Tuesday, April 30, 2013

ARC Review: 15 Days Without a Head

15 Days Without a Head by Dave Cousins
4/5 stars
Flux Books, 2013
Originally published by Oxford University Press, 2011
310 pages
YA Contemporary
Scheduled to release May 8

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

Not entirely sure how this one got on my radar but I must have realized that it was a contemporary set in England from the male perspective, all good things to me. So I picked it up and read it quite quickly.

There are a lot of heartbreaking moments contained in these pages but thankfully also moments of hope to balance the darkness. See, Laurence is a fifteen-year-old who is essentially the responsible adult in his family taking care of his six-year-old brother because his alcoholic mother is incapable. He is trying to hold them together but it's so hard as nosy neighbors insert themselves while friends prove themselves in surprising ways. As a subplot, there is Laurence's quest to win the family a vacation from a radio show by pretending to be his own (deceased) father.

So many times, I wasn't sure I'd be able to continue with this book because it was just so hard to read about Laurence's situation. His father and grandmother are dead, his mother has abdicated responsibility, and there is no place to turn for help unless Laurence wants to be separated from his beloved brother. How do you cope? What do you do? Laurence keeps pressing onward, somehow, in a novel that manages to deftly balance the tragic and the comic (for example, the younger brother sometimes behaves as if he was Scooby-Doo).

I think my favorite part was when Laurence makes friends with Mina who steps up in a big way to help out his family. When he realizes he has someone he can trust and rely on, it's a big moment for  him.  Finally he has someone to listen and try to understand his situation without passing judgment. The mother was a difficult character to follow because of her alcoholism. I always want there to be good parents in YA but there's a very clear reason why she is unable to fulfill that role.

Overall: A very well-written issue novel that should appeal to fans of YA contemporary and Anglophiles.

Other Opinions:
Book Angel Booktopia
Rather Be Reading

Monday, April 29, 2013

ARC Review: The Reluctant Assassin

The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer
3.5/5 stars
Hyperion, 2013
341 pages
Young Adult Paranormal Time Travel
Scheduled to release May 7

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

I remember reading the first Artemis Fowl book and being blown away in particular by the first few chapters. I liked the rest of the story too but the beginning was the part I read over and over again. While I fell away from the series, I retained a fondness for Colfer and his writing. Thus I was pleased to see a new story coming out, one where I could jump feet first into a new world particularly as it teased time travel.

This novel brings together two unlikely compatriots. First is Riley, an orphan in Victorian London apprenticed to the cruel and evil magician/assassin Albert Garrick who ends up traveling to the future, our present, and intersecting with the second protagonist Chevron Savano, a young would-be FBI agent. The book spends time both in our present as well as returning to the past with Garrick chasing the pair throughout. He seems near indestructible and is a suitably terrifying villain.

For me, this book took ages to really get off the ground. I dragged my feet through the opening chapters with all their set-up but flew through the ending. Especially for a young person's novel, I think the story needs to delve into the meat earlier. Once it got going, there was some snappy dialogue and ingenious plotting but it took a long time to reach that point.

Riley and Chevron are perfectly nice characters. I loved his vulnerability, having being orphaned as a baby and with a cruel master while Chevron is an orphan, having become tough and daring on her quest to prove herself as a potential agent. They had a fun relationship trying to unravel the mystery of the time travel and attempting to keep one step ahead of the nefarious Garrick.

Overall: A fun plot that just takes a little too long to get going.

Cover: Really not a favorite for me with all the faces looking at me.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ramblings and Week to Come 28APR13

When Google announced that they would be shuttering Google Reader, I of course flipped out and frantically looked around for something else, settling on Feedly. Well, I have now discovered that Feedly does not have a search function (although at one point it did because I used it) and it is speculated that one would only be available in a paid version. I'm not shelling out for that. Bloglovin' also does not have search from what I can tell. All I want is to be able to search through old posts as I enjoy linking to other reviews but that seems to be difficult for some reason. Does anyone have any suggestions?

I did not officially participate in the Dewey Readathon but I did my own unofficial reading, completing 3 books as well as the next section of War and Peace. I also wrote most of my reviews for this week (will finish the rest today), did some commenting (have more planned for today), and got started on the next round of reading.

Books Received: From the publisher courtesy of Amazon Vine

Confederates Don't Wear Couture by Stephanie Kate Strohm-the sequel to Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink, a book I adored
The Program by Suzanne Young-I've seen some positive reviews already so am excited to dive in

I know I keep talking about this but it's been one of my favorite things! I don't want to bore the people in my real life so I'm going to talk to you and you can just skip over it if you're bored. We had our last regular season game this Thursday...and we won, ending up in third place and we're going to the playoffs next week. We're facing the team we lost to the previous week but it was only by one run and we had some bad luck (example, one of our batters hit one of our runners-the umpire said he'd never seen that in ten years of umping!) We could definitely make it through but either way, I'm just having so much fun and am pleased we'll be having a summer season!

Custom Tees:
I'm also organizing custom tees for the team and have been looking at different sites. So far I'm liking CustomInk.com but wanted to know if you've had any experiences with any sites. We'll have maybe 15 shirts to order for both men and women and just want something basic.

Week to Come:
The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer
15 Days Without a Head by Dave Cousins
(Fun fact: these are both international authors, being Irish and British respectively.)
Wednesday is the first of the month, which means the next section of War and Peace is due-I'm so proud of myself for keeping up!
Escape Theory by Margeaux Froley, contemporary mystery set at a boarding school...um, I'm there
Reboot by Amy Tintera, this comes from HarperTeen-enough said!
His Majesty's Hope by Susan Elias MacNeal, the third book in what has rapidly become one of my favorite mystery series.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

City of a Thousand Dolls

City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster
4/5 stars
HarperTeen, 2013
361 pages
YA Fantasy

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

The early reviews I saw of this seemed to be less than positive but I was so enchanted by the cover that I decided to check it out anyway. I'm glad I did as I found myself absolutely swept away, finishing it off in one day mostly under the beautiful sunshine (no surprise that the publisher is HarperTeen whose books are kind of my crack).

Nisha is an orphan, living in a city of unwanted girls who are trained from birth in certain arts, the better to secure a husband or patron. She is unique, having arrived not as an infant but as a child and has stayed on as a messenger/rat for the Matron receiving training from the various houses including fighting and music. When she stumbles across the dead bodies of several of the girls, Nisha ends up being the only one willing and able to investigate their murders and fight for justice.

I've got to give a hand to Nisha for her passion and critical thinking. Through her investigation she stumbles across many thing that are wrong and she is outraged by them. She doesn't just stand aside and think there's nothing to be done but she presses on with her work until an opportune moment.

Another positive was the relative lack of romance. Though Nisha does get to kiss a cute boy, he is nowhere near the only thing on her mind and her goals are far more expansive than just being with him forever and ever.

A third positive (and the one you might be most interested in knowing about) is the talking cats. Yes, there are cats who can communicated with humans but they are few although obviously Nisha is one of those. These cats prowl the city and seem to look out for her for some reason. They have many secrets that Nisha unravels as she seeks a murderer.

As I wrote this review, I realized that I don't have much of substance to say.  I enjoyed reading it, I'll probably check out the second book but nothing in particular stuck out to me as overwhelmingly good or infuriatingly bad.

I think if you tend to like the books from Harper imprints, this might work for you. It's also good for lovers of fantasy and cats.

Other Opinions:
Candace's Book Blog
Good Books and Good Wine
Parajunkee's View

Friday, April 26, 2013

You Know What You Have to Do

You Know What You Have to Do by Bonnie Shimko
3/5 stars
Amazon Children's Publishing, 2013
230 pages
YA Contemporary Thriller

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

Mary Magdalene or Maggie was saddled with quite the name by her young mother but has managed to grow up relatively normal. Oh, except for the voice in her head that tells her to kill people. Sometimes those people are the abusive alcoholic father of her friend; sometimes the voice singles out innocent little babies though. As Maggie's fear of this voice grows, will she be able to resist the darkness it shouts? Spoilers are necessarily contained as I need to explain exactly how this book affected me.

Firstly the characters didn't do much for me. My understanding was that Maggie would be a quirky original voice but I found her somewhat annoying. I hated all her complaining about her mother and best friend, the former of whom didn't seem that bad although the latter's true colors are revealed later. For one thing, Maggie is almost raped in a movie theater by a boy she liked and trusted. When she tells her friend, she says it was Maggie's fault and she should call and apologize! In fact Maggie complains a lot, which does ring true from my memories of being a teenager but is not what I like to read.

For me the ending of this book though was really where my problems came out though. She NEVER tells anyone about the voice and in fact seems to be embracing its instructions to mete out vigilante justice. I am never a fan of vigilantism and found this conclusion very unsettling. Despite meeting with many psychiatric professionals, she does not want to be deemed crazy and thus holds her tongue. I think she needed help and wish the good work of the doctors could have been appreciated.

Not everything I say is negative. I did find the writing pleasant enough and I don't think I've read another YA book quite like this one. Just overall, I feel like this was not a successful outing for me.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

ARC Review: The Eternity Cure

The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa
4.5/5 stars
HarlequinTeen, 2013
436 pages
YA Dystopia Vampire
Scheduled to release April 30

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

Last year I was surprised by how much I enjoyed The Immortal Rules since I did not like Kagawa's Iron Fey trilogy nor do I generally like vampire books. What struck me about the book was when main character Allie was turned from human to vampire, choosing existence over certain death and how her mentor Kanin instructed her that she had a choice over what kind of monster she'd be. These words guided her as she journeyed toward Eden, aiding humans on their quest to find a fully human city among the ruins.

Book two picks up with Allie trying to find Kanin who has been captured by a crazed vampire who is furious at how Kanin sold out his fellow species to help humans. Because of their blood tie, Allie can track Kanin but she also finds her blood brother Jackal along the way and must form an uneasy alliance with him as the book progresses. I was very impressed with how Kagawa reminded us of what happened in the previous book. Some authors just dive right into the story but she took the time to touch on the foundations and most important plot points to get us ready for what was to come.

Not sure how much of the plot I should reveal as I don't want to spoil anything but some highlights are the return of some of your favorite characters as well as a lot more insight into vampires and the history of this dystopian world. There are many action sequences and a lot of violence. I found the plot a bit less straightforward this time although it is ultimately a quest just like in the first. It is expanding wider to encompass every remaining living creature, setting us up for some epic battles in the conclusion. I kind of predicted something about the ending, which I will address at the very bottom of the review in the spoiler section.

Allie continues to battle her monstrous instincts in favor of her more human feelings. This is by challenged and supported by love interest Zeke. On the one hand, he really does love her; on the other hand, he would taste so dang good! Their relationship is not easy but it has some really good moments here. Kanin was a bit of a disappointment to me here-I loved him a lot in the first book but he was less compelling this go around. That is possibly because of the charisma of Jackal who overshadows most.

Overall: An excellent sequel to The Immortal Rules-you'll want to know what came next!

Other Opinions:
The Book Lantern
Katie's Book Blog
Realm of Fiction
Red House Books
Supernatural Snark

As we approached the end of the book, I thought book 3 would be opening with a description of Zeke as vampire because no way was he dead-dead. Then book 2 ends with us knowing he's alive-he has to be a vampire right? Kagawa made such a big deal about how he didn't want to be turned so that's what has to have happened. Do you think Zeke is a vampire?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

ARC Review: The School for Good and Evil

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
4.5/5 stars
Harper, 2013
488 pages
YA Fairy Tale
Scheduled to release May 14

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

As a long-time devotee of fairy tales and all their retellings, this book has been on my radar for a long time. I love the idea of schools training up the next generation of heroes and villains, especially when those people are pulled from an ordinary world like ours. The big twist here though is that while beautiful Sophie expects to land in the School for Good to be groomed to be a princess, she actually ends up in the School for Evil while her friend Agatha, whose penchant for black and offbeat style had her marked as villain material, enrolls in the School for Good. This book follows the ups and downs of their crazy first months at the schools against a larger tapestry for their fairy tale is only just getting started.

Like most of the books from HarperCollins, I found the writing of this one absolutely addicting. It's a little on the longer side but the last half, especially, flew by. I could not put it down. The plot has a lot of setup introducing both girls in their homes before transporting them to the schools but it all seemed necessary to set up our expectations for life at the schools. A bonus was that this has illustrations, which helped bring the story to life even further.

Once we're at the schools, it felt a little bit like Harry Potter (in the best way!) Since our two protagonists are split, we get a close look at both schools with their different philosophies and agendas. Everyone at the schools is as baffled as Sophie and Agatha as they also judge based solely on appearance. Sophie refuses to do villainous work, attempting to gain entrance to the good school while Agatha merely wants to go home. The girls have a lot of (mis)adventures as these goals are pursued. I don't want to share any spoilers so I can't be more detailed but it was crazy entertaining.

Of course there are a lot of other characters. The most notable is Prince Tedros, the most popular good boy who is the object of Sophie's affection. Since she thinks he is the handsomest boy, it is only fitting that she, as the prettiest girl, be paired with him. Sophie and Agatha also have a lot of interactions with all of the other students and a few notable professors.

Now I did have a few little quibbles although they did not keep me from greatly enjoying this book. I think it was maybe a little long? I'm not firm on that but some of the emphasis on who/what equaled good versus bad wearied me; luckily the latter half had more adventure. I also found Tedros to be super dull...but that's only because Sophie and Agatha had so much pizzazz.

Overall: Recommended especially for lovers of fairy tales as well as fantasy fans and lovers of younger YA (I originally thought this was MG but I know think it is sort of on the borderline depending on your tolerance for violence.)

Why isn't a sequel listed on goodreads yet???

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Crash and Burn

Crash and Burn by Michael Hassan
3/5 stars*
Balzer + Bray, 2013
532 pages
YA Contemporary

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

My rating has an asterisk next to it because while this is personally not my kind of book, I think the quality of its writing and what it tackles is very impressive. I didn't like it because of the content and the characters. We're talking profuse cursing, drugs, and sexual language and activities. If I provided an excerpt in my reviews, I'm not sure I would be able to share one that was suited for all ages. As for the characters, I never really warmed up to Crash. I thought he was a lazy selfish jerk and though I sympatheized with him over his even worse father and the problems caused by his ADHD, I did not like him. Still I think this book is quite majestic.

The plot centers around Crash (full name Steven Crashinsky) and Burn (full name David Burnett) whose lives have overlapped and intersected from elementary school up to high school when Burn brings guns and bombs to school and Crash stops him, saving more than a thousand people. But to get the full story of how Crash halted him, you need the full story of all those years.

I thought the themes explored were fascinating and when Crash and Burn were interacting, I was gripped. But then there are the moments when Crash was crudely discussing women and what he could get from them or when he was high (and he's high an awful lot) and I just wanted to shake him. I'm pretty clean-cut so while I recognize that these elements come from real-life, they're very far from my real-life (and that's how I like it).

My big lingering question from this book though is about the audience. I know there are a lot of bookish people like me who don't like that kind of content and will possibly pass over the book because of that. I found the voice compelling but I couldn't recommend it to anyone who might be offended by the contents (and that encompasses many of the people to whom I usually recommend books). And I'm sure there are also a lot of people who could empathize with Crash but those people aren't going to pick up a 500+ page book (Crash sure wouldn't).  So who exactly is the audience?

Overall: Again I do want to stress that I think this book is an impressive accomplishment; it's just not the kind of book that really speaks to me.

Other Opinions:
A Girl, A Boy, and a Blog
Enjoy a Book

Monday, April 22, 2013

ARC Review: The Boyfriend App

The Boyfriend App by Katie Sise
3/5 stars
Balzer + Bray, 2013
320 pages
YA Contemporary
Scheduled to release April 30

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

The premise for this book sounded absolutely adorable and right up my alley! I was especially pleased to see a female techie. There is always a gamble to talk in-depth about technology in this age of ever evolving gadgets and gizmos but it's weird to read a contemporary YA book where teenagers aren't practically attached to their phones. I don't know much about the apps on my smart phone but I hoped this book could enlighten me some.

In that regard I was very happy. Audrey is very into computers, coding, hacking, etc. having inherited the passion and skill from her now deceased father. Unfortunately his death led to a decrease in the family's finances, meaning she jumps at the chance to win a scholarship by creating an awesome app. This and a lot of other information was packed into the beginning chapters in an incredibly overwhelming fashion. I'm usually pretty nonplussed by info-dumps but this one was very hard for me.

As the book progressed, Audrey becomes more and more obsessed with her app, the second version of which stems from an odd fantastical twist. I don't want to spoil anything but I found it very implausible and only kept reading to the end because I did mostly enjoy the style. The characters certainly weren't doing anything for me.

While I liked Audrey adequately, it was her cousin/friend Lindsay who really spoke to me. Lindsay is a fashion-obsessed girl who turned her passion into a blog (that sounds familiar, huh?) and has amassed legions of followers and supporters. She easily slips among the social groups at school and totally has Audrey's back through various missteps. Of course, there is a bit of romance and the guy Audrey likes is a nice enough guy but he didn't have much there to make me root for him.

Overall: Neat premise that goes off the rails near the end-writing style is cool but characters don't have much depth. Definitely a library read if you want to check this out.

Other Opinions:
Amaterasu Reads
Anna Reads
Blkosiner's Book Blog
The Midnight Garden

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ramblings and the Week to Come 21APR13

I know I've mentioned before that I'm playing on my company's softball team but I can't seem to stop talking about it! Although we have a losing record, we'll possibly still end up in the playoffs because there are only six teams and we need four teams for the playoffs. Anyway in honor of how much fun we've had, I've been taking pictures and am planning to make something commemorative for everyone. I have a few ideas (as I've been lurking on Pinterest) but know that all of you are so crafty so if you have any thoughts about where to go online to make, say, a digital scrapbook or something like that, it would be much appreciated. I was planning to have it online so I can just email people a link. I am also willing to make something by hand, providing it's not too labor intensive as we have about 15 people who've played throughout the season.

I keep falling behind on commenting Wednesday-Friday since those are my busy days currently. But I made a big push to catch up on comments so if you received one that's on a post a week old (or more), that's why. I know it's random but my thinking is that it's better to get a comment late rather than never.

I'm also planning another giveaway for June (May is going to be too busy for me) and am hammering out all the details for that. Reading is going about as well as it has been with my busy schedule. I have also recently written a couple of reviews that I think turned out really well so I'm proud of that. Which leads me to...

In the past, whenever I thought "writer," my mind went immediately to novelist. That is not to make less of the writing skills of playwrights, poets, and short story writers but since I mostly read novels, that is what the word evokes. However lately I've been more broad in my definition of writer, particularly as it applies to me and my writing. I estimate that I write approximately 2,100 words a week for the blog in addition to comments and emails; that's a not insignificant amount especially when you compare it to an American population that is not particularly literary. I know my reviews now are generally better than they were when I first started and it's satisfying to see the progress. This has been something I've been pondering about myself lately and just thought I'd share it with you. I know a lot of bloggers are aspiring writers but I'm sure there are others, like me, who have always leaned more on the reading side and maybe never really considered themselves a writer. Anyone?

Books Bought:
I finally finished off my birthday/Christmas Barnes and Noble gift cards, picking out these beautiful annotated editions of my three favorite books. They're supposed to arrive tomorrow and I can't wait to look through them.

Pride and Prejudice

Week to Come:
The Boyfriend App by Katie Sise, a contemporary focusing on tech? How novel!
Crash and Burn by Michael Hassan, a massive book looking at male teenagerdom (it is not pretty)
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, an early review for one of my most anticipated books of the spring
The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa, sequel to the highly pleasing The Immortal Rules
You Know What You Have to Do by Bonnie Shimko, a girl hears a voice in her head pushing a murderous intent
City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster, this is my read for today-I've seen it garner a lot of mixed to negative reviews but I really love the cover and have to write a review for Amazon Vine so I'm giving it a try.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Taken by Erin Bowman
3.5/5 stars
HarperTeen, 2013
360 pages
YA Dystopia Science-Fiction

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

This book grabbed my attention first with its rainbow-cover. I love the way the covers bleed into each other. Then it cemented my attention with its premise about a town with no men-only boys as males are taken on their eighteenth birthday in "the heist." This raised a lot of questions for me, starting with wondering how did this begin and ending with "does that mean all the children in this town are fathered by males under 18?" I cannot reveal the answer to the first nor to any of the others in my mind but I can answer the last one with a simple "yes." There is a system to ensure the survival of this town and it revolves around males under the age of eighteen fathering children.

I have to say that although this book as a whole wasn't a winner for me, I must applaud HarperTeen for continually publishing some of the most absorbing books. When I pick up one of their books, I know that I probably won't be putting it down until I'm done and that was certainly the case here. I kept trying to go do other things but finding myself returning to Taken.

I can't reveal too much of the plot without heading into spoiler territory. But I can share that our narrator is Gray, the impulsive younger brother of the adored Blaine, whose eighteenth birthday is the day the story opens. Once Blaine is "heisted," Gray starts digging into his town's history and makes a crazy decision that leads to the rest of the events of this book. There's some romance, some would-be science (cannot comment on its plausibility although I suspect it is not very), and a lot of mystery and action.

Overall: I don't know that this was entirely the read for me and I'm not decided on continuing with the series but I'm sure many will find the writing engaging and be completely absorbed in this world.

Other Opinions:
Blkosiner's Book Blog
Katie's Book Blog
Team Tynga's Reviews
The Book Monsters

Friday, April 19, 2013

ARC Review: How Zoe Made Her Dreams (Mostly) Come True

How Zoe Made Her Dreams (Mostly) Come True by Sarah Strohmeyer
4/5 stars
Balzer + Bray, 2013
320 pages
YA Contemporary
Scheduled to release April 23

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

This book sounded so adorable! I love theme parks (especially that most famous of ones) and loved the sound of getting to be an intern at a magical place like Fairyland Kingdom, the New Jersey theme park setting of this book. That would have been my dream when I was a kid (it is less exciting now that I reflect on how customer-service oriented that position likely would have been.) I also really enjoyed Strohmeyer's previous YA novel Smart Girls Get What They Want and expected a story along the same lines.

One similarity was the focus on female friendship and ambition, both prioritized over mooning over stupid boys (although there are a couple of cute boys here!) Though Zoe is obviously the main character (hello-her name is in the title), her cousin Jess has an important subplot and allows us to see the unguarded Zoe as well as deeply explore her compassionate side. Ambition is also important as both girls (along with the other interns) are competing for a scholarship to pursue their big college dreams but neither is willing to compromise their standards.

A big difference though would obviously be that this is set at a theme park, bearing a remarkable resemble to Disney World but obliquely referencing the Mouse and his park.  I feel like the setting was so magical and really helped to set this book apart as something different from other light humorous contemporaries. This also showcases the backbiting drama of high schoolers competing for a significant amount of money, something I really adore.

As I mentioned, there is a bit of romance. You couldn't have so many young people mixed together and not have some flirting going on! The romance is not a big part of the book but it was appreciated with the ending resolution being especially satisfying.

Overall: A fun funny story laced with Strohmeyer's trademark humor-definitely worth checking out when you need your next summer read!

Other Opinions:
The Book Scoop
Candace's Book Blog
One Page at a Time

Thursday, April 18, 2013

ARC Review: Life After Theft

Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike
4/5 stars
HarperTeen, 2013
352 pages
YA Paranormal Contemporary
Scheduled to release April 30

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

Before reading this, I discovered it was based on the classic novel The Scarlet Pimpernel and resolved to read that first. Hahahahahaha...I am so hilarious as that obviously did not happen. But I still enjoyed picking this book up. Why? Quite a few reasons in fact.

Let's review the plot real quick first. Jeff has just moved to a new school (sidenote for people who have read the book: I keep thinking "Phoenix; it's in Arizona" in my head for some reason. So far I have refrained from saying it to anyone but that's a distinct possibility) and is thrilled to see a hot girl upon arrival. Surprisingly she is thrilled to see him as well because, as it turns out, she is actually a ghost and no one else can see her. She asks (or more like badgers) him to help her atone for her misdeeds in life: a cave filled with items she stole as she suffered from kleptomania. As Jeff attempts to get Kimberlee (not a fan of that spelling) out of his life, he comes up against some secrets and learns some lessons.

First was the compelling male voice. I don't know that Jeff is a typical guy but I found him very sympathetic and I liked him as he tried to do the right thing even in somewhat bewildering circumstances. In a nice addition, Jeff's parents are present and pretty good people. They're maybe not as present as they could be but they're alive and involved in his life to a degree.

Second would have to be the ghost. Of all the possibilities for paranormal creatures, ghosts are at the top of my list (followed very closely by witches) and having one here definitely appealed to me. Kimberlee is not see-through and has the ability to somewhat sit on objects such as a beanbag chair where she doesn't sink to the floor but she doesn't leave an indent. She begins as not very repentant but due to Jeff's good and moral nature, she starts to confront some of the dark misdeeds of her past and make up for them.

Third was the easy writing style. This will come up again but I find that HarperTeen is an imprint that consistently publishes titles that I can easily devour. I don't always fall in love with the premise or the characters or the world building but I usually struggle to put their titles down and this was no exception.

Fourth would be the romance. No, Jeff does not fall for Kimberlee leading to some tortured human/ghost love shenanigans. Instead he falls for a living human being who had previously been bullied by Kimberlee and whose less than fond memories of her give Jeff trouble as he attempts to aid Kimberlee on her quest. This girl, Sera, got in to some troubles during her first years of high school and is also attempting to rehabilitate herself almost in parallel to Kimberlee.

Fifth is the fun twist on The Scarlet Pimpernel. I know I haven't read the book but I have seen a film adaptation (the one with Leslie Howard) and I know the basic story. I am also a sucker for YA retellings of classics and this one was new to me.

So there are my five big reasons for enjoying this book. Have you read this? Do you agree or disagree? If you haven't read this, do this make you want to give it a try?

Other Opinons:
Books Live Forever
Finding Bliss in Books
Jen Ryland/YA Romantics

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Namesake

The Namesake by Steven Parlato
3/5 stars
Merit Press, 2013
285 pages
YA Contemporary

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

I'm not really sure why this book callled to me as on the surface it doesn't really seem like a "Stephanie" book. It's a male narrator dealing with grief and some very dark subjects in a literary novel fashion. But it is contemporary YA mostly set in a high school and featuring religious questioning so maybe those were elements I somehow sensed.

My rating for this book is largely based on personal enjoyment, which was not very high for this book. It is dark: the book opens with the narrator reflecting on his father's suicide and that hangs over the entire book as Evan delves into his father's tortured past (if I mention that his father was an altar boy, you might be able to figure out some of what he endured). I do not tend to like dark books and there were many difficult passages for me.

As for the writing, I thought this book had a more literary quality unlike a lot of YA, which tends to lean commercially in my opinion. However some of the characterizations felt off. Evan is supposed to be very smart (having skipped at least one grade) but I didn't really get that impression from him. He was more sensitive than some of his peers but intellectually,  he seemed average. His best friend Lex has had some trauma in her past and I thought the reveal of that darkness wasn't handled as well as it could have been (I don't want to reveal spoilers) although by the end, it was almost completely laid bare.

Another element that was hard for me was just the formatting. This book isn't divided into chapters but every few pages, there are section breaks. I would have preferred for each of those sections to be turned into chapters. This is a very odd little personal preference that probably wouldn't bother anyone else.

Overall: A warning that this book is definitely on the dark side and more suited for older readers. Definitely check out some other reviews to see if this one might be right for you.

Other Opinions:
Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
In Bed With Books
The Book Babe

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Breath by Jackie Morse Kessler
4/5 stars
Graphia, 2013
321 pages
YA Paranormal Issues
4th in YA Quartet Riders of the Apocalypse

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

After devouring the previous books in this series (Hunger, Rage, and Loss), of course I had to read Breath and find out how everything wraps up. We've previously visited the Horsemen of Famine, War, and Pestilence which leads us to the most-feared one: Death who has proved to be an intriguing figure common to all the books. Although I think you could read Hunger or Rage to start, you definitely need to have read all three books before starting this conclusion. If not, you will likely have trouble following the action.

Unfortunately for me, this book was a bit of a letdown. While I loved the intensely personal stories of Hunger and Rage, which drew me into a teenager's pain as she confronted something dark and real, Loss was less satisfying and more out-there. Breath continues that trend, alternating the story of Death with the life of a seemingly ordinary young boy, unraveling in a somewhat mystifying fashion. I'm not going to go in-depth at all to avoid spoilers but I was pretty unhappy with some of the specific choices of this narrative.

I think another problem was the character of Death, who looks like Kurt Cobain. I've seen many other reviewers who gushed over him but I always preferred Terry Pratchett's DEATH so this variant never ranked for me. Some other things we learn about Death in this book also kept me from falling for him.

Still I ranked this pretty high. I do admire Kessler's vision as I have found this series very different from other books out there and I think the writing is pretty good. Although the conclusion is not quite too my taste (I would probably have pulled some punches), a lot of others have found it satisfying and if you have read and enjoyed the other books, you'll have to complete the series.

Cover: Once I read the books, I find that I really love the covers and this one is no exception. The infinity sign was not a favorite initially but it is explained and that won me over.

Other Opinions:
Tiffany's Bookshelf

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Ultra Violets

The Ultra Violets by Sophie Bell
Illustrated by Chris Battle
3.5/5 stars
Razorbill, 2013
290 pages
Middle-Grade Contemporary Fantasy

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

I received this book unsolicited from the publisher and thought it looked adorable. It kind of reminded me of the Powerpuff Girls and I love stories focusing on female friendship especially during the years of middle-school, which are tough. As shown on the cover, this book is about four young girls and incorporates the color purple. In fact, the font is purple throughout  (but still perfectly readable if that's a concern) and there are illustrations included, which is something I adore.

The plot is that four girls were playing in their mom's lab under the less than careful eye of their baby-sitter. One knocks over some mysterious goo and drenches them all. Years later, the girls were separated and then reunited, discovering that they have powers and deciding that they will need to harness their new abilities to fight the shady corporate powers in their town.

As represented on the covers, the girls look very different with their own unique interests and skills. Some are more outgoing while others are more shy so everyone will probably be able to click with at least one of them. While they have the unlikely situation of suddenly possessing superpowers, they also have the relatable problems of friendship, boys, and school, helping to keep this story grounded.

I feel like my biggest problem with this book is just that I'm not the target audience. I think I would have enjoyed it when I was ten or eleven but being more than double that age, it was just not my thing. I would love to see the opinion of someone in the target audience who ate it up!

Other Opinions:
The Best Books Ever

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Week to Come 14APR13

Happy Sunday! Hope you are having a good time reading and living your life :)

Giveaway Winner:

I drew the winner for my giveaway; it's...

Congratulations-we've been in contact and your choice has been ordered!

Thank you so much to everyone who follows whether through GFC or other means, to everyone who has ever stopped by, to everyone who has ever left a comment-this blog means so much to me and you all really make it worth it! Thank you and I look forward to many more years in the blogosphere.


I am having so much fun with my softball league. Sure, we're 3-4 but we're actually ranked third in the league because most of the teams aren't that good. And I'm having so much fun with my coworkers, seeing who can bat and catch (hint: not me).

My eyes are doing quite well. They still feel a bit strained on occasion and driving at night is not an ideal situation but I'm really happy with my decision.

I'm hoping to have some good time to read today as my week is getting busy again. The goal is to stay on track with my six reviews a week but I don't know if that will happen. I'll keep you posted.

Week to Come: mostly YA, all 2013 releases

The Ultra Violets by Sophie Bell-a middle-grade superhero novel

Breath by Jackie Morse Kessler-completes her Riders of the Apocalypse tetralogy

The Namesake by Steven Parlato-a YA contemporary dealing with grief

Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike-a YA paranormal contemporary retelling of the classic novel The Scarlet Pimpernel

How Zoe Made Her Dreams (Mostly) Come True by Sarah Strohmeyer-a hilarious YA story set at an amusement park

Taken by Erin Bowman-actually haven't read this yet but it's on today's agenda

Saturday, April 13, 2013

ARC Review: Daughter of Jerusalem

Daughter of Jerusalem by Joan Wolf
3.5/5 stars
Worthy Publishing, 2013
320 pages
Adult Historical Inspirational

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

After my negative experience with Between the Sinners and the Sea, I was very nervous about picking this up even though I had enjoyed the author's previous work A Reluctant Queen. Would it actually be inspirational? Happily, I can report that this book succeeds on that front. Although it has its weaknesses, I was moved to tears by one passage about Jesus (I honestly can't imagine a time in my life where thinking about the love demonstrated by Jesus doesn't move me to cry).

But I found this book's historical grounding to be sorely lacking. The language and writing style felt very contemporary to me. This is good in that it meant I read the book very quickly but bad because I didn't feel transported back in time. Even though the setting and customs were super different from our cultural norms, it still didn't feel historical to me.

I did love a lot of the plot decisions made by the author though. Our heroine is Mary of Magdala who falls in love with someone but is given in marriage to a much older and extremely wealthy man. Although Jewish, they partake in many Roman customs and Mary falls away from her religion, even taking a Roman lover (these are the decisions that lead to her being called a whore as she is sometimes considered). After she is widowed, she returns to her Jewish roots where she comes upon the Messiah. I loved when she hears Jesus and how we see that wealthy women are the ones who really helped support the ministry of Jesus. Mary is very sympathetic to Judas, whose betrayal is painted as done by one who craved a strong military leader to restore Jewish sovereignty, a popular interpretation I've seen.

However there was one decision made by the author that I really don't understand though. In this version, Mary Magdalene is also Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. I've always understood those Marys to be separate women and to be pleased with the many different women Jesus interacts with in the Gospels.

Overall: Although I found this book interesting and enjoyable, I didn't think it dipped much beyond the surface (except for brief moments with Jesus who always manages to touch my heart) and will not leave an impression on me.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Tragedy Paper

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan
4/5 stars
Alfred A. Knopf, 2013
304 pages
YA Contemporary

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

I'm a sucker for stories set at boarding schools and I read enough positive reviews of this to want to check it out. I'll admit that this might have been a better book to read on a chilly, snowy night but I live in California so I don't get many of those and just plunged ahead with this fast, absorbing read on a weekend.

It tells the overlapping tales of two male seniors at an elite boarding school in New England. Duncan is dreading his approaching senior year with the pressure to produce a tragedy paper, the standard senior assignment there as well as facing nervousness over what room he'll receive and what legacy he'll receive from the previous occupant. He is overwhelmed to receive the room of Tim, whose senior year provides the framework for Duncan's tragedy paper. Through a set of CDs narrated by Tim, Duncan receives some answers that allow him to come to terms with tragedy.

Tim is an albino, which has marked him out as different for his entire life. But on his way to a new school, he meets Vanessa and dares to hope for a romantic relationship. Once they're on the campus, she is his friend but she sticks to her jerky boyfriend even as their secret friendship flourishes. One night though changes everything; this is also the night that hangs over Duncan's head and that the tapes bring him closure about.

As I said, I found this to be a very absorbing read; I was barely able to put it down. Although I normally skip over literary fiction preferring a plot-driven story, I thought this book was not too difficult while still being thought-provoking. I didn't feel very connected to either of the leads but I had sympathy for their plights. Both have a lot hanging over them and it tugged at my heartstrings.

But for a book with a title as dramatic as The Tragedy Paper, I was expecting an ending that was, well, more tragic. When I hear tragedy, I think Hamlet with almost everyone dying and, I don't want to spoil anything but, that is not exactly the case here. I just feel like more should have been at stake and I felt a little let down with the ending.

Overall: An approachable YA literary title that should especially please fans of boarding school settings.

Other Opinions:
A Reader of Fictions
Good Books and Good Wine
Jen Ryland/YA Romantics
Lauren's Crammed Bookshelf
Shooting Stars Mag

Thursday, April 11, 2013

ARC Review: The Rules

The Rules by Stacey Kade
4/5 stars
Hyperion, 2013
410 pages
YA Sci-Fi Paranormal
Scheduled to release April 23

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

1. Never trust anyone.

2. Remember they are always searching.

3. Don’t get involved.

4. Keep your head down.

5. Don’t fall in love.

Above are the rules that have governed Ariane Tucker's life since she was broken out of laboratory and instructed on how to assimilate into human life. The first part of her life was spent in that lab, being trained to harness her special paranormal powers. Now she is enrolled in a high school, keeping under the radar. For the most part, she's been able to handle it but all of a sudden, rule number five is looking tricky as human Zane Bradshaw pokes at her strongest defenses. Zane, for his part, finds himself very intrigued by Ariane, her sense of justice and her commitment to keeping under the radar being some of her unique qualities.

What grabbed me about this book was actually the title of the series: Project Paper Doll. I love paper dolls and though I knew they didn't have anything to do with the story, I was still hooked. This is definitely a plot-driven book, light on science-fiction and with elements of paranormal. Though Ariane and Zane alternate narration, the plot still supersedes the character development. The result of this is that the pages fly by despite the bulk.

I really appreciated that the majority of the story is set primarily in a high school, giving this a strong contemporary vibe (my fave genre!) Popularity and attention are important themes as is appearance. As long as Ariane appears normal and doesn't gain notice from others, she should be fine. But events conspire to bring her out the shadows and, as this is a series, set her up for a long struggle against the scientific corporation that created her. I also liked that this was sci-fi but on the light side; I didn't want to read anything too dark or heavy and this book skirts that.

Overall: Fun, plot-driven novel, written in a very easy to read style.

Other Opinions:
Blkosiner's Book Blog
Can't Find a Bookmark
Good Choice Reading
Jen Ryland/YA Romantics

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

ARC Review: Exile

Exile by Rebecca Lim
4/5 stars
Hyperion, 2013
Originally published in Australia, 2011
275 pages
YA Paranormal
Scheduled to release April 23

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

In 2011, I picked up a random book from Netgalley and was blown away by its enthralling story that kept me on the edge of my seat. That book of course was Mercy in its American release (originally from Australia). Naturally I eagerly awaited the release of the rest of the books in the series and we finally reach book 2 with the pending release of Exile.

Although it has been two years, I still anticipated this sequel and loving it as much. Did I think it would matter that I didn't remember that much from book one? No, because it was fairly self-contained and not much was revealed about the overarching story mythology. That is what I figured book two would divulge.

And Exile does follow through on that promise, revealing more about Mercy's past as some kind of angel although the specifics are still murky. In fact, I feel like I learned about as much from the goodreads summary as I did from the whole book. But whereas book one has Mercy caught up in a kidnapping situation, this book has her occupying the body of a young woman whose mother is battling cancer. Very sad, yes, but not as suspenseful or gripping.

I think some very interesting questions around faith, responsibility, and free will are raised in this book but I found them choppily interwoven with some chapters following Mercy's body while some chapters dove in to those questions through her dreams. They were not tied together very strongly. Add to that, the lackluster plot and I was less impressed with this second book, somewhat breaking my streak of strong second books so far this year. But I am still intrigued by the promise of this series and I do want to check out book three Muse as well as what looks like the fourth book Fury. If you are interested, I would definitely say read Mercy first before reading Exile. I can't imagine getting a hang on Exile without having had the background of Mercy.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Shadowlands by Kate Brian
3.5/5 stars
Hyperion, 2013
328 pages
YA Thriller

Source: Library

This book grabbed my attention with its stunning cover and the promise of a serial killer. I don't know why but stories with serial killers are of great interest to me so that was enough to hook me despite mixed reviews.

I ended the book myself with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I found it a very fast read where I could not stop turning the pages. I'd put the book down to go do something else only to find myself picking the book back up. I also found the chapters from the serial killer's point of view totally gripping. But on the other hand, the characters were not well-developed and I didn't find the twists and turns that interesting. I was just reading because it was easy.

Main character Rory lives in the shadows. Her older sister Darcy is a cheerleader, popular and pretty while Rory studies science intently and consistently places third in her track meets. But she is marked out when a serial killer goes after her although she manages to escape, with her family sent off to an island. There Rory is the special one to Darcy's dismay, falling in with a group of mysterious teens on an island where nothing is what it seems.

My summary emphasizes the sister-sister relationship partly because that is something I always find interesting and partly because I feel like the comparison of the girls was important to the story. Rory is blond to Darcy's brunette (I think); Rory is shy to Darcy's extroverted personality; Rory is nervous while Darcy easily flirts. However I did feel like Rory was made out to be perfect and Darcy near villainous at times especially with Rory easily attracting the attention of all the guys Darcy liked.

The main reason for reading this book though is for the plot, which ends on a big twist (do not read ahead if you are the kind of person who reads the last page first). It helps put most of the book in a different perspective but I still have some lingering questions. I'm undecided if I definitely want to read the second book or if I just want to beg for some answers from someone who reads it.

Cover: Not sure why the girl on the cover is brunette as it is very clearly established that main character Rory is blonde. There is a blonde girl on the back cover but she ought to be on the front.

Other Opinions:
Buried in Books
Good Books and Good Wine
Jen Ryland/YA Romantics

Monday, April 8, 2013

March Madness

It's time...all the anticipation, all the bracketing, all the matches, and we're down to the last two...

Clueless vs 10 Things I Hate About You 

(You didn't think I meant basketball, right?) I am super psyched because this is exactly what I hoped for when I first saw the brackets. And for me, Clueless wins overall. If you agree, you should head over to Forever Young Adult and vote (scroll way down to the bottom). You have til Saturday.

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