while the poor kid is the female (so that's a little switch). Ryan's family is white, incredibly wealthy, allowing him the money and time to pursue golf but with that comes little face-time with his parents, incredible pressure from his father to succeed, and a huge sense of entitlement. Meanwhile Fred (her nickname but probably best if you don't call her by her full name) is a Native American whose father works his fingers to the bone, whose mother drinks herself into a drunken stupor most nights, and who craves something more than being a waitress her whole life while struggling to carve out time to pursue her love of golf. When the coach recognizes her skill, he places her on the varsity boy's team, displacing Ryan's best friend in the process and setting off conflict.

For me the main similarity to PtL is that dual narration in addition to the many problems and dramas for both characters. A lot happens and is touched on in this book although I didn't find it too overwhelming. I adored Fred so much-she's in a tough place, facing discrimination and harassment with a mostly calm attitude. Ryan was a lot less sympathetic, coming off as spoiled and selfish for the most part although he comes through in a pinch for Fred near the end.

A surprise for me was the golf element, from which the title derives. To hook a shot in golf is for it to curve severely, missing your intended target. I guess the way the characters' lives make sharp turns makes this appropriate. Like many people, I find golf incredibly boring to watch because it's very slow-moving and the spectators all have to be silent. But reading about it, at least from Liz Fichera, is quite interesting and added some great moments to the story. I've never read a book featuring golf and that added to the uniqueness of the book.

Cover: I wish there had been some element teasing at golf since it plays such a big role in the story. As it stands, it just looks like a generic clean YA romance.

Other Opinions
Good Choice Reading: 4.5/5 stars
Obsession with Books: 3/5 stars
Reading Teen: 4/6 pieces


Monday, January 21, 2013

A Smidgen of Sky

A Smidgen of Sky by Dianna Dorisi Winget
4/5 stars
Harcourt Children's Books, 2012
196 pages
Middle-Grade Contemporary

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

This is another book where I was lured in by its beautiful bright cover-isn't it sunny? It is making me feel better about the weekend being over and returning to work. And the plane is very appropriate for the story.

What is the story? Well, Piper is resentful of her mother's new boyfriend and his daughter because although her father has been gone for years, surely he'll return and their family life can resume. So she acts out against the guy and the daughter, including developing a plan that will throw off the wedding while also searching for more about her father. But what happens when you get exactly what you think you want?

As I said, I was mostly drawn to this book because of its cover but I enjoyed the contents with a caveat though. Piper is ten years old and as an adult, it was a little hard watching some of the decisions she makes and already being able to foresee the negative outcomes that would result. She is a stubborn and spunky kid; I admire her gumption but she's young and she makes some big mistakes that are thankfully fixable.

I guess that is what I ultimately liked most about this book-the underlying optimism and the sense that everything would end happily. As it's written for a younger audience, I found it to be a quick easy read with sympathetic characters and good life lessons. Although it does not shy away from the unpleasant aspects of life, there is also love and humor to balance them out, making for a great lazy afternoon read.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Week to Come 20JAN13

Last week was a lot of fun with one of my favorite reads of the new year, Dancing in the Dark. Visit the review to check out my discussion questions related to the book.

I also fell behind on my goals so that is one of my objectives for the weekend: just plain reading! I am also editing my goodreads shelves to delete titles. On the non-reading side, I saw Silver Linings Playbook and loved it! I'm a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan and if you are as well, I bet you'll like it a lot. But even if you're not a fan, you'll enjoy Jennifer Lawrence's sparkling Golden-Globe winning performance and the many humorous moments.


Reviews for this week:

A Smidgen of Sky by Dianna Dorisi Winget, a sweet middle-grade contemporary

Hooked by Liz Fichera, romantic YA drama about golf (surprisingly interesting)

Destiny, Rewritten by Kathryn Fitzmaurice, another sweet middle-grade contemporary

Cinders and Sapphires by Leila Rasheed, utterly absorbing YA historical fiction

Black City by Elizabeth Richards, paranormal/dystopia YA from last year with a gorgeous cover

Trading Faces by Ann Herrick, a switching places YA

Is anyone else behind on their reading? What else are you up to this weekend? Happy reading :)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Paladin Prophecy

The Paladin Prophecy by Mark Frost
4/5 stars
Random House Children's Books, 2012
547 pages
YA Fantasy
1st in series

Source: Library

I saw this featured on one blog in particular in December (can't find link any more although I have links to some other reviews below) and was caught by the premise of the main character being sent to a futuristic fantastical boarding school.  So I requested it from the library and was given pause when I saw what a massive book it is. Luckily it moves pretty fast.

Our story centers on Will West (have I mentioned that I love book boys named Will?) whose parents have tried to keep him under the radar, downplaying his spectacular gifts, constantly moving and training him with an expanding list of rules, currently numbering 98. All of this preparation ends up being needed when Will's parents are taken by some creepy guys in black caps, sending Will running to the only place that might be able to provide him security: the aforementioned boarding school, which is recruiting Will exactly because of his special abilities. Once on campus, Will meets a whole host of characters, from his brilliant roommates to the tyrannical upperclassmen to instructors of various temperaments. He begins to realize that his talents place him squarely in the middle of an epic battle with fantastical forces far beyond anything he's ever imagined.  And since this is book one, we're only getting warmed up!

I really liked Will. Yes, he's tremendously special but once he's at the school, he seems a bit more ordinary because everyone there is similarly smart and gifted. He is also quite humble and very loyal. One of his big challenges is to ignore a bit of his upbringing and learn to trust his four roommates: Ajay, Brooke, Elise, and Nick. I also really loved his roommates, who were all distinct personalities to me except for Brooke who is going to need more characterization for the next chapter.

This is a very action-packed book with many physical moments. Will is constantly on the run (including an intense scene at his first cross-country practice) and each time it seems to escalate more in violence and danger. Some reviews have mentioned that the writing is very "telling rather than showing." I thought it worked and felt very cinematic but for people who don't like that kind of writing, be forewarned. I would also say this is more of a plot-driven novel rather than character-driven if you couldn't guess from the mention of all the action. Still I feel there is a bit more character development here than in other action novels.

I do have a few complaints though. For example toward the end everything went kind of crazy leading up to the big climax. Because I was desperate to know what was coming next, I may have read the book a little too fast to fully absorb everything. There is also the character Todd, a secondary antagonist for Will who I presume will play a bigger role later on as he is not resolved in this book; I really want to know what happened to him. And since this is a series, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the overall struggle. There is a tiny snippet of book 2, Alliance as it seems to be called, and although far too short, it is a great teaser for those who liked this book and should leave you craving book two.

Other Opinions:
Book Sake
The Overflowing Library
The Paperback Princess

Friday, January 18, 2013

ARC Review: Nobody But Us

Nobody But Us by Kristin Halbrook
4/5 stars
HarperTeen, 2013
272 pages
YA Contemporary
Scheduled for release January 29

Source: Received an e-ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I've followed YA Highway for a pretty long time and have been eagerly awaiting the debut of Kristin Halbrook after discovering it was a contemporary and in a story parallel to that of Bonnie and Clyde. Although I don't find bank robbers romantic, I do find something very compelling about young people on the run from the law, which is exactly what happens for our young couple, Will and Zoe.

Will just turned 18 and is thus being kicked out of foster care. Although they've only known each for for a few months, his biggest concern is Zoe, only 15, who lives with an abusive father whose bruises have failed to arouse the outrage of her community as she seems to blend into the background. But they think their love is something precious and so they hatch a plan to run away to Vegas and make a new life, collecting crimes along the way.

One of the big pluses I have for this book is the distinct narrative voices. It alternates between Zoe and Will and each chapter is very clearly that person. Will is rough and tough, unpolished and incorporating slang like "ain't" into his words. He has a lot of anger against the world. Meanwhile Zoe is younger and more naive about the ways of the world as well as possessing the vocabulary of someone better educated.

Another plus would be the addictive writing. This was a very fast-moving story and I could barely put the book down, so eager was I to find out what happened next. A related bonus is that the chapters are pretty short. It is always very easy to convince myself to read "just one more" (and then one more...and then one more...until the end) when that is the case.

The book starts out on a rush as they escape Zoe's father and continues apace as we flash back to incidents in their lives that have shaped their personalities. The further they get on their journey, the more hot water they're in and the more the horrifying conclusion draws near. I really grew attached to both characters especially because my protective side kicked in and I wanted to mother both and get them into therapy to begin the healing process. I found the ending very heartbreaking and eagerly look forward to the next Halbrook book.

Other Opinions:
Blkosiner Book Blog: "Fast paced contemporary that will break your heart."
The Book Scoop: "A solid read that I couldn't read fast enough."
Chick Loves Lit: did not love this
The YA Kitten: warns that this glorifies an unhealthy relationship


Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Wrap-Up List

The Wrap-Up List by Steven Arntson
4/5 stars
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2013
236 pages
YA Paranormal

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

In a future world, some people receive a letter from a Death, calling them to their death at a predetermined time. That person then gets to write a wrap-up list of what they want to finish before they go to the afterlife as well as try to request a pardon. Gabriela is sixteen when she receives hers and flippantly writes a list that can be seen on the cover as she scrambles with her friends to thwart death. But as the day approaches, she faces it more seriously hoping to gain a pardon.

Honestly this book is a little hard for me to describe. There were a lot of themes in this book, most notably about a society preparing for war and religious background as Gabriela has a lot of questions. I was very intrigued by the questions it raised although it did seem a little overpacked for such a short book. Although Gabriela is our first-person narrator, we get to meet a lot of other people including especially her friend Iris, who has a long-time fascination with the deaths and is instrumental in helping Gabriela on her quest.

I'm not going to share too much about the ending but I found it just perfect with everything wrapping up the way you wanted it to after investing the time into this book. That does not mean that everyone is alive but that I felt very satisfied with how Arntson chose to end the story.

Overall, I really liked this book and found it to be a fun fast read with a lot to think about. It has not earned the best ratings on goodreads and I'm not really sure why as I think it's certainly better than that. I think it would definitely be worth checking out at the library.

Other Opinions:
Alexa Loves Books was kept entertained.
Blkosiner's Book Blog was satisfied with how everything resolved when she put the book down
In Bed With Books highly recommends this!
Should I Read It Or Not found this book on the strange side.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

ARC Review: Dancing in the Dark

Dancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati
4.5/5 stars
Flux Books, 2013
Originally published Penguin Australia 2010
323 pages
YA Contemporary Dance
Scheduled for release February 8

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

I just adore dance books so I was very excited to get this one with the additional bonus of religious conflict and the presence of sisters! This book ended up being a standout read for me so far this year. An additional bonus is that this book is set in Australia and takes place over years, allowing for more time with our main character as she grows in the art of dance.

That main character is Ditty and she is a Haredi Jew-basically the most orthodox and conservative type. Although this book is set roughly in the present (as indicated by technology such as cell phones), for the most part, her religious community eschews such gadgetry. She attends a religious school and people mostly live and die in that community. But Ditty manages to discover ballet and after being forbidden by her parents, sets off to dance, managing to keep it secret for over five years before confrontation breaks out and Ditty has to choose between her love of dance and her love of family.

As mentioned, Ditty's family is very conservatively Jewish and follow customs that may be unfamiliar to some readers. I am very interested in religion and was pleased to recognize most of what was mentioned, also with the assistance of a glossary in the back. Most shocking to me was Ditty's rebellion, starting relatively small by taking dance lessons behind her parents' back and escalating to eating non-kosher food and working on the Sabbath (the most shocking parts of the book to me).

I loved the dance scenes and how Ditty's world opens up when she enters it, meeting new people, having new experiences, and dreaming beyond the narrow walls set up by her parents. She brings her best friend and cousin into her ever expanding web of lies but keeps it going for over five years with her parents none the wiser. This time passed very quickly but it was nice to see Ditty grow up like that. 

Still I did have some problems with the book, most probably stemming from my perspective as a Christian. In general, I thought that the people who did believe were somewhat discounted as brainless sheep. The fact that they were not our main focus probably had something to do with that but I think they had their own questions, doubts, and struggles and were not actually unquestioning drones as Ditty sometimes seemed to think. I also found the ending quite heartbreaking

Discussion Question (would really love your thoughts as I'm confused about how I feel):
At one point in the book, a guy asks out Ditty and she refuses because he's not Jewish. His response is that that is racist. My question is in two parts:
1. Is Jewishness considered a race? Wouldn't "bigoted" be a more appropriate word if you were going to make that argument?
2. Is it in fact bigoted? My immediate response was no but being Jewish is considered as immutable as skin color in this world. Either your mother was Jewish, making you Jewish or not; there's no in-between, making a comparison between the two "traits". But it's also very personal who you choose to date and I think religious factors are super important given that it shapes your worldview and values so I can't fault her for being bigoted. I hope that's clear but I'll be stopping by this evening to sort out any clarifications and to participate in discussion with you.

Other Opinions:
Marjoleinbookblog: 5/5 stars
Ravenous Biblioworm: 3.5/5
Wandering Librarians: 2/5 stars
Words on Paper: 4/5 stars

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

ARC Review: Dance of Shadows

Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black
4/5 stars
Bloomsbury, 2013
447 pages
YA Dance Paranormal Sisters
Scheduled to release February 12

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

Why did I want to read this? Just look at the cover-how gorgeous is that? I knew I'd want to read it the instant I saw the cover and was so pleased to receive early access to a copy.

All in all, I found the book to be a good read but nothing out of the ordinary although it benefited from having several topics I adore: ballet and sisters. I love performing stories and ballet seems to be one of the more popular themes yet I never tire of them. As I've said, I also love stories about sisters. In this case, Vanessa is attending a New York ballet academy because her older sister Margaret disappeared from it three years earlier after scoring the lead in the school ballet "The Firebird." Although Vanessa enjoys dancing, her real motive is searching after her sister whose disappearance is one in a string stretching back for years.

I do feel like the book is on the long side when I consider what happened. I think some judicious editing might be in order. Still it was kind of like crack and highly addictive-I flew through the pages, reading almost all of it in one day. It is definitely plot-driven rather than character-driven. I kept getting confused and trying to remember if Vanessa or Margaret was the sister searching. Although Vanessa is friends with some of the other dancers, they are not very well-defined. This distance is increased by the third-person narration that mostly focuses on Vanessa but also jumps around some times.

Of course there are also some love interests. First is the enigmatic Josef, the choreographer with a dark past. Then there is Zeppelin (blech on the name, which especially stands out from the more restrained traditional names of the sisters) who is the male lead opposite Vanessa. And lastly is Justin (whose name is also a stark contrast to Zep's), who seems intent on stopping Vanessa from dancing, not that he shares any compelling reason why with her at first.

In short: fast moving plot but less than compelling characters. I know why this appealed to me but it will definitely not appeal to everyone.

Other Opinions:
MarjoleinBookBlog: 5/5 stars
Mundie Moms: 4.5/5 stars
Owlcat Mountain: "negative to 'meh'"
Smart Folks Read: 3.5/5 stars
The Title Page: 1/5 stars

Monday, January 14, 2013

ARC Review: Summerset Abbey

Summerset Abbey by TJ Brown
3.5/5 stars
Gallery Books, 2013
292 pages
Adult Historical Fiction
Scheduled for release January 15

Source: Received an e-ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Although technically an adult book, I think YA bloggers may be interested in it, appreciating that it is a clean read.  That plus the fact that I'm a sucker for historical fiction, especially those whose summary hints at parallels to "Downton Abbey," which I felt this book's did, were the main reasons I wanted to read this. I also love the presence of a sisters relationship, a theme for which I have a soft spot. Additionally I loved the cover with its pretty dress. So I entered this book with high expectations. But being kind of a weirdo, I had a mixed experience.

There are three main characters: Rowena, Victoria, and Prudence. Although Prudence is the daughter of the first two girls' governess, she has been included as part of the family by the father. After his untimely death though, the two daughters are warmly welcomed into their ancestral home at Summerset Abbey while Prudence is relegated to the role of lady's maid. Both of the daughters are upset that Prudence is being separated but Rowena mostly passively accepts the distinction while the delicate Victoria rages against the slight. Thereby Victoria and Prudence are established as the more sympathetic characters with Rowena frequently shown as incapable and mostly unwilling of doing anything to change their circumstances.

As the establishing book in the series, I felt like a lot of plot threads were introduced but none were really dealt with. Rowena develops an interest in flight as well as in a neighbor boy while Victoria toils to learn typing in addition to juggling her own flirtation. Prudence's story moves the most as she learns a shocking family secret and entertains two gentlemen friends (okay, it doesn't go that far but she has two men express interest in her). There are also cousins of similar age who are bristling against the constraints of Edwardian tradition (just wait for the Great War boys!) But I found them all so boring.

Honestly my favorite character was Lady Summerset (aunt to Rowena and Victoria) with her iron will. However I don't think you were supposed to like her as she schemes against Prudence, planning to put her in her place. Since I didn't care for Prudence but I like strong characters, Lady Summerset was awesome.  The three main characters suffer as women in a man's world but Lady Summerset suffered in her own way. She carefully manages her household and would certainly be a force to be reckoned with if she was allowed into politics or business; instead she observes and she arranges through her husband as best she can. I wanted more of her (I guess she kind of reminded me of Lady Violet in Downton Abbey :)

Because I found the three leads so dull, I struggled with this book. Still if reviews suggest that the second book picks up steam (perhaps the urgency of war will illuminate it? Not sure if we'll be at the brink of war yet), I would be interested in continuing.

Other Opinions:
Confessions of an Opinionated Book Geek: 3.5/5 stars
Katie's Book Blog: 4/5 stars
One Page at a Time: 4/5 stars
Sweet Tidbits: 2.5/5 stars

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Week to Come 13JAN13

So I went to Disneyland for the weekend and am thus a bit behind on comments. Hoping to catch up when I return tonight! In the meantime...

Last week, I had a full week of reviews but I just wanted to highlight my personal favorite book from the week. It was one that doesn't seem like one I'd like, Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool. Check it out!

This week, I have lots of ARC reviews so you can start planning your book buying...unless you've already blown your budget ;) 2013 started out strong.

First up is Summerset Abbey by TJ Brown, an adult Downton-Abbey-esque story with YA crossover potential.

Next up is two very different ballet books:

Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black has a killer cover and inserts a paranormal twist.

Dancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati-this features an orthodox Jewish girl defying her family to pursue her passion for dance.

The Wrap-Up List by Steven Arntson-intriguing concept focusing on death and friendship

Nobody But Us is the debut title from YA Highway contributor Kristin Halbrook, which means that I've had my eye on it for a long time. Did it live up to my expectations?

The Paladin Prophecy by Mark Frost is a 2012 YA fantasy that I don't think received much buzz in the blogosphere but which I really enjoyed.

What are you up to this weekend? Happy reading :)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
3.5/5 stars
Poppy, 2012
236 pages
YA Contemporary

Source: Library

After seeing this book pop up on some the best of 2012 lists for bloggers, I was very glad I had picked it up at the library. I thought it would be a great fluffy read for the end of the year (and in fact I did finish it on New Year's Eve). However, I would not classify this as a light novel by any means and it kind of left me an emotional mess (compounded by my own hormones).

The title is what captured my interest at first. Anything referencing love at first sight suggests an optimism to me while statistics was a beloved math class to me in addition to adding some quirky seriousness to the topic. I also really like the black and white cover with the red accents-it's a great cover and I'm not thrilled that the paperback is changing. But let's move on to the contents of the book itself.

Hadley is on her way to London, to serve as a bridesmaid at her father's wedding to the woman he left her mother for after a semester teaching at Oxford. She is less than thrilled to be visiting him, having mostly avoided him during her parents' separation and divorce. Thus she procrastinates and ends up missing the flight by four minutes but getting a seat on the next one. In the meantime, she meets the charming British Oliver and they end up hanging out and sitting together on the plane as Hadley reveals all her feelings. Once landed, she races to the wedding while Oliver goes to his event but that's not the end of the story by any means.

OK-let's start with what I liked (beyond the cover as I have already gushed a bit about that). I thought it was really interesting that the story is told in third-person present-tense although it was jarring at first, just because I'm so used to first-person. I also always appreciate a standalone. Oliver is much less of a focus than Hadley but as I have a weakness for cute British boys, I found him a perfectly acceptable love interest. Hadley's father is a literature professor and books have been a connection between them; got to love with book characters love books as much as the people reading them do.

On to the emotional side: Hadley's father went off to Oxford for a semester but then he meets this new woman, cheats on his wife, and moves toward a divorce and remarriage. I'm not sure why this struck such a chord with me as my parents are happily married but I guess it's because the idea of them getting a divorce leaves me devastated and so I could easily put myself in Hadley's shoes and at least some of the emotions she was feeling. Additionally I railed with her, wondering about what happened to commitment and honoring your vows, you know-"Til death do us part" not "Til I want something else and you are an impediment." Although Hadley works through this (awfully fast to my mind), she also has the happy times with her father to remember while I have none of that. Then we add in Oliver's reason for flying, which I'm not going to share as it would be a spoiler; suffice it to say, it was nothing to rejoice about. I finished this book, close to tears and just very unhappy, the exact opposite feeling I expected to get from this book. Even now, a day later as I write this, I'm feeling sad again.

Overall: This book can elicit some powerful emotions. For many people, those feelings were positive and left them ranking this book as among their favorites of the year. For me, it was the opposite and left me a mess although I do commend Smith for writing such an intense read in under 250 pages.

Other opinions:
Belle's Bookshelf
Good Books and Good Wine
Jen Ryland/YA Romantics
Saz101

Friday, January 11, 2013

ARC Review: Exposure

Exposure by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes
3.5/5 stars
Merit Press, 2013
216 pages
YA Contemporary Retelling
Scheduled for release January 18

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

After loving Tempestuous, I was eager to check out the next book in the Twisted Lit series. One of my disappointments with Tempestuous was that I did not know the story of The Tempest well enough to be able to spot similarities or differences. I do know Macbeth well though so I was excited to see this "twisted" take on it.

What I Liked: Again I loved the writing style-Askew and Helmes are a great writing team! I felt like everything flowed naturally and was a fun mix of contemporary with some Shakespeare references. I also loved the trio of friends who stood in for the witches; while I wish there could have been more of them, that might have overwhelmed the story. I also loved the setting in Alaska-very evocative of the cold and perfect for this darker story.

What I Was Neutral About: The remix of Macbeth. I could see the similarities but they are very loose. This is good for those who don't know the story of Macbeth or are looking for a less tragic version (there are way fewer deaths in this version for one thing!) As said above, I thought the updated witches was the best part while Skye's character doesn't really have a parallel, making her kind of a weird entry point to the story.

What I Didn't Like: Skye has had a crush on Craig (the Macbeth character) for years and was his first friend when he moved to Alaska but then he quickly became swept up in the popular crowd, leaving her behind. Still she adores him and spends most of the book protecting his secrets. First I didn't get why she liked the guy so much and second, she's covering up what she thinks might be a murder. And she doesn't say anything! I just wanted to scream at her.

Cover: Love the blue and the crown-it's not a busy cover and I appreciate that.

Other Opinions:
Loaded Shelves
Confessions of a Book Addict
Diamonds&Coal Book Reviews
The (YA) Bookcase

Thursday, January 10, 2013

ARC Review: Uses for Boys

Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt
3/5 stars
St. Martin's Press, 2013
227 pages
YA Contemporary
Scheduled for release January 15

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

Before starting this book, I read one mostly positive and one negative review, linked to below, which left me very nervous especially because both emphasized that the contents of the story were far darker than what the cover suggests. I thought the book would feature a young promiscuous woman struggling to fill gaps in her life with boys but eventually coming to a greater revelation about life. I did not feel like that happened and I will have to agree with the negative side. I like books that are uplifting, ending on a positive note with the main character out of the dire circumstances that characterized most of the book and I didn't feel like this book entirely achieved that.

The book starts when Anna is young and it's just her and her mother and that's all it needs to be. But her mother disagrees and a string of stepfathers and boyfriends parade through their life as Anna is increasingly left alone by her mother. So she turns to boys, earning a reputation before meeting her best friend Toy who seems to attract boys in a much deeper way than Anna. Then Anna meets Sam who seems like the perfect boy with the perfect family Anna always wanted; can she hold on to them?

I'll admit that I never really felt connected to Anna. See I'm more of a Sam with pretty much the perfect family (and I'm not just saying that because my mom reads my blog ;) Even though our circumstances are vastly different, I still anticipated being able to feel something for Anna but it never really happened. Not even during an event that I would imagine generated a lot of emotions but was played off very coolly. Whenever I have trouble connecting with the main character, I struggle with the book

Additionally there are an awful lot of sexual acts in this book-because of that, it might even be more like New Adult than Young Adult especially since Anna drops out of school to work and make her own way in the world. I prefer more chaste stories in my young adult books. Saying that, even those scenes were narrated pretty dispassionately in my opinion, furthering the distance between reader and Anna.

Warning: Sexual content as well as drug use; I would definitely recommend this only for the mature teen and adults.

Other Opinions:
Blkosiner's Book Blog-first warned me that the contents were darker than the cover suggests
Great Imaginations-did not connect with this book at all


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Navigating Early

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool
4/5 stars
Delacorte Press, 2013
302 pages
MG Historical

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

This book was first brought to my attention by some Waiting on Wednesday posts and I was captured by the description of young Jack forced to move from Kansas to Maine after the death of his mother and enrolled in a boy's boarding school. There he meets the strange Early Auden and as events transpire, they end up in the forest for some time searching for something. It doesn't seem like a Stephanie book (where are the girls for one thing) but it struck me. I am very pleased to have read this!

I liked so many elements of this book. First I loved the main character Jack, struggling in this new world without his mother and with his distant military father at a distance even when they're in the same room. I also loved Early, who would probably be diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome in our world but not in his. His interests are varied including knowing the number pi to many digits, music beyond the typical kid's interest, and the zoology of Maine, for example. He is also suffering from the death of his idolized older brother who he believes is still alive. It is this quest to find Early's older brother that sends the boys into the woods.

Once there, multiple plot threads are opened and then skillfully brought back together at the end. It reminded me of Liesl and Po and thus feels like a characteristic of my favorite middle-grade titles. I felt so satisfied seeing how x fit with y in the context of the larger story. I also loved the themes about family and healing as both Jack and Early end in better places in regards to their family. Just tremendously satisfying!

Meanwhile I had mixed feelings about the historical setting. It takes place just at the end of World War II with the threat of war still hanging over everyone. The world had not moved on. However it doesn't feel very historical to me. I think this is partly because much of the book takes place in the woods as well as referencing other even older time periods.

Ultimately though it was what I didn't like that dragged down my rating and slowed my enjoyment of this book. See, every few chapters Early tells more of the story of pi. We switch perspectives, including using a new font, to follow his narration of Pi as a person. The themes here coincide and reinforce the themes of the book. However as I was so enchanted with the novel proper, I found it intrusive and annoying. I dreaded flipping the page and seeing more of that story. Each chapter is pretty short but still.

Overall: I am so glad I took a chance on this book outside my typical read as I was well-rewarded. It was a delightful experience and further solidified my desire to read more middle-grade titles this year as the quality is just so high.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Prettiest Doll

Prettiest Doll by Gina Willner-Pardo
4/5 stars
Clarion Books, 2012
234 pages
Middle-Grade Contemporary

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

This book grabbed my interest with its cover and blurb about beauty contests. I've never had any desire to participate in one and I don't really watch them on television but I adore "Miss Congeniality" as well as several other books about pageants. I trace this back to my love of books with lots of female characters; it's a setting that allows for many women to turn up. So although I didn't really know much about this book, I requested it and gave it a read.

My ending impression is a feeling of being dazed, for several reasons. One is that the pageant doesn't really play that big of a role. Rather it is more of a specter hanging over the pretty Olivia who starts to wonder if there is more to her than just her looks or if that is the only reason anyone will ever value her. I was hoping for more backstage drama but am used to one aspect of a book being played up in the summary so I was okay with that. A second reason for confusion was the writing, which seemed to be in a gray area between middle-grade and young adult. Olivia is only thirteen and somewhat naive yet I thought some of the themes seemed a bit older. However I'm more familiar with MG fantasy so I may not be the best judge of categorization. Third is the plot which, as is unfortunately the case with some contemporaries lacking the epic questness of a fantasy, seemed to meander despite the relative shortness of the book.

What is the plot, you ask? It is partly Olivia rebelling against doing pageants as her mom desires and partly about her own discovery of self. This journey is contrasted with Dan, a runaway Olivia meets and joins, traveling from Missouri to Chicago where both have family to confront. Dan is fifteen but he looks ten due to a hormone growth deficiency so he has his own battles with appearance to wage. Together the two learn some lessons and begin to forge new destinies for themselves. Again, despite the short length of this book, some of their scenes really seemed to drag on. Still I liked the characters for the most part; it just lacked a punch to the gut to make me gush about this book.

Other Opinions:
Wandering Librarians also reviewed Prettiest Doll positively.
Otherwise I haven't seen a lot about this book; if you've reviewed it, please leave a link in comments and I'll add it!

Monday, January 7, 2013

ARC Review: What We Saw At Night

What We Saw At Night by Jacquelyn Mitchard
4/5 stars
Soho Teen, 2013
243 pages
YA Mystery Thriller
Scheduled for release January 8

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

I originally requested this book under the impression that it was some kind of science-fiction novel with aliens invading the world and these three kids who are awake at night being the only ones who know what is going on. Now while I happen to think that is kind of a cool premise, it's not even close to what is actually happening in the book.

Yes, there are three teens who spend their awake time at night when almost everyone else is asleep. That is because they have Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP), a fatal allergy to sunlight. To occupy their time and to compensate for the fact that XP-ers often die young, they embark on learning Parkour, something I learned about via Jake Gyllenhaal in "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" so I was glad to have those images to fall back on (I also believe there are many videos on youtube if you're interested).  The discipline can be dangerous but what actually ends up being most dangerous is what main character Allie sees at night. That is she thinks she sees two murders but when even her two best friends don't support her, she starts to have doubts.

This is the moment when the story really shifts as Allie tries to find out more while friends Juliet and Rob pull away. Then we discover that Juliet knows way more than she's shared and other plot threads start coming out, such as the small-townness of where they live and Allie's budding interest in criminal justice and serial killers. The latter part of the book also brought out more of Juliet's characterization and I saw a bit of Julie from Code Name Verity in her (an extremely positive comparison). Rob didn't make much of an impression despite being Allie's love interest but the girls' friendship really tugged on my heartstrings.

I've read some reviews that didn't like the writing style. It is written in first-person past tense with occasional interjections from present-day Allie. This reminded me of Gabrielle Zevin's Birthright trilogy and I read comfortably. But I know it's not for everyone so I just wanted to warn you.

The ending was abrupt and is what caused me to add thriller to my genre categorizations above. There is no clear-cut resolution and everything is set up for a second book, a sample of which was available in the e-ARC I read. I enjoyed the writing and plot enough that I will definitely want to check out the sequel.

Other Opinions:
YA Between the Lines
ReaderAlex
Library Lady

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