Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday (5)

Top Ten Great Book Club Picks:

I decided to go with book club picks for an elementary school book club. I work with both a preteen and teen book club, so picking ya books just seemed like a cheaping out for me, especially since the librarian I work with was so good at picking great pre/teen books for age appropriate book clubs.

1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
I know, everyone's read it, blah blah bite me. Number one, not everyone has read it, and I think every child (teen/adult/animal) should be exposed to its brilliance. Number two, even if kids have read it, they should be encouraged to discuss how awesome it is (am I being biased? Because I don't care when it comes to Ms. Rowling's works). What would you do if a half-giant told you that you were a wizard? Which type of magical candy would be your favorite? THE DISCUSSION POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS.

2. Matilda by Roald Dahl
One of the most brilliant books EVER. Another one that every kid should read. What would you do if you faced the Trunchbull day after day? Where would you hang out if your family was miserable and didn't understand how smart and special you were? Obviously everyone should pick the library (there are so many books!) but you know, to each their own. Also, the movie should accompany the discussion of this book, to demonstrate that sometimes a book and a movie can be equally good. 

3. The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling
The first book I ever read in a book club. What would you like to be able to turn everything you touched into? Cheese? Sugar? Cans of diet cherry vanilla Dr. Pepper (do they still sell it??? Inquiring minds want to know!)? Was the kid just a whiner who didn't know a good thing when he had it?

4. The Wish Giver by Bill Britain
The book that truly explores the concept of "Be careful what you wish for." What would you wish for if you had a card that enabled you to wish for whatever you wanted? Do you think it could go horrifically wrong? How so? Did the three main characters need to be taught this lesson?

5. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
Confession: I actually prefer the movie version of this. It's a beautifully written story and a great kid's book, but I couldn't get past the whole "I know you're eleven, but girlfriend, when you're sixteen or seventeen, drink from the fountain and hit me up." I found it weird. I kind of preferred that Winnie was already a teenager in the movie. I don't think the issue I take with the book would present itself to most kids that read it, however. Would YOU drink from the fountain of eternal youth and life? Why would someone choose not to drink from the fountain?

6. Frindle by Andrew Clements
I was under the impression that the word frindle ended up in the dictionary because of this book. Upon a bit of research, it looks like that this didn't happen. This book was read to me years ago, so I guess that I thought the fact that the word ends up in the dictionary in the book meant that it happened in real life. Regardless, whatta great book. Are there any made up words you use that you'd like to see in the dictionary?

7. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Awesome high fantasy book for anyone. Would you want to reside in a castle that moves? Would Howl's mysterious ways frustrate you? Who was your favorite character? (Kind of a boring question, but for this book I'm legitimately curious.)

8. Flipped by Wendelin van Draanen
This book is great for elementary school/middle grade audiences because it's told from two points of view, a girl and a boy. Would you shy away from someone like Juli Baker, or would you recognize how awesome she is? Is it more important to be very popular, or to be friends with fewer people that mean something to you?

9. Holes by Louis Sachar
What would you do if you were stuck digging holes in the desert, day after day, being punished for something you didn't even do? What is the worst part of Stanley's situation? How badass is "Kissin' Kate" Barlow? The discussion possibilities are endless.

10. The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
The dry humor of Lemony Snicket's books is so fantastic. I know that sometimes it goes over the heads of some children, but seriously. What well-written children's books. Did you like the fact that the narrator exists outside of the story but is still a character himself? Why is Count Olaf so scary and nefarious? Hopefully reading this one would inspire interest in the rest of the books in the series!

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Monday, January 30, 2012

In My Mailbox (5)

Tempest by Julie Cross

Broken by Susan Jane Bigelow
The Thief by Mean Whalen Turner
The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood, Duchess of Northumberland
Girlfriend Material by Melissa Kantor

IMM is hosted by The Story Siren

Friday, January 27, 2012

Clockwork Prince (Infernal Devices #2) by Cassandra Clare

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon and Schuster)
Pages: 504
Series or Stand Alone: Book Two in the Infernal Devices trilogy
SummaryThe special Collector’s First Edition will include a never-before-seen letter from Will to his family!
In the magical underworld of Victorian London, Tessa Gray has at last found safety with the Shadowhunters. But that safety proves fleeting when rogue forces in the Clave plot to see her protector, Charlotte, replaced as head of the Institute. If Charlotte loses her position, Tessa will be out on the street—and easy prey for the mysterious Magister, who wants to use Tessa’s powers for his own dark ends.
With the help of the handsome, self-destructive Will and the fiercely devoted Jem, Tessa discovers that the Magister’s war on the Shadowhunters is deeply personal. He blames them for a long-ago tragedy that shattered his life. To unravel the secrets of the past, the trio journeys from mist-shrouded Yorkshire to a manor house that holds untold horrors, from the slums of London to an enchanted ballroom where Tessa discovers that the truth of her parentage is more sinister than she had imagined. When they encounter a clockwork demon bearing a warning for Will, they realize that the Magister himself knows their every move—and that one of their own has betrayed them.
Tessa finds her heart drawn more and more to Jem, though her longing for Will, despite his dark moods, continues to unsettle her. But something is changing in Will—the wall he has built around himself is crumbling. Could finding the Magister free Will from his secrets and give Tessa the answers about who she is and what she was born to do?
As their dangerous search for the Magister and the truth leads the friends into peril, Tessa learns that when love and lies are mixed, they can corrupt even the purest heart.

The second installment in the Infernal Devices trilogy topped my very short Christmas list this year, for obvious reasons. After a quick reread of Clockwork Angel, I made short work of Clockwork Prince.
Everything's going to hell at the London Institute. Now that the occupants know who the Magister is, they have to stop his plan--but before they can do anything they have to find out what his plan is. If that wasn't enough, Benedict Lightwood is attempting to gain control of the London Institute. Charlotte has a fortnight to track down the Magister using only the help of those immediately around her or she forfeits her leadership. Will is disappearing to Magnus Bane's to track down the demon that wrecked his life. While Will is off attempting to rectify his life, Jem and Tessa are getting closer--as in, a lot closer (I also don't apologize for any Roswell references I make). As if all of THIS weren't enough, a traitor is discovered in their midst--and Tessa's jerkwad of a brother pops up again. Lord. Cassandra Clare doesn't mess around. She did say that the point of a second book in a trilogy is to tear everything apart...
Clare continued to expand on the excellence that was Will, Jem, and the friendship/parabatai-ship between the two. More was revealed about Will's past and his tendency to push everyone that could be close to him away. Clare expertly demonstrates the emotional depth to his character through writing from Magnus Bane's perspective. The most important thing is that his new vulnerability does not negate his snarky humor.
Jem, on the other hand, demonstrates emotions that I wouldn't have thought characteristic of Jem--namely, anger and lust. Clare's best scenes for this surround a moment in which Jem loses his temper with Will and punches him, something completely out of the ordinary for even-tempered Jem. The character development for the two of them is awesome.
And Jessamine. Poor, spoiled Jessamine (again). When Jessamine's character was introduced in Clockwork Angel, I thought she was going to be a snobby, off-to-the-side character whose sole purpose was to make judgmental comments. I was wrong and found that I really liked her character for going against the normal Shadowhunter mentality. In Clockwork Prince, Jessamine goes above and beyond what I thought she would. It's interesting to see how the others react to her actions.
The only characterization that I couldn't get on board with with Tessa's. In the first Infernal Devices book, Tessa demonstrates a lot of courage and a wit to match Will's. While Tessa does retain some of her previous characterization, I felt that she melted a tiny bit into the "Oh god, two boys are in love with me." (If this were Friends, "My wallet's too small for my fifties, and my diamond shoes are too tight.")I did not like that she spent so much time thinking about how she shouldn't have feelings for Will when she so clearly did. It kind of felt like one of my friends was talking this out with me, trying to convince herself of something by telling me over and over and over. This happens to be one of my least favorite things. Tessa, don't turn into a crazy girl! I can only deal with so many of those. Also, girl, check yourself before you wreck yourself. Some of the things you're doing ain't right. I hope Tessa gathers her senses about her and goes back to her more awesome self in the third installment, Clockwork Princess.
Even though I had some issues with Tessa's character, Clockwork Prince entirely lived up to its predecessor. Clare makes insanely readable books that feature characters a reader can get easily attached to, and Clockwork Prince was no exception.

Rating: 5 - once again, fantastic. Shelf of favorites status for the win.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Clockwork Angel (Infernal Devices #1) by Cassandra Clare

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster)
Pages: 496
Series or Stand Alone: Book One in the Infernal Devices trilogy
SummaryMagic is dangerous--but love is more dangerous still.
When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.
Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What's more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own.
Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by--and torn between--two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length...everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world...and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all. 

I'm a fan of the Mortal Instruments books, so when I heard that Cassandra Clare was writing  a steampunk prequel trilogy, I was very excited. I ordered it when it first came out and read it. I knew when I went to read the second installment, Clockwork Prince, I wouldn't remember anything about the first, so I decided to reread it in preparation for the second.
This review is going to be on the longer side, for the sheer fact that I have a lot to say about how much I love this book/series. For that, I'm going to ditch the traditional summary in my words. First of all, the characters. Tessa Gray is the female lead of this novel. I really enjoyed Tessa's character. She managed to keep being strong throughout a really shitty situation. Her loyalty is a force to be reckoned with--she never even considers going against the Dark sisters when they've threatened her brothers life. She isn't weak and she expresses a great amount of curiosity about the world around her. Also, she's obsessed with books in a very believable, not annoying, way.
Now, William Herondale. Ah. To find an emotionally damaged boy that snarks instead of spending every waking minute brooding. Brooding is annoying. Snarky wit is attractive. But wait! He has this secret mysterious pain that is probably going to be explored in great detail at some later point in the series instead of being vaguely alluded to! Also, he doesn't wander around whining about his pain to all of the characters. Will is a breath of fresh air in the male lead pool.
James Carstairs, Will's parabatai, is entirely different from Will. Jem is one of the nicest yet totally non-boring characters to grace the pages of a young adult novel. The silver-haired violin playing Shadowhunter appears to be the only on that gets through to Will's otherwise hidden soft side. As parabatai, the two are practically brothers. Jem plays he open, brighter side to Will's closed-off darkness.
Jessamine: All poor, snobby, spoiled Jessamine wants is to be a proper lady. Unfortunately, having Shadowhunter blood and being orphaned at a young age sent her to the London Institute to be raised as a Shadowhunter. Even her delicate, ladylike parasol mades a mockery of her desires--it has razorsharp edges she can use to fight downworlders if the opportunity presents itself. I liked Jessamine's admittedly vexing character because she fights so hard against what she is--to the point where she doesn't act when she should because of her belief that she is a lady and ladies don't fight. Jessamine is selfish, grating, and generally a bitch to everyone around her--which was totally different than everyone around her. Everyone else may believe that being a Shadowhunter is a blessing and an honor, but Jessamine sure doesn't.
The inclusion of both Camille Belcourt and Magnus Bane was welcome. Camille's star-crossed-lover-intent-on-revenge schtick was pretty soap opera worthy, but entertaining nonetheless. I'm curious as to the connections between the characters in the Infernal Devices and those in the Mortal Instruments books.
As for the plot, the nefarious Magister is training Terra up to be his--wife? Interesting direction to go in. This aspect of the novel made me think of old silent films (okay, really modern cartoon references to silent films) in which a villain (usually with a mustache) kidnaps the young damsel in order to tie her to a set of railroad tracks. It's old school nefarious. Except, clearly the Magister has plans for Tessa; he's not just doing this to be a dick or to bait some sort of beige hero. However, what his plan is will not be revealed in this book--though the identities of the Magister and some of his helpers are revealed. 
Listen, I'm all for the romantic entanglements of Will and Tessa, and eventually Jem and Tessa, and the ensuing result of that love triangle, but the clear attraction between Will and Tessa was not the most interesting relationship to me (though, don't get me wrong, I'm definitely interested in that). I was far more interested in Will and Jem's friendship and status as parabatai (partnered fighters in the Shadowhunter world). Jem is the only one treated with outright kindness by Will, the rest of the characters usually subjected to bouts of snarky sarcasm. Will very obviously cares for Jem and takes care of him when his "condition" places him out of commission. They are the closest to one another, which is why I found it intriguing that they don't outright address their interest in Tessa, except for when Jem says that they both find her pretty. I'm very interested in how this love triangle will affect their friendship. It could easily go in the adversarial direction, but something tells me Clare is not going to take the easy way out. Which means totally justifiable, growth-inducing pain for the characters, which brings happiness to this particular reviewer. Sometimes, in the words of Sally Sparrow, "Sad is happy for deep people." Bottom line: William Herondale and James Carstairs are adorabros. Their histories, both shared and unshared, are entirely compelling.
Clockwork Angel provides for a satisfying enough conclusion--meaning I was satisfied with this book as a whole, but the epilogue included a mysterious teaser that definitely made me want to read the next one, but it wasn't like I was going to die if I didn't get to read it. Clockwork Angel was a well-executed introduction to the Infernal Devices trilogy, and I am very much looking forward to reading Clockwork Prince.

Rating: 5 - fantastic. Definitely shelf of favorites status.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Death Catchers by Jennifer Anne Kogler

Publisher: Walker Children's
Pages: 352
Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
SummaryOn her fourteenth Halloween, Lizzy Mortimer sees her first death-specter.
Confused at first, Lizzy soon learns from her grandmother Bizzy that as Death Catchers, they must prevent fate from taking its course when an unjust death is planned-a mission that has been passed down from their ancestor, Morgan le Fay. Only, Lizzy doesn't expect one of her first cases to land her in the middle of a feud older than time between Morgan le Fay and her sister Vivienne le Mort. Vivienne hopes to hasten the end of the world by preventing Lizzy from saving King Arthur's last descendant-humanity's greatest hope for survival. It's up to Lizzy, as Morgan's earthly advocate, to outwit fate before it's too late.
With its unique spin on Arthurian legend, this fresh, smartly written story will stand out in the paranormal genre.

The Death Catchers caught my eye (ha, ha.) because it's a young adult book based in Arthurian legend, specifically in the story of Morgan le Fay. After knowing almost no information about king Arthur and all those related to him, I took a seminar in college on Arthurian literature and received a crash course. My semester long group project was on Morgan le Fay's character throughout history, so I was extra interested in a young adult novel about her.
Lizzy is a normal fourteen-year-old that has just discovered that she has an abnormal ability--she is a death catcher, a descendent of Morgan le Fay that foretells the deaths of those close to her and has the responsibility of stopping these predictions from happening.  To Lizzy, these death warnings appear in the form of newspaper articles and book pages that explain where, when, and how the deaths are going to happen. With the aid of her grandmother Bizzy, who also happens to be a death catcher, Lizzy must attempt to save her crush Drake--the boy who may also be the descendent of King Arthur, thus the savior of the free world. Unfortunately Morgan's sister Vivian la Morte is trying to end both Drake and the line of Morgan's descendants--meaning that in addition to saving Drake, Lizzy and Bizzy must make sure to save themselves.
One of the strongest elements of this book was the fact that it was based in Arthurian legends. When a book is based in mythology, I prefer that it include some background information (though not in a way where they just spew paragraphs of information. Dialogue is a great tool, people. Use it). I know before I took a class on it, I had incredibly limited knowledge of Arthurian legend. I would have liked the information incorporated a bit more fluidly, but at least it was there. I also really liked the idea that Morgan le Fay and Vivian la Morte were sisters and two sides of the same coin--Morgan's job was to measure life threads, whereas Vivian's was to cut them. That was a cool bit of legend on the author's part.
I also liked the fact that Morgan le Fay was painted in a positive light, mostly because she was my character of study for my class. Morgan is often portrayed as the villain; it was nice to see an author harkening back to Morgan's roots as a benevolent healer. And now I'm done being a nerd.
While there were several good things about this book, I think it may have been too young for me. The story moved more at a middle grade speed than at a young adult pace. Aside from the one kiss Lizzy and Drake share, I felt like the actions of the protagonists would have been just as believable if she were ten rather than fourteen. I wished for a little more badassery from the heroine. I found her grandmother to be more interesting than she was.
Some of the other characters were just slightly too cutesy and quirky for me. For instance, Lizz's mother was a librarian that was said to look the part (several times) and couldn't function like a normal mother and social being because she was too busy trying to find the perfect book for a certain person. Listen, I like to make book recommendations too, but I know the time and place for them. Also, the names bugged me. Lizzy and Bizzy? They freaking RHYME. Not okay.
Overall, I've got a mixed review for The Death Catchers. I thought the concept of Morgan le Fay's descendents having the responsibility of saving lives was great, but the book itself was too young to be considered a young adult read. A bit cutesy for my tastes.

Rating: 3 - okay.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday (4)

Freebie! Top Ten Book Narrators:

1. Princess Mia Thermopolis, The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot
Mia is overdramatic, imaginative, and a fountain of pop culture references (both highbrow and lowbrow, nice). She makes for an amazing narrator, especially because the series is written in the form of no-holds-barred diary entries. I only wish more people's stream of consciousness ramblings could be as interesting as Mia's...

2. Cassel Sharpe, The Curseworkers series by Holly Black  
Ah, Cassel. Prep school boy, effortless liar, and my favorite male young adult out there. Cassel's behavior and attitude are questioned by many, but really, he's just a teenage boy trying to be good in the midst of magical organized crime.

3. Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins Katniss is a protector, survivor, and symbol to the people in her world. Katniss's narration demonstrates how her simple wish for her family to survive meets and merges with the more complex matters going on in Panem.

4. Claire Randall Fraser, The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon Claire is a smartass nurse from the 1940's that finds herself stuck in in the mid-1700s with a group of HIghlanders. Her narration is full of wit and 20th century knowledge that she can't help utilizing from time to time. Her strength and bravery make her a delight to read. I'm looking forward to reading five more books of it (please don't let anything happen to Claire, Diana Gabaldon...)

5. Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald  Listen, a lot of people hate on my boy Nick for being judgmental and perhaps an unreliable narrator, but I adore him. He tells the story of Gatsby perfectly. As I write this, I'm fighting the urge to throw this notebook aside and grab my copy to reread it.

6. Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket  I started reading these books when I was a sophomore in high school. Lemony Snicket has such a  dry wit, constantly telling his reader to put the book down and read something happier. With a sprinkling of vocab words with ridiculous context clues instead of straight up definitions, I'd say that Lemony Snicket is one of the best middle grade narrators around.

7. Suze Simon, The Mediator series by Meg Cabot  Suze is an asskicking ghost mediator that can punch a ghost one minute and admire the hotness of her ghost friend Jesse the next. Suze is incredibly likable, the perfect mix of girly and gritty with a shot of independence in the mix.

8. Jill and Mandy, How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr  Jill and Mandy could not have been more different, but both of them have enjoyable voices. Mandy's detached optimism was just as captivating as Jill's snarky, grief-ridden narration. They wove together the past and present into an amazing book (that everyone should read).

9. Del, Going Underground by Susan Vaught  Del's story is one of the saddest young adult books I have read, all due to Del's narration. Del is just trying to keep his head down in a world where he was labeled a sex offender for exchanging pictures with his girlfriend. Del's voice is so likable that I spent the entire book hoping that his life would start going in a better direction.

10. Torey Adams, The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci  Torey's story, as told through a website he created to explain the mystery of Christopher Creed's disappearance, showed that not everyone in their town was as heartless and messed up as they seemed. Torey's caring voice is what makes this book so great.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Monday, January 23, 2012

In My Mailbox (4)


Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson
The Duff by Kody Keplinger
Blue is for Nightmares by Laurie Faria Stolarz
The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott
The Poison Eaters by Holly Black
Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr


Sometimes It Happens by Lauren Barnholdt

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
"Tomorrow is Today" (a Tempest short story) by Julie Cross
The Assassin and the Pirate Lord (novella) - Sarah J. Maas (!!!)

IMM is hosted by The Story Siren

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Caroline Mackler

Publisher: Razorbill
Pages: 356
Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
SummaryIt's 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They've been best friends almost as long - at least, up until last November, when Josh did something that changed everything. Things have been weird between them ever since, but when Josh's family gets a free AOL CD in the mail,his mom makes him bring it over so that Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they're automatically logged onto their Facebook pages. But Facebook hasn't been invented yet. And they're looking at themselves fifteen years in the future. 
By refreshing their pages, they learn that making different decisions now will affect the outcome of their lives later. And as they grapple with the ups and downs of what their futures hold, they're forced to confront what they're doing right - and wrong - in the present.

I saw the buzz going about this book and I was curious about it. This was especially true after reading Thirteen Reasons Why earlier this year. Once I got it from the library, I found out we were using it for book club along with Shine, so that worked out nicely.
When Emma receives a computer as a gift, her friend Josh brings over a free AOL trial CD. When Emma downloads her trial, she is brought to facebook and sees a glimpse of her future life. At first convinced it was a prank, Emma continues to explore the website, seeing the pages about her friends in addition to her own. When she notices details that couldn't possibly be known to a practical joker, Emma realizes that she is seeing a legitimate peek into what's to come--and she doesn't like what she sees. Emma continues to make her decisions based solely on changing the outcome of her future, basically cementing more and more future displeasure. Josh decides to go for the popular girl that the future says he's married to, only to realize that perhaps the dream future is more attractive than his current reality with her. Will Emma and Josh quit worrying about their futures in order to live in the now?
The idea of this book was a totally fresh concept--it showed how strange of a concept facebook is, while incorporating future-telling elements that were never explained. But really, I didn't think that they needed to be explained. The biggest strength of this book was the portrayal of American teenage life in 1996. Seriously people. That's what life used to be like. Cell phones? Who does that kid think he is, Zach Morris? Emma's mom and stepfather videorecording Seinfeld? Damn right you can't change that channel. I spent a good number of hours during my childhood waiting out videorecordings of hockey games. Emma shouldn't bitch, at least Seinfeld was only half an hour long. And fuck yeah, Windows 95 was the shit. We had that AOL free trial. It ended up unused in a box that I'm pretty sure it's still in. We didn't get the internet until 2003. Basically, all of the 90s references were spot-on and way awesome for a 90s kid like myself. I'm curious about what current teenagers think of all of the references in these books.
Another strength for this book was how quickly the action began (action being a relative term here). Asher and Mackler did not waste too much time. Emma had downloaded her free trial and seen facebook way before fifty pages were up. I also liked that Emma and Josh's friendship tension was explained fully with one reference--they were best friends, Josh told Emma he liked her, Emma backed off, resulting in awkward city for everyone. No long, drawn-out, unnecessary mystery, just a normal problem that can exist within a male-female relationship.
I had a lot of trouble sympathizing with Emma's character. In fact, I found her most unlikable. Part of it may have been that I entirely disagreed with her choice to obsessively stalk her facebook future and make decisions solely based on whether or not it would change her fate. I wanted her to go out and live her damn life instead of doing things just to change her facebook future. Also, she was so cavalier about dealing with other people's futures! Not cool, Emma. Not cool at all. Normally I would have counted the multiple points of view in this story as a plus, but in the end I was so annoyed with Emma's obsessive facebook activity that I sort of wished I could hear the rest of the story from Josh's point of view only.
The Future of Us was a new and interesting concept by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. I liked that it was a straight up contemporary (DO NOT tell me this counts as historical fiction already) in which the characters could see their futures. Asher and Mackler did put up an impressive 90s backdrop, which was definitely the best part of the story. It almost made up for how wretched Emma was. Almost.

Rating: 4 - good.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Shine by Lauren Myracle

Publisher: Amulet Books 
Pages: 376
Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
SummaryWhen her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice. 
Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author.

I read this book for three reasons. The first was that I became curious about the book when the whole Chime/Shine debacle went down and #isupportSHINE became the battle cry of the young adult community. The second was that my only experience with Lauren Myracle's writing was the ttyl series (which I still have yet to finish, even though it's been like six and a half years) and I was curious about such a serious topic from someone who wrote practically neon colored books. Thirdly, it was picked for January's mini book club book with my sister's work friends, along with The Future of Us.
When her old friend Patrick is nearly beaten to death and the local authorities declare it the work of unfriendly out-of-towners, Cat decides to go after his attacker herself. Cat begins to question the town, this questioning often met with evasive answers and veiled threats. Along with the help of a previously insulting college boy, Cat discovers a huge crystal meth problem within the town, along with a few other secrets, both negative and positive, about her friends and loved ones. Cat must push through violent intimidation and pain in order to uncover the mystery of Patrick's appearance and feel safe again in her town.
This book was just as great as it was promised to be. Cat was a force to be reckoned with. She demonstrated great determination in trying to find Patrick's attacker, never backing down even when met with resistance and outright threats. Cat is the person that other characters should aspire to be--especially because she isn't perfect. The reason she tries so hard to find Patrick is because she had spent so much time hiding from everyone in her life. After the traumatic incident with Tommy, the withdrew into the background of everything, leaving Patrick to fend for himself against the prejudices of the whole town, and she felt guilt for it.
The portrayal of the stagnant, decaying Southern town was chilling. For a second I questioned the time period; the backwoods settings and judgmental attitudes made it seems like the events of this story could have easily happened sixty years ago. The setting made Cat's situation all the more dangerous--when local authority figures insist on ignoring the truth and the townspeople who have known her their whole life become rather unfriendly, Cat is very lucky that she isn't seriously harmed in the process.
I enjoyed the manner in which the story was told--Myracle doesn't just line up Cat's entire backstory and then present events--she toys with the explanation. Cat's past is given in tiny bursts of memory, leading up to the important memory that altered her entire life and her relationships with everyone around her that is revealed close to the end of the story. Myracle doesn't play a simple game, and I respect her for that.
Also, I learned a surprising amount about crystal meth in this book. This includes the actual meaning of the term "chasing the dragon," which my friend and I had been curious about since they used it on Gilmore Girls years ago (we could have just looked it up on the interwebs, but what fun is that?). For anyone interested it means burning the drug and inhaling the fumes. My friend and I have decided that we are going to keep using the phrase the way in which we used to. This means that "chasing the dragon" is a euphemism for someone kind of drifting along without a path in life. May be confusing for those that actually know what it means. Whatever, I digress.
Lauren Myracle took on a serious topic in writing Shine. The mystery of Patrick's attack was well constructed, if not entirely unpredictable. Cat is a strong, emotionally damaged protagonist that throws herself entirely into discovering her former best friend's attacker. Definitely recommended--it's a young adult read that definitely should not be missed.

Rating: 4.5 - extremely good.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Pledge by Kimberly Derting

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (Simon & Schuster)
Pages: 323
Series or Stand Alone: Book 1 in The Pledge trilogy 
Summary: In the violent country of Ludania, the classes are strictly divided by the language they speak. The smallest transgression, like looking a member of a higher class in the eye while they are speaking their native tongue, results in immediate execution. Seventeen-year-old Charlaina has always been able to understand the languages of all classes, and she's spent her life trying to hide her secret. The only place she can really be free is the drug-fueled underground clubs where people go to shake off the oppressive rules of the world they live in. It's there that she meets a beautiful and mysterious boy named Max who speaks a language she's never heard before . . . and her secret is almost exposed.
Charlie is intensely attracted to Max, even though she can't be sure where his real loyalties lie. As the emergency drills give way to real crisis and the violence escalates, it becomes clear that Charlie is the key to something much bigger: her country's only chance for freedom from the terrible power of a deadly regime.

I picked up The Pledge because it was getting some online buzz and it was available as soon as my library processed it. Also because I'm greedy when it comes to new young adult books. Sue me. At least my problem is library-based and not bookstore-based. Otherwise, I'd be entirely skint and the books would have kicked me out of my house entirely, instead of the slow edging out that they are accomplishing right now.
But I digress.
After I had avariciously ripped it off the top of the shelf, I noticed that someone had blurbed about this book being dystopian. I'm wary of the dystopia trend, not because I don't enjoy that type of book--The Hunger Games trilogy includes some of the best young adult books ever and I'm a fan of both 1984 and Brave New World--but I fear overdoing it. I do not want to get to a point where I hear the word dystopia, proceed to shudder from overuse, and then write it off as something I'm no longer interested in. The good thing is, I'm not there yet. I went to start both Ally Condie's Matched series and Megan McCafferty's Bumped series last year and realized that by the time the third installment in each came out to play, I wouldn't remember a damn thing about the first one. So, I've yet to read any of them. Why did I decide to pick up this one, even though it's a trilogy? The summary told me it was different than the love-based utopias of recent times, so I decided to give it a go, even though I'm entirely aware that I probably won't remember it by the time the second one comes out, let alone the third. Hey, you never know. Maybe this review will help in that area.
The Pledge takes place in the tumultuous country of Ludania, where a queen rules over strictly language and employment divided social classes. Charlaina, or "Charlie" as she is known throughout the novel, is a girl of the vendor class that spends her time in school, with her best friends Brooklynn and Aron, and helping out in her parents' cafe. There is something special about Charlie however: she can understand any language she encounters, including tactile ones. There is something even more special about Charlie that even she is not aware of, a secret that takes an uprising, her parents' kidnapping, the actions of surreptitious prince, and an underground rebel movement to reveal. Charlie must use her newfound knowledge to stop the queen's tyrannical everlasting reign over Ludania and rescue her parents from torture and death at the hands of royalty.
After reading The Pledge, I found that it read more like a cross between fantasy and dystopian. The concept of the future that exists in Derting's work was very interesting. Rather than create a futuristic, shiny existence, Derting places her characters in a setting that is practically feudal. Ludania has a rigid class structure--so rigidly separated by language and employment that citizens are not allowed to understand or even acknowledge a language that does not belong to their socio-economic set. To do so was punishable by death, placing Charlie, who could understand every language thrown at her, in extreme danger. The country is led by Queen Saraba, one fierce bitch that has been around for centuries. Rather than bend to the mortal curse of dying, Queen Saraba places her life's essence in the young, healthy bodies of other members of royal bloodlines by means of a pledge. This way, she can continue to rule long after her physical body (or bodies, as the case may be) has perished.
While the romantic relationship between Charlie and Max suffers slightly from the instant-love malady so often pursued by paranormal/dystopian/fantasy authors, I didn't find it so ridiculously immediate that I rolled my eyes. It just happens quicker than I would have liked it to, but I suppose in a book where so much is happening, you can't expect the characters to wait to fall in love with one another. Shit's going down. Shit's getting real. The nice thing about the romance in this book was that it isn't all consuming--Charlie is attracted to Max, Max is pursuing Charlie, they do get together (spoiler alert, although come on, you knew it was going to happen)--but they are both far more concerned with the fact that their country is going to absolute shit. Charlie's number one priority is finding her parents and keeping her four-year-old sister Angelina safe--thankfully. If this book turned into a "Well the world is crumbling down, my parents are missing, and my sister and I are in danger, what can I worry about other than trying to attract Max, this mysterious stranger who keeps me safe?" novel, I was probably going to put it down. That's a lie. But I'd be complaining right now.
One drawback I came across was the lack of information pertaining to Brooklynn, Charlie's best friend that has been harboring her own secret, and Xander. I wanted to know more information on how Brooklynn became involved in the resistance movement and how Xander came to start it. I'm hoping that these characters get more book time in the next installment, which I'm sure is slated for sometime next year in the way future.

Overall, The Pledge by Kimberly Derting had a thoroughly fresh take on the dystopian concept. I'm definitely interested in the rest of the series, I want to see what happens in Charlie's world now that she's queen!

Rating: 4.5 - very good.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday (3)

Top Ten Books I'd Recommend to Someone That Doesn't Read Contemporary Young Adult:
1. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot: This is one of my favorite books/series (and has been for eleven years). Princess Mia is the perfect combination of independence, obsessive compulsive habits, and pop culture references. Plus, Michael Moscovitz is THE example of what literary-lust-worthy characters should be.
2. How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr: I don't think I could find a single drawback to this book. A perfect story about family and preconceptions about others.
3. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins: Fantastic story of a film lover attending boarding school in Paris and meeting Etienne St. Clair, the boy on the shorter side with a bangin' accent. Also recommended: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins.
4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: I don't even know how to describe this book except to say that it's awesome. Also, it's becoming a movie in a few months starring Emma Watson and Logan Lerman, so everyone should read the book before they see the movie.
5. Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty: If you're a jaded high school student in New Jersey, you have to read this. If you're a jaded high school student elsewhere, you need to read this. If you're anyone, you should read this. Jessica Darling is snarky and brilliant. Plus, there are four more books after this one to enjoy. It's a great investment of time.
6. Boy Toy by Barry Lyga: Incredibly well-written story about a relationship between a twelve year old boy and his teacher and how it affects the rest of his teenage years.
7. The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney: Inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird, Whitney created a girl whose rape was going to go unpunished until a secret moral council of students steps in. I'm insanely excited to read the sequel, The Rivals.
8. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen: I would say that this is the best Dessen book to recommend, because this heroine stands out the most to me. Remy is a bitch, but a great one. Plus, the book features a band with a boy named Dexter. I would also recommend Along for the Ride.
9. Looking for Alaska by John Green: Before I read The Fault in Our Stars, I'm going to say that this is the John Green book to read.
10. Going Underground by Susan Vaught: Heartbreaking. I never would have thought that this would be one of the saddest books I've ever read, but it was, in a good way. Del is just such a sympathetic character that you need to hope that his life gets better.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Monday, January 16, 2012

In My Mailbox (3)


The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
(Couldn't resist, the preorders were signed! Plus, I needed more money to get free shipping on a Christmas order. Totally justified)


The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
Ruthless by Sara Shepard
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
You Against Me by Jenny Downham

Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr
A Visitor's Guide to Mystic Falls: Your Favorite Authors on The Vampire Diaries (essays)

IMM is hosted by The Story Siren

Friday, January 13, 2012

Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman

Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pages: 336
Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
SummaryAbby and Luke chat online. They've never met. But they are going to. Soon.
Abby is starting high school--it should be exciting, so why doesn't she care? Everyone tells her to "make an effort," but why can't she just be herself? Abby quickly feels like she's losing a grip on her once-happy life. The only thing she cares about anymore is talking to Luke, a guy she met online, who understands. It feels dangerous and yet good to chat with Luke--he is her secret, and she's his. Then Luke asks her to meet him, and she does. But Luke isn't who he says he is. When Abby goes missing, everyone is left to put together the pieces. If they don't, they'll never see Abby again.

Curiosity drew me towards this book. Two trusted sources (my sister and an author friend) read it and enjoyed it (I mean, in the way that you enjoy reading a well-written book about a totally messed up topic). They also proclaimed it to be wildly creepy, so there was that. When I saw it on top of the new shelf at the library, I didn’t hesitate to grab it.
Sarah Darer Littman’s Want to Go Private? is, at its core, a contemporary issue-drive young adult book. The issue at hand it internet predators and how susceptible lonely teenagers can be to their traps. The main character, Abby, has been feeling depressed and lonely since high school started. She felt like her mother and sister wanted her to be someone she is not, while her workaholic father rarely even drops in to know what’s going on with her family. She and her best friend, Faith, are beginning to move in different directions, both socially and interest-wise. Faith wants high school to mean new experiences and new friends—but Abby wants everything to stay the same, for fear that their old friendship will fall apart with the introduction of the new. When Abby begins talking to Luke online she doesn’t think it’s a big deal—it’s not like she plans to meet him in person. But soon Luke is Abby’s closest confidante and she begins to shy away from the people she loves. Ultimately, she agrees to run away with him for a few days—leaving her family and friends to wonder where she went and whether or not she is okay.
Let me start off by saying this book was creepy. I can’t imagine a book having to do with a pedophile internet predator not being creepy, but still, this book was creeptastic. I was reading this book on the train to work and I totally forgot where I was, too preoccupied by how disturbing the book is to remember that I was on my way somewhere in the real world (luckily, my stop is the last one so I didn’t mess up my transportation for that day). [SPOILER ALERT]  While Abby doesn’t pay the ultimate price in Want to Go Private?, she faces horrific consequences for trusting Luke—consequences that I hadn’t even considered. THAT messed up. The consequences of Abby’s choices are probably the biggest strength in Sarah Darer Littman’s novel—the consequences being messed up, realistic, and not entirely expected proved to make a big impact. I assumed that Abby would end up dead, but she did not.
Ounding loved ones were simultaneously emotional and realistic—from her almost-boyfriend’s major confusion, to her sister’s scared rage, to Faith’s fierce determination to help the search for Abby any way she can.
Sarah Darer Littman’s Want to Go Private? was a creepy, well-written contemporary young adult book that managed to convey the dangers of internet predators without sounding like an after school special. Abby’s story proves to be very emotional without being overdramatic.

Rating: 4.5—very good.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Carrier of the Mark (Carrier of the Mark #1) by Leigh Fallon

Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 352
Series or Stand Alone: Book 1 in the Carrier of the Mark trilogy
SummaryTheir love was meant to be.
When Megan Rosenberg moves to Ireland, everything in her life seems to fall into place. After growing up in America, she's surprised to find herself feeling at home in her new school. She connects with a group of friends, and she is instantly drawn to darkly handsome Adam DeRÍs.
But Megan is about to discover that her feelings for Adam are tied to a fate that was sealed long ago—and that the passion and power that brought them together could be their ultimate destruction.

Carrier of the Mark was another book presented at the Teen Buzz Panel at Book Expo that I missed out on getting due to the great book box fiasco of ’11. I intended to read at least four out of five, if not all, of the books presented. The presenting editor at Book Expo explained the elements-based concept and Irish setting of Fallon’s debut novel, making me want to read this one the most out of all of the books. Meh.
Basically, the story goes like this: Megan moves to Ireland with her father. She meets the (of course) mysterious, dreamy Adam DeRis and his twin sister Aine. She is immediately and inexplicably drawn to them (of course). She later find that she is drawn to them because she, like the DeRis twins and their older brother Rian, is one of the “marked ones,” basically the guardians and controllers of the four elements of earth. Many, many moons ago, the Celtic goddess Danu created Tuatha de Danann, humans that controlled earth, water, fire, and air. There was a bunch of complicated lineage stuff, none of which I remember at the moment. The main problem with these bitchin’ powers: there are people in an organization called the Knox hunting them down for a nefarious purpose. Oh, and Megan and Adam cannot be together for a completely justifiable reason—it’ll endanger the fate of the free world. Adam doesn’t see the issue and chucks a fit. The introduction to the series, a lot of buildup more than anything else.
The concept behind this book is great. Having a Celtic goddess be the origin of humans that can control the four elements was a good way to combine mythology with paranormal elements. This was a very different idea—and I’m always on the lookout for new concepts in paranormal books. I commend anyone who doesn’t go for straight up vampires, werewolves, faeries, or, as the case seems to be these days, angels. Fallon certainly created a fresh new concept in the paranormal world, one that dipped into a pool of mythology not often heard from in young adult literature.
Unfortunately, the fresh concept was not able to cure the paranormal romance syndrome that seems to rear its ugly head far more than I would like it to. The heroine of the story, Megan, is  shade of beige made famous by one Ms. Isabella Swan in a series that shall remain nameless. She’s pretty average, never-had-a-boyfriend being her number one characteristic. Of course, to the mysterious “bad boy” Mr. DeRis, she’s speeeecial. The be-all end-all. Blah, blah.
Adam DeRis. The supposedly rebellious mystery manwhore that wanders the halls of Megan’s new high school. Here’s the thing: Mr. DeRis suffers from one bad case of paranormal romantic lead syndrome (a related disease to paranormal romance syndrome, but they are not always found together). I need more personality in my male leads. I get that he’s attractive and showers Megan with compliments, but I can’t see him, nor is he complimenting me, so I’m going to need a personality to hear about if I am to care about him on a deep, readerly level. Also, the brooding type just doesn’t interest me anymore, not if there’s not much reason behind/some snarky girl joyously mocking him for it.
I’m also tired of the leads being warned to stay away from each other because it’s not going to be safe for (insert female character’s name here). Why is it always dangerous for the girl? Why can’t the boy be in grave danger? I don’t generally associate with ardent feminists but I’m going to wield their sword on this one.
All and all, I found myself disappointed by Carrier of the Mark. There was a really good premise behind it, but it suffered from the general vague, beige qualities that plague other paranormal romances. Sigh.

Rating: 2 – meh. the book didn't thrill me.