From that time on, the world was hers for the reading....


Monday, December 28, 2009

Carrie Ryan: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

If someone had told me that I would read and enjoy a book about zombies, I would have looked at them like they were absolutely insane. I don't do zombies. But once I picked up The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan--after my Mom read and raved about it--I was hooked.

Synopsis:
In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary's truths are failing her. She's learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future--between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?

A zombie apocalypse. Whoa!

What an interesting and absolutely unnerving idea for a book.

While I found Mary to be slightly naive and boy-obsessed at times, I couldn't hate her for it. She was just a kid. And, quite frankly, she handled things with more courage than I could have. Her narration offered a bit of hope in a terrifying time.

Carrie Ryan created a world filled with love, grief, lies, survival, and flesh-eating zombies that left me feeling scared, grossed out, and absolutely riveted.

May I have a sequel, please?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Megan Crewe: Give up the Ghost

I've been wanting to read Give up the Ghost ever since I stumbled upon Megan Crewe on Live Journal. I'm a few months late, but I'm glad I finally got the chance!

Synopsis:
Cass McKenna much prefers ghosts over "breathers." Ghosts are uncomplicated and dependable, and they know the dirt on everybody...and Cass loves dirt. She's on a mission to expose the dirty secrets of the poseurs in her school.

But when the vice president of the student council discovers her secret, Cass's whole scheme hangs in the balance. Tim wants her to help him contact his recently deceased mother, and Cass reluctantly agrees.

As Cass becomes increasingly entwined in Tim's life, she's surprised to realize he's not so bad--and he needs help more desperately than anyone else suspects. Maybe it's time to give the living another chance....


I really enjoyed this book. I thought the concept was unique. High School would have be so much fun if I had ghosts filling me in on the latest gossip and giving me the ammunition I needed to call out the mean girls on their heinous behavior. Who wouldn't enjoy that?

At the same time, I couldn't help but notice what a lonely and wounded character Cass really is. And I felt bad for her. Knowing that Cass has been let down by all of the people around her, including her former best friend and her always traveling and emotionally absent mother (to name a few), it's easy to see why she doesn't feel the need to make friends or trust the people around her. Her reluctance and bitterness were all too real, so watching her slowly change her mind and decide to give the living another chance was nice to see, especially since I cared about the character so much.

All in all, I thought this was a solid debut novel for Megan Crewe. If Give Up The Ghost is any indication, she's going to be telling interesting stories for a long time.

Saundra Mitchell: Shadowed Summer

Continuing with a supernatural theme, I picked up Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell. I love a good ghost story!

Synopsis:
Iris is ready for another hot, routine summer in her small Louisiana town, hanging around the Red Stripe grocery with her best friend, Collette, and traipsing through the cemetery telling each other spooky stories and pretending to cast spells. Except this summer, Iris doesn't have to make up a story. This summer, one falls right in her lap.

Years ago, before Iris was born, a local boy named Elijah Landry disappeared. All that remained of him were whispers and hushed gossip in the church pews. Until this summer. A ghost begins to haunt Iris, and she's certain it's the ghost of Elijah. What really happened to him? And why, of all people, has he chosen Iris to come back to?


I was hooked from the ghost's first utterance of "Where y'at Iris?" Seriously. I got goosebumps. I was simultaneously creeped out and intrigued. I couldn't stop reading. And I wasn't disappointed with the suspense that followed as smalltown secrets were slowly revealed.

To add another layer to the story, Shadowed Summer also explored the moments and feelings between childhood and growing up. Collette wants to spend more time with boys. Iris just wants her best friend back. But even Iris's bedroom isn't immune to the change. ("Half pink, half blue.... Ballerinas danced in watercolor on one wall; magazine posters of pop stars gazed down from the other.")

What I liked best about the book was the way it was written. Saundra Mitchell's words tickled my senses. The dialect was so well written that I could hear the characters talking. The long, hot summer was described in such a way that I felt the heat. The scents of restaurants, homes, and even dumpsters existing in sweltering heat were described so vividly that I could smell them.

This was an impressive debut novel. I really can't wait to see what Saundra Mithcell comes up with next.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus: Nanny Returns

I was really excited to get my hands on the sequel to The Nanny Diaries! Nanny Returns by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus (December 15/Simon & Schuster) picks up ten years after The Nanny Diaries. Nan is married to "Harvard Hottie" and has traveled the world. Now she's back in New York, running her own business, renovating a new home in Harlem, struggling with the thought of having children of her own.

She didn't expect to find herself embroiled in the greedy antics of Manhattan's elite again, but that's exactly what happens when she becomes a consultant for a private school where the students are catered to for their parents' money and the teachers are at the mercy of wealthy and entitled snobs.

The plot thickens when sixteen-year-old Grayer X shows up on her doorstep drunk and angry. He feels abandoned and wants to know why she left him all those years ago. Nan feels guilty about leaving him to be raised by the incompetent X family. The fact that Grayer and his younger brother Stilton have basically been abandoned by their parents, who are in the midst of a nasty divorce--Mr. X moved out and Mrs. X spends her days in bed--isn't helping her feel less guilty. Grayer is doing his best to take care Stilton, but who's going to take care of Grayer? Nan can't help but step in and do what she can to help, which drops her right in the middle of the X family drama.

Books like The Nanny Diaries and Nanny Returns are incredibly addictive because of the wealthy and self-centered supporting cast. It's unbelievable to see how shallow these people are, and this reader loves to hate them. Thankfully, there's a wonderful character like Nan to counteract the insanity. Her strength, generosity, and big heart brighten a very dark world.

Reading Nanny Returns was like reuniting with a dear friend. It was a great follow-up to one of my favorite books!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus: The Real Real

I've been a fan of Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus since The Nanny Diaries was published, so I was thrilled to learn they were taking on the Young Adult Fiction world with The Real Real (available in paperback December 22/HarperCollins)!

Jesse O'Rourke is selected to be one of the stars of "The Real Hampton Beach," a reality show that promises to offer viewers a glimpse into "the lives of real New York high school seniors dealing with the real world and real issues." Becoming a reality television star isn't exactly something she wants to do, but the $40,000 tuition check isn't something she can turn down. Especially when she's got her mind set on Georgetown.

Soon she finds herself pretending her co-stars, who happen to be five of the most popular kids from her school, are her best friends. Worse, XTV is now in control of her life, setting up situations and manipulating people for ratings. Jesse is hanging out with people she'd never hang out with in places she ordinarily wouldn't spend her time.

But filming the show is only the beginning of the craziness. Once the show airs, things spiral out of control. Some people love Jesse, creating fansites and gushing about her on message boards. Other people hate her, screaming nasty things at her as they drive by her house and leaving nasty messages on her voicemail.

The only consolation is that Drew--the boy she's crushing on--is also in the cast, but the producers even find a way to mess that up by creating tabloid-like headlines about Jesse's private life.

All the fame and designer clothes in the world cannot make up for losing privacy and control over her life, missing her best friend Caitlyn, and dealing with her shocked and confused parents. It's not long before Jesse decides to take matters into her own hands, get her life back on track, and reconnect with the people who really matter.

I found this book to be more entertaining than any of the "reality" shows that are on television now. The Real Real offered an interesting perspective on the behind-the-scenes antics of television networks and producers while dishing up juicy details about product placement, secondhand designer clothes, and filming locations.

I hope a sequel is in the works!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Must Read: Scones and Sensibility

It's been written here before, but it cannot be reiterated enough: I am a huge Jane Austen fan. So it shouldn't surprise anyone that Scones and Sensibility by Lindsay Eland (December 22/EgmontUSA) caught my attention. It looks cute, and I hope my library gets it because I'm really looking forward to reading it!

Synopsis:
Seek tirelessly and you shall not find a contemporary heroine of middle-grade literature as refined and romantic as Miss Polly Madassa. Still swooning over the romantic conclusions of Pride & Prejudice and Anne of Green Gables, twelve-year-old Polly decides her purpose in life: helping along lonely hearts in search of love. Polly's only task this summer is to make deliveries for her parents' bakery, leaving ample time for this young cupid to find hearts to mend--beginning with the kite-store owner, Mr. Nightquist, who will pair perfectly with Miss Wiskerton (the unfairly labeled town curmudgeon). Polly's best friend Fran Fisk is in desperate need of a mother ever since hers ran off with a man she met on the Internet; Polly must find a match for Mr. Fisk. And while she's at it, it wouldn't hurt to find Clementine, Polly's teenaged sister, a beau worthy of her (so she can shed that brute, Clint). Polly's plans are in full swing, so she definitely cannot be bothered by the advances of classmate Brad Barker.

But maybe Polly should have turned her attention to Miss Austen's Emma next, because she quickly learns the pitfalls of playing matchmaker. How will Polly patch up her own relationships, while ensuring that destined love can take its course

Friday, December 4, 2009

Must Read: The Vinyl Princess

The HarperTeen update arrived in my email box this morning and The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz (December 22) caught my eye. I'm a sucker for any book that uses music as its backdrop!

Synopsis:
Summer is here, and 16-year-old Allie, a self-professed music geek, is exactly where she wants to be: working full-time at Berkeley’s ultra-cool Bob and Bob Records. There, Allie can spend her days bantering with the street people, talking the talk with the staff, shepherding the uncool bridge-and-tunnel shoppers, all the while blissfully surrounded by music, music, music. It’s the perfect setup for her to develop her secret identity as The Vinyl Princess, author of both a brand-new zine and blog. From the safety of her favorite place on earth, Allie is poised to have it all: love, music and blogging.

Her mother, though, is actually the one getting the dates, and business at Allie’s beloved record store is becoming dangerously slow—not to mention that there have been a string of robberies in the neighborhood. At least her blog seems to be gaining interest, one vinyl junkie at a time....

Susane Colasanti: Waiting For You

I initially became interested in reading Susane Colasanti's books when I found out one featured a character battling anxiety and depression, a topic that hits very close to home for me. Unfortunately, I was at the mercy of my library's limited selection and another library's waiting list. I enjoyed her other books immensely but could not wait to have Waiting For You in my hands. It finally arrived last week!

Though Marisa spent most of the previous year struggling with anxiety and depression, she's ready to start over. She wants her sophomore year to be about living "in the Now." She also wants a boyfriend.

For a while, things seem to be under control. Marisa has her anxiety and depression in check. Her family is stable, and her dad is super-supportive. Her best friend Sterling is awesome. And her crush Derek finally asked her out.

Unfortunately, things start to fall part rapidly. Her parents are separated. Derek is still spending a lot of time with his ex-girlfriend. She and Sterling aren't seeing eye to eye. All of these events trigger Marisa's anxiety and depression, filling her head with negative and obsessive thoughts that she can't control.

Marisa finds comfort in her long-time friend Nash, who is a little too nerdy to be boyfriend material for Marisa but is easy to talk to and very understanding. She also feels hopeful as she listens to Dirty Dirk, an anonymous DJ who broadcasts podcasts calling out the indiscretions of students and teachers while offering advice to listeners (a tame version of "Pump Up The Volume").

While Marisa's true love was easy to spot a mile away and Dirty Dirk's identity wasn't hard to figure out, I found this to be a great read. As always, Susane Colasanti tackled universal issues without sugarcoating them. The dialogue was real. The pain was real. The characters were real.

I especially liked the way she wrote about Marisa's anxiety and depression. It's difficult to explain to people who've never experienced it and don't understand the out of control feelings, but Colasanti nailed it.

In addition, I loved the nods to John Mayer and his lyrics.

"I have a theory that the answers to all of life's major questions can be found in a John Mayer song."

I agree. And the ones that aren't might very well be found in one of Colasanti's novels.

Nick Hornby: Juliet, Naked

I liked the cover art and the synopsis, so I decided to give Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby a try.

Tucker Crowe is a former singer-songwriter who hasn't recorded music, performed a concert, or conducted an interview since he up and walked away from the music industry twenty years ago. But he still has overzealous fans who refer to themselves as "Croweologists." They meet online to over-analyze his lyrics, share rumors, gossip, & photos, and express their opinions on all things Crowe.

Unfortunately for Annie, her boyfriend Duncan is the leader of the Croweologists. He's the webmaster of a Tucker Crowe website and devotes more time to Tucker than anything else in his life, including Annie. He is a rather self-congratulatory super-fan and an insufferable snob. Annie's starting to think she's been wasting her time on their relationship, which seems to be stuck in a rut and heading nowhere.

When a new Tucker Crowe recording--"Juliet, Naked," a stripped down version of Tucker's most beloved album, "Juliet"--is released, Duncan and Annie find themselves on opposite sides of the fence. Duncan loves it and actually weeps as he listens. Annie thinks the acoustic, unpolished tracks could never live up to the finished product.

They both post their reviews on Duncan's website, and Annie soon learns that Duncan's relationship with Tucker Crowe's music is more important than his relationship with her. But Annie is moving on, and she has a part of Tucker Crowe that Duncan will never have: Tucker himself! In response to her review, Tucker sends her an email agreeing with her thoughts on the album. He thinks it's garbage too. Furthermore, he thinks the Croweologists are a little on the crazy side.

Through their email exchange, which is a well-balanced conversation and flirtation, the reader learns what Tucker has really been up to since fading into obscurity so long ago--and it's nowhere near what the fans think. Turns out, he's a human being too and struggling with past decisions and mistakes.

I've been wanting to read a Nick Hornby novel for a while now, and I'm glad this was my first. The characters were complex and interesting. I loved the music backdrop. I saw more than a few familiar faces from a former boyband fandom in the overzealous stalkers and holier-than-thou Internet critics.

I didn't want the book to end, savoring the words on each page. But, unfortunately, it had to. And, honestly, it didn't end on the best note. I literally cringed at the desperate turn Annie took to get what she wanted. It seemed out of character, and that may have been the point. But I was rooting for her until the end. I also wasn't happy with the ending itself, which seemed like an attempt to neatly wrap things up without actually wrapping them up. And, again, maybe that was the point. Still, I was left feeling unsatisfied. Those are the only two things that will keep me from giving an immensely entertaining book four hearts.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Coming Soon: Hunger Games Book 3

If I had a 2010 calendar, I'd put a big red circle around this date: August 24th.

The third and final book in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Game series will be published on that date.

I cannot wait!

Source

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Coming Soon: Nanny Returns

I'm really looking forward to reading Nanny Returns by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (December 15/Atria Books)!

Synopsis:
More than four million readers fell in love with Nan, the smart, spirited, and sympathetic heroine of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Nanny Diaries.

Now she's back. After living abroad for twelve years, she and her husband, Ryan, aka H.H., have returned to New York to make a life for themselves. In the midst of getting her new business off the ground and fixing up their fixer-upper, Ryan announces his sudden desire to start a family. His timing simply couldn't be worse.

To compound the mounting construction and marital chaos, her former charge, Grayer X, now sixteen years old, makes a drunken, late-night visit, wanting to know why she abandoned him all those years ago. But how can she explain to Grayer what she still hasn't come to terms with herself? In an attempt to assuage her guilt, yet against every instinct, Nan tries to help Grayer and his younger brother, Stilton, through their parents' brutal divorce, drawing her back into the ever-bizarre life of Mrs. X and her Upper East Side enclave of power and privilege.

After putting miles and years between herself and this world, Nan finds she's once again on the front line of the battle with the couture-clad elite for their children's wellbeing.

With its whip-smart dialogue and keen observations of modern life, Nanny Returns gives a firsthand tour of what happens when a community that chose money over love finds itself with neither.

The Nanny Diaries was made into a major motion picture featuring Scarlett Johansson and Alicia Keys.


About the Authors:
Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus are the authors of three New York Times bestselling novels: The Nanny Diaries, Citizen Girl, and Dedication. Aside from their ongoing collaboration on novels, they also write for magazines, and are working on a romantic comedy for Paramount Pictures. Emma and Nicola have appeared numerous times on CNN, Today, Good Morning America, Entertainment Tonight, and the View, among other major media outlets. They live and work in New York City, and can be found online at: www.emmaandnicola.com.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dave Eggers: The Wild Things

Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is one of my favorite children's books of all time. As the line in the book goes: I could eat it up, I love it so. I didn't get to see the movie adaptation when it was in theaters, so I decided to read The Wild Things by Dave Eggers to tide me over until its DVD release.

Max is the product of a broken home. His parents are divorced. His Dad lives in an unnamed big city. Max lives with his Mom and fourteen-year-old sister Claire. Sometimes his Mom's boyfriend Gary stays at the house. Because of this, Max is a little wild and often takes his anger out on his family. He doesn't understand the anger or why he acts on it and causes so much stress, but he does know that he feels bad about it.

One night Max puts on his wolf costume and begins howling and stirring up mischief. He pushes his Mom a little too far by standing on the kitchen counter and shouting, "Woman, feed me!" Then the chase around the house begins, but unlike times before his Mom catches him. And he bites her. That's when Max decides to run away to a place where he can be wild and free.

While in the woods near his house Max discovers a sailboat and sails away. He wants to sail to his Dad in the city but ends up on an island inhabited by The Wild Things. Much like the Sendak classic, Max tames the wild beasts, becomes their King, and takes them on a wild rumpus. But Eggers creates a more intricate, darker world where The Wild Things have distinct personalities and feelings, and they really don't like it when you dismiss their feelings or hurt them. In fact, some of them really want to eat Max up.

At first, the story is magical. The lush descriptions of this dream-like landscape and the eccentric larger than life creatures are captivating. But, as the story progresses, the politics of the island make the story disturbing and scary. Basically, it's just like life and growing up.

I enjoyed it. The story was well-crafted and interesting. I was glad the core theme of the story remained the same--Max wanted to be "where someone loved him best of all." And, at the end of the day, that's all anyone, young and old, wants.

It was nice to revisit a childhood classic through adult eyes. I checked out the children's book to compare and contrast, which was a great trip as well. Now I look forward to seeing the movie on DVD.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Susane Colasanti: When It Happens

I was excited to unexpectedly find When It Happens by Susane Colasanti at the library last week! I really enjoy her writing.

Sara and Tobey are different. Very different. In fact, on the surface, it would appear that all they have in common is the fact that they're seniors at the same high school.

Smart and determined, Sara wants to get into the college of her dreams, feel what it's like to be part of the popular crowd, and to fall in love. After waiting all summer for popular jock Dave to call, he finally asks her out. Sara's on her way to achieving all her dreams.

Focused on his music, Tobey cares more about the here and now. He doesn't give much thought to college and wants more than anything to win the school's Battle of the Bands competition. Little does Sara know, Tobey's goal is to fall in love too. And he's got his heart set on her.

When Tobey and Sara become partners in class, an unlikely friendship forms and they both start to realize that they aren't happy with the paths they chose to follow. Sara is learning that popularity isn't all it's cracked up to be and that Dave is definitely not her true love. Tobey wants to change is slacker ways to impress Sara, vowing to raise his grades and get into college. And soon they find themselves falling in love, dealing with jealous exes, and trying to figure out their futures.

When It Happens covers senior year from the first day of school through graduation and is told in alternating first-person chapters. Readers get to experience falling in love through the eyes of both Tobey and Sara. I was very impressed with Colasanti's ability to provide a realistic male voice to the story.

Though some may find the nod to "Say Anything" (complete with Tobey standing outside of Sara's house hoisting a boom box over his head) and the characters' frequent analysis of John Mayer lyrics to be a bit trite, I found those aspects endearing.

When It Happens perfectly relayed the emotion of first love and how it envelops your whole life. Susane Colasanti has a knack for writing realistic dialogue that made the characters come to life. She knows how teens speak and how they think. I look forward to reading more of her stories.

Glen Ebisch: Grave Justice

Last year I found out one of my favorite college professors, Glen Ebisch, was a writer and decided to pick up one of his books (The Crying Girl) at a local bookstore. Recently, I discovered another one of his books, Grave Justice, on the shelves at my local library.

Amanda Vickers and Marcie Ducasse work for Roaming New England Magazine. The stories they research primarily focus on supernatural happenings throughout New England.

They're currently on assignment in West Windham, Maine to investigate claims of a dark creature with a long neck and eerily similar to the Loch Ness Monster, which is rumored to inhabit the deep, murky waters of Lake Opal.

While Marcie is covering the Lake Opal Monster investigation, Amanda finds herself attending a seance held by multimillionaire Martin Chastain whose wife Larissa was murdered six months ago during a shopping trip to Portland. Martin wants to be in contact with Larissa's spirit in hopes she will reveal her killer. What the medium, Anastasia Narapov, reveals leads to danger for everyone involved, as someone tries to rob a grave and an innocent bystander is injured by an unknown attacker. The closer people get to finding out the truth, the more danger they find themselves in. If Larissa's murderer was willing to kill once, will he kill again? Marcie and Amanda join the investigation and try to juggle the stories of a town filled with mystery and suspects.

As a fan of mysteries, I enjoyed this book. Both storylines were given equal time and intertwined perfectly. The supporting cast of characters--especially Ben Hanson, the cemetery caretaker, who not only has photographs of the Lake Opal Monster but also claims to have seen vampires roaming the cemetery--added personality to the town and investigations.

I'm looking forward to seeing what Amanda and Marcie investigate next!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Coming Soon: The Carrie Diaries

I am ridiculously excited for the publication of The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell (April 27, 2010/HarperCollins)!

Synopsis:
Before Carrie Bradshaw hit the big time in the City, she was a regular girl growing up in the suburbs of Connecticut. How did she turn into one of the most-read social observers of our generation?

The Carrie Diaries opens up in Carrie's senior year of high school. She and her best friends -- Walt, Lali, Maggie, and the Mouse -- are inseparable, amid the sea of Jens, Jocks and Jets. And then Sebastian Kydd comes into the picture. Sebastian is a bad boy-older, intriguing, and unpredictable. Carrie falls into the relationship that she was always supposed to have in high school-until a friend's betrayal makes her question everything. With her high school days coming to a close, Carrie will realize it's finally time to go after everything she ever wanted.

Rabid fans of Sex and the City will love seeing Carrie Bradshaw evolve from a regular girl into a sharp, insightful writer. They'll learn about her family background -- how she found her writing voice, and the indelible impression her early friendships and relationships left on her. We'll see what brings Carrie to her beloved New York City, where the next Carrie Diaries book will take place.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Suzanne Collins: Catching Fire

After finally getting the chance to read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins in August, I put my name on the library waiting list for its sequel Catching Fire. When I received an email last week letting me know the book was ready for me to pick up, I raced out the front door. Once back at home, I began devouring the book.

There is absolutely no way to review this book without giving away the ending to The Hunger Games, so I have placed the review behind the cut. You have been warned.

**** WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS ****


In The Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen and fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark defied all odds--and the Capital--to be the last two standing and, for the first time ever, dual winners in the yearly televised fight-to-the-death tournament.

Now they're home and living the spoils of victory: a nice house, plenty of food, and the comfort of knowing their families are well cared for. Katniss is happy to be home with her family and friends, especially Gale. However, trying to reconnect with him--while keeping up the pretense that she is in love with Peeta--is proving to be very difficult.

Unfortunately, time at home is short lived and Katniss and Peeta have to pack up and go on a Victory Tour where they'll visit each of the districts in Panem. While on the tour, they learn their victory has made them the poster children for rebellion. Worse, there is talk of unrest and an uprising in several of the Districts. President Snow is not happy and warns Katniss that her loved ones may be in danger unless she follows the rules and does everything she can to keep from adding fuel to the fire.

As if Katniss doesn't have enough on her mind, Panem begins to prepare for the 75th Hunger Games, where something out of the ordinary is planned. The Capital wants revenge, and these Games promise to be more bloody and heartbreaking than the rest.

I'm usually not a fan of sequels. They rarely live up to the hype. Catching Fire far exceeded my expectations. I didn't want to stop reading, but I had to. There were times when I'd just have to sit the book aside, think about what I had just read, and say, "Oh my God! No way!" The Hunger Games, with its violence and senseless deaths at the hand of a greedy, controlling government, was hard to read. Catching Fire was ten times harder to read because, by now, I had grown to love and care very deeply about these characters.

Suzanne Collins, once again, crafted an intriguing world filled with smart, sinister, fascinating characters. I cannot wait to see what happens next!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rachel Cohn: Gingerbread, Shrimp & Cupcake

Ever since I read Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan, I've wanted to read other books by them. When I saw that my library had Rachel Cohn's Cyd Charisse books, I grabbed them!

In Gingerbread, we meet Cyd Charisse, "recovering hellion." After getting kicked out of a fancy private school in New England, Cyd is living back at home in San Francisco with her mom (Nancy), step-father (Sid, whom she refers to as "Sid-dad"), and her two younger step-siblings (Josh & Ashley). Her family drives her crazy, but serving coffee at Java the Hut and spending time with her boyfriend Shrimp keep her sane. But things are turned upside down when Cyd is grounded and Shrimp breaks up with her. Tired of Cyd's attitude and behavior, Nancy decides to send her to spend time with her biological father Frank--whom she only met once when she was five years old--in New York City for the summer. While there, she meets her half-siblings (Danny & Lisbeth), makes peace with Frank, runs into her ex-boyfriend Justin, and is forced to deal with the emotional ramifications of an abortion she had a year ago (the scene where she comes clean to her mom is very real and touching). More importantly, Cyd discovers the importance of family and her place in each of hers.


In Shrimp, Cyd is starting her senior year of high school. While most students are preparing for college and thinking about various career paths, Cyd is focusing on her future with Shrimp and is determined to get him back. Needless to say, this plan doesn't sit well with her parents, which leads to the usual family arguments and misunderstandings. To make matters worse, Shrimp--who spent time traveling in Papua New Guinea and has returned to San Francisco with his oddball and highly irresponsible parents--just wants to be Cyd's friend. Luckily, Cyd has a strong support system with new friends Helen & Autumn--her first age-appropriate girlfriends ever. Ultimately, she and Shrimp end up back together, but break up again, and Cyd finds herself being drawn back to New York City.




In Cupcake, Cyd is a high school graduate living with her half-brother Danny in New York City. The plan is to attend culinary school, but all she can really think about is Shrimp, who is surfing and writing haikus in New Zealand. As is the case with Cyd, things get a little chaotic. She breaks her leg, drops out of culinary school after one day, has a fling with an older man, gets a job serving coffee at a small luncheonette, and finds Shrimp on her doorstep at Christmas time. She has to decide whether she wants to return to San Francisco to be with her "true love" or continue building a life of her own in New York.

When I first started reading Gingerbread, I honestly didn't like it. I found the dialogue to be a bit much--a little too Juno for me ("I am the cup to his cake."). But once I got used to that, I found Cyd to be a very complex, vulnerable, real character that I liked.

Her journey was made even more interesting by the entertaining characters that surrounded her. My favorite was Sugar Pie, a feisty, seventy-something woman Cyd met and befriended while performing mandatory community service. Sugar Pie is a no-nonsense-tell-it-like-it-is broad. I wish my world was filled with so many colorful characters.

All in all, I enjoyed meeting Cyd and watching her grow from a boy-obsessed "hellion" to a confident woman with goals and ambitions of her own.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cover: Heist Society

The fabulous Ally Carter posted the cover for her forthcoming book Heist Society (February 9, 2010).

Check it out!



She also included a mini excerpt at her blog:
http://www.allycarter.com/2009/10/heist-society-cover.html

Sounds good! I'm looking forward to reading it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Gayle Forman: Sisters in Sanity

At the end of September, Gayle Forman hosted a second chances contest at her blog. The prize was the paperback edition of her novel Sisters in Sanity, and I won!

It's Labor Day weekend, and sixteen-year-old Brit Hemphill isn't very excited about a potential family trip the Grand Canyon. Two days trapped in a car with her father, stepmother (the stepmonster), and her half-brother Billy is not her idea of fun. She'd rather play a weekend music festival with Clod (she's their guitarist).

But she doesn't get to do either.

Instead, her dad tricks her into "taking a look at" Red Rock Academy in Utah. Once they arrive, Brit is pulled out of the car, away from her father, and locked in a small room "for her own good."

The next morning, she is forced to hand over all of her personal belongings and endure a thoroughly humiliating strip-search before meeting with a shrink who diagnoses her with "Oppositional Defiance Disorder"--all because she has magenta streaks in her black hair, a few tattoos, stays out late, and plays in a punk rock band.

And that's when the so-called treatment begins. There are six levels of therapy before the girls can return home--each level carries a different reward: leaving your room, sending and receiving mail, attending school in a classroom, receiving phone calls, having your family visit, wearing makeup, and leaving the school for supervised town outings. When they misbehave, get caught breaking the rules, or continually refuse to take part, the girls get demoted a level. Treatment can end up taking years.

Unfortunately, the treatment isn't helpful at all. It's cruel. Brit is scorned by not only the counselors, but her peers. They're encouraged to call each other names and tattletale on one another.

But then Brit makes friends. V, Bebe, Martha, and Cassie are just as unhappy as she is. They form a secret club called "Sisters In Sanity," a support system that keeps each of the girls from going off the deep end. Together, they vow to do what they can to expose the bogus treatment at Red Rock and get the place shut down for good.

This book frightened me. I was scared for the Brit and her friends and wanted more than anything to help them.

The story was well-written and the characters showed true heart and courage. I still haven't stopped thinking about it.

More than anything, Sisters In Sanity made me beyond grateful that my parents put up with my teenage shenanigans. I was quite a handful. Being grounded for a week seems like a gift in comparison to what Brit endured.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Let the wild rumpus start!



I'm very excited to see "Where The Wild Things Are." It looks amazing. And magical.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sara Zarr: Once Was Lost

I'm smack dab in the middle of a gigantic crisis of faith, so I felt it was kismet that a local library, which never has new books the week of their release (or even the month of their release for that matter), had Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr. I was the first person to check it out, reveling in the shiny-newness of the book and taking in that great new book smell!

In Zarr's third novel, Samara Taylor (Sam) is questioning everything she's always believed.

Her father, a pastor, is more interested in taking care of his congregation than his own daughter and wife.

Her mom is in rehab for alcoholism.

Then, the kidnapping of thirteen-year-old Jody Shaw not only devastates the small community of Pineville, but rocks Sam's world to the core.

How can God--if He even exists--let such bad things happen to good people?

Once Was Lost effortlessly transitions from Sam's heartfelt narrative and late-breaking news updates on the investigation into Jody's disappearance, keeping the reader interested and emotionally involved in the characters' lives.

What I liked most about this book was the very realistic look at how our faith can falter without making us bad people. So often, when you question God and your beliefs you're considered an atheist. That's really not the case at all. Questioning your faith and your place in this world is natural, and I appreciate Zarr's honest exploration of this topic.

Once again, she has written an intense, enthralling story, exposing human weakness, raw emotion, and truth. Not only do I wish I could write rich, interesting characters like Zarr does, I wish every author could.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Becca Fitzpatrick: Hush, Hush

I was intrigued by the cover art for Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, so I entered a contest to win it. I was beyond excited to win! The novel was just as intriguing as its cover.

Nora Grey has a new Biology partner, and she's not too thrilled about it. Patch is your typical dark, sexy, bad boy--the last person in the world that Nora thought she would be attracted to. But she can't get him out of her head. Literally.

Their first assignment is simply to get to know each other, but Nora soon finds that Patch knows A LOT about her and isn't willing to offer up a lot of details about himself.

To make matters worse, Patch's appearance in her life seems to coincide with the appearance of a ski-mask-wearing stalker that Nora can't shake, an attack on her best friend Vee, hallucinations, and voices in her head.

Nora decides to put her journalistic skills--she works for the school's eZine--to work in an effort to learn more about the mysterious Patch.

It isn't long before she discovers Patch's secret--he's a fallen angel who wants to be human. And it may cost Nora her life.

I loved everything about this book and Becca Fitzpatrick's writing style.

Patch, despite the fact that he will garner far too many comparisons to Twilight's Edward for being somewhat manipulative and stalker-like, is a likable character; a true hero. He's perfectly content to let Nora be Nora--strong-willed and independent; a smart, realistic heroine.

Hush, Hush captured my attention from the first page and wouldn't let me go until the climactic conclusion.





Wednesday, October 7, 2009

May Vanderbilt & Anne Dayton: A Little Help From My Friends

I'm grateful to have received an advance reader's copy of A Little Help From My Friends (Miracle Girls Series #3) by May Vanderbilt & Anne Dayton (October 15/FaithWords/Hachette Book Group)! Though I've never read any of the other Miracle Girls novels, I fell in love with the characters right away.

A Little Help From My Friends focuses on the youngest Miracle Girl, Zoe.

Zoe's on a mission.

She needs to reunite her parents, who are separated and considering divorce.

She's also trying to get her favorite teacher, Ms. Moore, reinstated after being dismissed for mysterious reasons.

She's got her work cut out for her, especially since she's also trying to navigate her junior year of high school, deal with the heartbreak of first love, and figure out Dean, the new guy and current history class partner.

Zoe's faith is put to the test as she tries to overcome her shyness and accomplish her goals. Luckily, as the title suggests, she has great friends willing to help her every step of the way.

I thought this story was very sweet and inspiring. It was a great reminder that no matter how many obstacles are stacked against us, we can tackle them with faith and persistence. Zoe and her friends were very realistic and, honestly, the type of people I would want on my side during a challenging time. I'm looking forward to reading more of the Miracle Girls series.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Yona Zeldis McDonough: Breaking the Bank

I'm so excited to be part of Simon & Schuster's Book Blog Tour for Breaking the Bank by Yona Zeldis McDonough!

Mia Saul isn't having the best luck.

Her husband Lloyd walked out, leaving her alone to raise their angry ten-year-old daughter Eden in a rundown Brooklyn apartment.

She's working a series of temporary jobs and trying to make ends meet. The lack of child support from her husband isn't helping.

Then, as if by magic, an ATM starts giving her more money than she's requested. Lots more. Thousands more. And the machine has instructed her to "use it well."

This sudden windfall seems to be the answers to all of Mia's prayers. She's no longer worried about money and shares with those in need. Eden is happier. Mia even starts to date again.

It isn't long before Mia learns that with money, well, comes more problems. Her friends and family are worried. Worse, the police start to wonder where all that money came from.

I enjoyed this book! Mia's a very sympathetic character that I couldn't help but cheer for. I grew to like her more with each chapter, even when she made some out of character decisions. I worried about her until the end.

Breaking the Bank is a magical story, a modern-day fairytale. In a world where the economy is shaky and the future uncertain, it was nice to have an escape.

About the Author:
Yona Zeldis McDonough is the author of the novels The Four Temperaments and In Dahlia's Wake. She is also the editor of the essay collections The Barbie Chronicels: A Living Doll Turns Forty and All The Available Light: A Marilyn Monroe Reader. Her short fiction, articles, and essays have been published in anthologies as well as in numerous national magazines, and newspapers. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

You can visit her online @
http://www.yonazeldismcdonough.com/

Friday, October 2, 2009

Film Footage: Anne Frank

This footage is fascinating and haunting.





Film footage of Anne Frank posted on YouTube
Anne Frank museum posts 20-second video of young wartime Jewish diarist taken on neighbour's wedding day in 1941
Adam Gabbatt
guardian.co.uk, Friday 2 October 2009 14.03 BST


The only existing film images of Anne Frank have been loaded on to YouTube by Amsterdam museum the Anne Frank House.

The footage, from 1941, is the only time Anne has been captured on film. The 20-second footage uploaded to the museum's recently launched Anne Frank Channel shows Anne's neighbour on her wedding day. A 13-year-old Anne is seen nine seconds into the video, leaning out of a second-floor window to get a better look at the bride and groom. At the time of the wedding the bride-to-be lived at No 37 Merwedeplein, next door to the Franks at No 39.

The scene was filmed on 22 July 1941, just under a year before the Frank family went into hiding above the family business. The family were discovered in August 1944 and Anne died in a Nazi concentration camp in March 1945.

A shorter, five-second version of the video was given to Otto Frank, Anne's father, by the married couple in the 1950s. After Anne's published diary became widely known in the 1950s the couple recognised her in the film and contacted Otto.

Annemarie Bekker, from the Anne Frank House, said using YouTube was a way to introduce the life of Anne Frank to people who may never have heard of her diaries.

"The footage is very moving and very unique because these are the only moving images of Anne Frank," Bekker said.

"The museum has had the footage for some time, but thought YouTube would be a good platform to show the film and the other films about her life. It's another way to bring the life of Anne Frank to the attention of younger people, and all people worldwide."

The husband and wife, who are still alive and living in the Netherlands, were contacted by the Anne Frank House in the 1990s and provided the longer video.

The video channel also includes excerpts from interviews with Otto Frank and Miep Gies, who helped to hide the Franks from the Nazis.

The film has already attracted more than 275,000 views, with scores of comments. One read: "Gave me chills to see her in the video." Another user wrote: "Who knows what she could have become."

Source

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Banned Books Week

We're rapidly approaching the end of Banned Books Week (September 26th − October 3), and I've been thinking about it a lot. For the most part, I've been feeling grateful that my schools and libraries never challenged or banned books.

Then, I remembered the Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret incident.

I was a student at a Christian school (Southern Baptist run and funded). I always had a book in my desk for those times when I finished my homework and had to face long, boring study hour. My Mom had just given the Judy Blume book to me, so that's the one I decided to keep in my desk that particular week.

I was out sick one day, and my friend Sara knew I kept a book in my desk. She was bored, so she grabbed Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret from my desk and started reading. Mr. Baker walked around the classroom to keep tabs on the students. He saw Sara reading, grabbed the book from her, read the synopsis, and confiscated it.

When I got back to school the next day, Sara couldn't stop apologizing. "It's not your fault," I insisted.

When I asked Mr. Baker about my book, he told me that he had given it to the Principal. Apparently, it was "inappropriate" reading for a Christian school student.

(I didn't understand. Margaret spent more time thinking about religion and praying than I ever did. Were there actually rules about the things we were supposed to ponder and pray about? I didn't think so.)

When I asked the Principal, I was told I couldn't have it back until the end of the school year.

But I never got it back. I still get angry when I think about it. My Mom does, too!

I returned to public school the following year. I still struggle with prayer and what I believe. But I never stopped reading Judy Blume and other "controversial" books.

I recently picked up a new copy of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret to replace the unfairly confiscated edition from all those years ago. I smile every time I see bookstore and library shelves stocked with Judy Blume!

In fact, she can explain how I feel about book banning much better than I can.

Check it out:
http://judyblume.com/censorship.php

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fall 2010: New Ruby Oliver

In her latest blog, E. Lockhart announced that the 4th installment of her Ruby Oliver series, Real Live Boyfriends will be published in the Fall of 2010.

Exciting!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cover: Something Like Fate

Susane Colasanti's next book Something Like Fate will be published May 18, 2010. Here's a look at the cover. I like it!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lauren Conrad: L.A. Candy

Confession time: I love "The Hills"! So, of course, I put my name on the library's waiting list for L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad.

Best friends Jane and Scarlett just moved to L.A.

Scarlett is a student at USC.

Jane has decided to put off college and is working an internship for celebrity event planner Fiona Chen.

Wanting to break free from their everyday lives, they visit a few L.A. clubs and are approached by a producer who invites them to audition for "L.A. Candy," a "reality version of Sex and the City."

They jump at the chance and find themselves living like celebrities--a brand new apartment (courtesy of PopTV), free designer clothes, access to L.A. hot spots, invitations to premieres, and encounters with big-name celebrities.

But Jane, the show's breakout star, soon learns that instant fame isn't all its cracked up to be.

As a fan of "The Hills," I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes glimpse at the making of a reality TV show--spontaneous things just don't happen (if, by chance, they do, they're filmed over and over again), situations (and people) are set up, and what you see on TV isn't always what happened (thanks to a little creative editing). In short, there isn't a lot of reality in reality television.

The story itself? It fell flat. I might have enjoyed it more if I didn't watch every season of "The Hills" and read about Conrad and her friends in US Weekly. But, because I did, I knew what was going to happen.

The climactic ending didn't even surprise me. Still, the cliffhanger made me want to know what happens next. I guess that's the point of guilty pleasures--they lack substance and aren't earth shattering or original but leave us wanting more.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Justine Larbalestier: Liar

I was excited to win Liar by Justine Larbalestier (September 29/Bloomsbury USA) from Book Divas! The book is getting a lot of buzz, and I was intrigued.

The story opens with Micah telling the reader that she's a compulsive liar. She's lied to everyone--her teachers, her classmates, and her parents.

But she's trying to stop.

The shock of her boyfriend Zach's gruesome murder has made her want to tell her story--the true story.

Divided into brief sections--Before, After (the murder), School History, Family History, History of Me--Micah weaves a tale that, quite frankly, you won't believe.

In all fairness, she did warn you.

I found Micah to be a psychologically disturbing character, which made her story interesting and a definite page-turner. But, at the end, I felt unsettled. There wasn't a resolution. I like resolutions or, at least, hope of a resolution. Still, I can't stop thinking about it and wondering if I should read it again. Maybe I missed a clue or something.

Honestly, I'm still not sure how I feel about this story. And maybe that was Micah's plan all along.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

Susane Colasanti: Take Me There

I know a lot of authors are choosing to use Twitter instead of blogging, which is a shame. Twitter is a fad. Twitter is limited. Twitter is impersonal. I've discovered some amazing authors through blogging--like Susane Colasanti. After reading her blog, I decided to request her books at my local library. The first to arrive was Take Me There.

There's a movie I really like called "Go," where you get to live the same night over and over again through the perspective of each of the main characters, seeing how their actions impact one another. It's a raucous, exciting, joyride. Take Me There, though PG in comparison, reminded me of "Go" (the original way the story was told, not the actual plot), which is to say I enjoyed it immensely.

In this story about friendship and unrequited love, readers experience one life-altering week in May through the eyes of three narrators--friends Rhiannon, James, and Nicole.

Rhiannon was recently dumped by her boyfriend, which sends her into a spiral of depression and an obsession with getting him back. Although she starts out a bit too angsty, her journey of self-discovery was realistic.

James wants more than friendship from his best friend Rhiannon but has a hard time admitting it. He provides an interesting male point of view to the story.

Nicole recently dumped her boyfriend for no apparent reason, and he wants her back--but she's crushing on an older man. She's also trying to cope with a painful secret from her past. Her story is the most compelling of the three.

So many times, while reading YA Fiction, I am overwhelmed by the author's voice and have a difficult time distinguishing them from the characters they're trying to create. That definitely was NOT a problem here. In fact, what I liked best about this story was the dialogue. Colasanti brilliantly captured the way teenagers talk to each another without sounding like an adult desperately trying to be "hip" and fit in.

Take Me There was an easy, quick read, but filled with interesting, real characters. I'm excited to read more books by Susane Colasanti!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Meg Cabot: Being Nikki

Even though I wasn't a fan of Airhead, I am a Meg Cabot fan and decided to give its sequel, Being Nikki, a chance.

Fancy clothes. Money. VIP status. World travel. Stylists. Parties. Hot guys lining up for the chance to date you. It's a dream come true.

While a girl could get used to the perks that come with the life of international supermodel Nikki Howard, Emerson Watts is still the smart, video-game-obsessed, corporate-hating, in love with her best friend--who (literally) doesn't know she's alive--girl she always was.

When Steven, Nikki's brother, shows up with news that their mother is missing, Em realizes there might be more to being Nikki and working for Stark Enterprises than lip gloss and fashion.

Someone has a secret. One they aren't afraid to kill for.

My problem with the Airhead series has always been that it's never really clear what type of books they're supposed to be. Sci-fi? Mystery? Chick Lit? Sometimes it's a bit too much. But this book was slightly more exciting than the first in the series. And, of course, there's a sequel on the way, and the ending was just dramatic enough to make me want to know what happens next.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sara Zarr: Story of a Girl

When I tell people that I blog about YA Fiction, they tell me that I MUST read Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr. So, I did.

When Deanna Lambert was 13 years old, she was caught having sex with seventeen-year-old Tommy Webber in the backseat of his car.

Her father won't even look at her and rarely talks to her.

She's labeled the school "slut."

Unfortunately, in small towns, gossip doesn't fade away and labels don't disappear. Now 16, Deanna is still struggling to shake the stigma.

She gets a summer job at a local pizza place where, unbeknownst to her, Tommy works. Being in close proximity to him causes memories and feelings to come flooding back, allowing readers to learn more about what happened between them.

The reader learns even more about Deanna through her relationship with her family and friends.

Her brother Darren, who lives in the Lambert's basement with his girlfriend and baby, is Deanna's saving grace. They have a great brother-sister relationship, and Deanna often fantasizes about the four of them moving out, living in an apartment together, and having a happy homelife,

She also has two best friends--Lee and Jason (a couple)--that accept her for who she is and don't pay attention to gossip and labels. Unfortunately, a moment of weakness and jealousy almost sabotages everything.

All of her relationships illustrate the core of Deanna's problems--she just wants to feel like she belongs somewhere, that someone wants and needs her.

Zarr, as always, created realistic characters and captured the struggle to find out who we really are. Deanna's journey was heartbreaking, but watching her forgive, overcome obstacles, and strive for normalcy left me feeling hopeful and inspired.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tom Dolby: Secret Society

Thanks to a sudden trip to the emergency room, a long wait (as things tend to get crazy in the ER during holiday weekends), and a few broken bones that rendered me helpless (and useless), I spent the weekend reading Secret Society by Tom Dolby (September 29, HarperTeen/HarperCollins Publishers).

Nick, Phoebe, and Lauren attend the Chadwick School, one of New York City's most prestigious prep schools.

Nick is already becoming a successful club promoter.

Phoebe is an aspiring artist.

Lauren has a passion for fashion and design.

The three are invited to join The Society, a super-secret club that insures its members a powerful future filled with success and money.

Though things start out great--with sudden success, attention, and dream-come-true moments--the new friends are forced to choose where their loyalties lie, who their real friends are, and how bad they want to succeed in their future endeavors.

I would describe this book as "The Skulls" meets "Gossip Girl," without the appeal of Joshua Jackson or Chuck Bass.

The ending seemed to come out of nowhere and felt more like an attempt to make room for a sequel instead of resolving things. It had the potential to be an exciting story, but the characters didn't seem very well developed, and there were a lot of holes in the plot.

Must Read: Tricks

I want to read Tricks by Ellen Hopkins. Looks intriguing! I'm more than positive my local library will not have this one.

Synopsis:
"When all choice is taken from you, life becomes a game of survival."

Five teenagers from different parts of the country. Three girls. Two guys. Four straight. One gay. Some rich. Some poor. Some from great families. Some with no one at all. All living their lives as best they can, but all searching...for freedom, safety, community, family, love. What they don't expect, though, is all that can happen when those powerful little words "I love you" are said for all the wrong reasons.

Five moving stories remain separate at first, then interweave to tell a larger, powerful story — a story about making choices, taking leaps of faith, falling down, and growing up. A story about kids figuring out what sex and love are all about, at all costs, while asking themselves, "Can I ever feel okay about myself?"

A brilliant achievement from New York Times best-selling author Ellen Hopkins — who has been called "the bestselling living poet in the country" by mediabistro.com — Tricks is a book that turns you on and repels you at the same time. Just like so much of life.


Has anyone read it? Good? Bad?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Maureen Johnson: 13 Little Blue Envelopes

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson must be a popular book. The copy I got from the library is so battered and bruised that the binding is practically unattached. I had to be extra careful as I read it, which was difficult because I was speeding through the pages to find out what happened next!

Seventeen-year-old Ginny Blackstone is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, with only the contents of a backpack and without guide books or foreign language aids and electronic gadgets.

Her tour guide? Thirteen envelopes from her Aunt Peg, who recently passed away.

Each envelope contains destinations and instructions on what to do at each location and when to open the next envelope. Ginny travels from New York City to London first. What follows is a rapid-fire tour of Europe.

Along the way, she meets Peg's friend Richard, a Harrod's employee; Keith, a college student who wrote, produced, and performed in a play about Starbucks; Beppe, an Italian lothario; the Knapps, a super-organized family from Indiana; and a group of students from Australia.

Each of the adventures brings Ginny closer to her Aunt, helping her understand the way Peg chose to live her life, why she suddenly disappeared from their lives, and more about her eventual illness.

Ginny also learns to step outside of her comfort zone and become more independent.

She falls in love, makes new friends, and learns to be more carefree. Not a bad way to spend the summer.

It was a fascinating read! I felt like I was traveling with Ginny (again, a much needed escape during my vacation-less summer). It was a great adventure and a very unique idea for a book.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Kristin Harmel: When You Wish

After reading Italian For Beginners, I knew I wanted to read other books by Kristin Harmel. As my blog revolves mostly around YA fiction, I picked up her first YA novel, When You Wish.

Star Beck is pop royalty (think: Britney Spears). She's got the skintight, sparkly wardrobe, personal trainer, dietician, rabid fans, equally rabid paparazzi following her every move, auto-tuned vocals, and sold out concerts complete with video monitors, slick choreography, and pyrotechnic spectacles to prove it.

There's also a fauxmance with the reigning prince of pop, Jesse Bishop, that managers manipulate to get as much press and publicity as possible for their clients' upcoming projects (think: Heidi & Spencer).

Oh, yeah, and a controlling Mom who acts as her Manager (or, to drop a term we used--sarcastically--at work every day: Momager), setting up photo opportunities during mother-daughter shopping trips, wearing a wire during private lunches so magazines can get exclusives, creating a generous salary for herself, and lying to Star about her absentee father.

During an interview with Dial magazine, Star learns that her father has been trying to contact her for years. Star is shocked. And angry. Her solution? She disguises herself (think: Hannah Montana) and travels to Florida to find him.

What happens next is Star's attempt at a "normal" life, an encounter with a boy who might like her for more than fame and fortune, and a lot of growing up.

Each chapter begins with lyrics from Star Beck's catalog of hit songs, but, as I read the book, I couldn't get Britney Spears's "Lucky" out of my head. That's good because it's a perfect soundtrack to the story. That's bad because I really, really don't like Britney or that song.

Though predictable, I enjoyed reading about Star's "normal" life and watching her pick herself up, learn from her mistakes, and discover what she wants and who she needs.

Kristin Harmel is a reporter for People magazine, and her knowledge of pop culture added an authenticity to the story. I hope she writes more YA novels.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

E. Lockhart: Dramarama

I don't know what attracted me to Dramarama by E. Lockhart more--the title (dramarama is one of my favorite ways to describe friend drama, especially online friend drama) or the musical theater content (I'm a musical theater geek). Either way, I knew I had to read it. And I knew I'd enjoy it!

Synopsis:

Two theater-mad, self-invented
fabulositon Ohio teenagers.
One boy, one girl.
One gay, one straight.
One black, one white.
And SUMMER DRAMA CAMP.
It's a season of hormones,
gold lame,
hissy fits,
jazz hands,
song and dance,
true love,
and unitards
that will determine their future
--and test their friendship.


The narrator Sadye (also known as Sarah Paulson) and her best friend Demi (also known as Douglas B. Howard, Jr.) share a love for musicals and a desire to get out of Brenton, Ohio, where everyone is too "vanilla."

They know that their best chance to escape boring hometown life and unleash their "lurking bigness" is to audition for the Wildewood Academy For the Performing Arts Summer Theater Program (drama camp).

They are accepted and, as the title says, drama ensues.

Demi is over-the-top talented, yearning for first kisses and first love, and gay.

Sadye doesn't quite have the level of talent that the rest of the Wildewood students possess, but she's a good dancer and very smart (sometimes too smart for her own good).

Demi lands a few leads in the summer productions, relishes the opportunity to learn from the best, and feels like he's found where he belongs. He fits in.

Sadye lands a few supporting roles, questions the teachers, and makes suggestions to the directors. She doesn't quite fit in.

Dramarama is an excellent behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to put together a show. Through Sadye's narration (an authentic voice, thanks to Lockhart's experiences at drama camp), the reader learns about acting exercises, running lines, costume fittings, rehearsals, and staging. Between that and the constant pop culture/theater references, it's a theater lover's dream!

Though Dramarama revolves around theater and putting on a show, the heart of the story is friendship and finding where you belong. The storytelling is slick and mature, making it something that both teenagers and adults will enjoy.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Nicholas Sparks: The Last Song

I've been reading Nicholas Sparks books for about ten years. I'm a fan. Still, I know there's a point in each book where I'm going to have to pull out a box of tissues and bawl my eyes out. I know it's coming, but I'm never quite ready for it. It always takes me a few days to recover from the loss, but I never stop thinking about the characters and their journey. And that's exactly how I felt about his new book, The Last Song (September 8, Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group).

Seventeen-year-old Veronica "Ronnie" Miller is angry. Her parents got divorced three years ago, and her Dad moved to Wilmington, NC. She hasn't spoken to him since. She acts out by rebelling against her Mom's rules, breaking curfew, shoplifting, letting her grades drop, and quitting piano lessons.

Her Mom decides that it would be best if Ronnie and her brother Jonah spend the summer in Wilmington with their Dad, Steve, a former teacher and concert pianist.

Jonah is excited! Ronnie just wants to put as much distance between her and her Dad as possible.

Jonah and Steve spend days flying kites and working on creating a stained-glass window for a local church.

Ronnie's time in Wilmington isn't much different than her time in New York--she stays out late, tries to start fights with her Dad, refuses to play the piano (or be anywhere near one), and gets arrested.

Betrayal by a friend and first love with the town heartthrob, help Ronnie let her guard down and open her heart to the people around her, leading to an incredibly emotional summer. She learns that when you open your heart to the joys of love, you're also opening it to the pain of love.

Sparks, as always, did a fantastic job creating realistic characters that I cared about and rooted for. With The Last Song, I was transported to the beach, where, like Ronnie, I met complex people, made great friends, fell in love, and had my heart broken. I didn't want the journey to end.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Shelley Adina: Tidings of Great Boys

When I was given the chance to receive and review Tidings of Great Boys by Shelley Adina prior to its publication (September 8, Faith Words/Hachette Book Group), I couldn't resist. Isn't that a great title?

Lady Lindsay MacPhail (Mac) is going home to Scotland for the holidays and bringing her friends from Spencer Academy--Carly, Lissa, Gillian, and Shani--with her.

As if the holidays weren't stressful enough, Mac has to:

- Convince her childhood friends that she's still the same old Mac and that going to school in California has not turned her into a Hollywood type consumed with image.

- Organize a traditional New Year's Eve dance/party (Hogmany).

- Find a way to spend more time with the guy she's crushing on, who may or may not return her feelings.

- Get her parents back together

- Help Shani get out of a sticky situation with Prince Rashid's family (it turns out that angry royal family members are very persistent and beyond intimidating).

Even worse? She finds out her mom's been keeping a secret--her parents are in financial trouble and may lose their castle.

Will a little faith and great friends help Mac save the day?

Tidings of Great Boys is the fifth book in the All About Us series. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to read the first four books--none of the libraries in my area had them. There were times I felt a little confused, but Shelley Adina did a good job filling in the blanks for new readers.

I enjoyed reading dialogue written in authentic Scottish dialect and learning about Scottish holiday customs.

All in all, a fun read. I'm looking forward to reading more about Mac and her friends.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ally Carter: Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover

I finally got my hands on Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter! The series is beyond popular at my local library and the waiting list for each book is huge.

Synopsis:
When Cammie "The Chameleon" Morgan visits her roommate Macey in Boston, she thinks she's in for an exciting end to her summer break. After all, she's there to watch Macey's father accept the nomination for vice president of the United States. But when you go to the world's best school (for spies), "exciting" and "deadly" are never far apart. Cammie and Macey soon find themselves trapped in a kidnappers' plot, with only their espionage skills to save them.

As her junior year begins, Cammie can't shake the memory of what happened in Boston, and even the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women doesn't feel like the safe haven it once did. Shocking secrets and old flames seem to lurk around every one of the mansion's corners as Cammie and her friends struggle to answer the questions, Who is after Macey? And how can the Gallagher Girls keep her safe?

Soon Cammie is joining Bex and Liz as Macey's private security team on the campaign trail. The girls must use their spy training at every turn as the stakes are raised, and Cammie gets closer and closer to the shocking truth.



Macey's father accepts the nomination for Vice President of the United States, which is exciting in more ones than one. Macey and Cammie suddenly finds themselves fighting off kidnappers on a hotel rooftop in Boston. And that's just the beginning!

As Macey travels with her parents to key states on the campaign trail, she has an intense private security team watching her every movie, making her secret romance with the possible future first son tricky. But they aren't the only ones watching--Cammie's usually there, too! Dressed in an array of disguises, she's determined to keep her friend safe and help get to the bottom of things. She knows Macey has the best security taking care of her, but the secret service can't compete with spies in training. Cammie can't shake what happened in Boston, feeling something was off about the kidnapping attempt. She won't rest--and is willing to break a lot of rules--until she finds out what. But Cammie the Chameleon isn't so good at blending in these days.

How can she help protect her friend when she keeps getting caught and shipped back to spy school? Why does she always find herself in danger? And how is it possible that the kidnappers anticipated the way she and Macey would fight back--do they know about the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women?

This is hands-down my favorite book from the Gallagher Girl series! What I liked best was that most of the book took place outside of the classroom, making for some edge-of-your-seat excitement for Cammie, Macey, and the Gallagher Girls. And, while boys are in the periphery, this story didn't revolve around impressing boys, figuring them out, or having boyfriends. It was an exciting journey with more than one surprise turn.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Claire Cook: Life's A Beach

I didn't get to go on vacation this summer (or last summer), and it's been a while since I've been able to afford a beach vacation. I long for the days of lounging in the sun with a good book and combing the shores for sea glass. Reading Life's a Beach by Claire Cook seemed like the perfect way to fill the void.

Synopsis:
By the bestselling author of Must Love Dogs, the story of two grown-up sisters who fight like cats and dogs--but call each other at least twice a day

When Must Love Dogs was published, the Chicago Tribune called it "pitch-perfect" and the Washington Post declared, "Readers will hope that Claire Cook will be telling breezy summer stories from the South Shore of Massachusetts for seasons to come." Luckily for her legions of fans, Cook returns with another sparkling romantic comedy that's reminiscent of Must Love Dogs in all the right ways, but very much its own animal--about a relationship-challenged single woman, her quirky-to-put-it-mildly extended family, and the summer the shark movie came to town.

Life's a bit of a beach these days for Ginger Walsh, who's single at forty-one and living back home in the family FROG (Finished Room Over Garage). She's hoping for a more fulfilling life as a sea glass artist, but instead is babysitting her sister's kids and sharing overnights with Noah, her sexy artist boyfriend with commitment issues and a dog Ginger's cat isn't too crazy about. Geri, her BlackBerry-obsessed sister, is also nearly over the deep end about her pending fiftieth birthday (and might just drag Ginger with her). Toss in a dumpster-picking father, a Kama Sutra T-shirt-wearing mother, a movie crew come to town with a very cute gaffer, an on-again-off-again glassblower boyfriend, plus a couple of Red Hat realtors, and hilarity ensues. The perfect summer read, Life's a Beach is a warm, witty, and wise look at what it takes to move forward at any stage in life.



Ginger is a free spirit, but she's starting to feel restless. She doesn't have a fulfilling job. She's single and childless. She lives with her family. She takes care of her sister's kids. Some may say she can't commit, but Ginger simply doesn't want to settle.

Geri, her almost-fifty, workaholic sister, plays by the rules. She has a steady job, a house, and a family.

They're different and don't always agree. Still, they're always there for each other.

Soon, a shark movie is filming in the area, and Ginger takes Geri's kids to the casting call. Ginger doesn't get discovered, but her nephew lands a role as an extra! This leads to a summer at the beach for Ginger (hired by Geri to be caretaker on the set) and her nephew--a break from her day-to-day life that she hopes will give her creative energy (her current venture is making sea glass jewelry) and help her decide what she wants from life.

Though things heat up--in the form of an on-the-set romance--Ginger finds she can't escape her life and continues to over-analyze everything.

An unexpected visit from Geri, coupled with disappointments and broken hearts, brings the sisters together and reminds them how much they really need each another.

Life's A Beach was the perfect beach read, even if I read it on the sofa in an air-conditioned house--light and fun, with a happy ending. I enjoyed the characters' journey of self-discovery. I laughed out loud more than once. I felt like I was at the beach hanging out with friends.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sara Kadefors: Are U 4 Real?

I was looking at books on the new release shelf in the YA Fiction section of my library, and the cover of Are U 4 Real? by Sara Kadefors caught my attention. Translated by Tara Chace, Are U 4 Real was originally published as Sandor Slash Ida, and is Sweden's all-time best selling young adult novel.

Synopsis:
Kyla is exactly the kind of girl Alex could never talk to in real life. She's a gorgeous, outspoken city girl who parties to forget about her absent father and depressed mother. He's a shy ballet dancer from the suburbs who's never been kissed. Luckily, when they meet for the first time it's not in real life--it's in a chat room, where they can share how alone and misunderstood they feel far away from the conformity-obsessed scenes at their high schools and at home. Kyla and Alex quickly forge a friendship that's far from virtual . . . maybe they're falling in love.

But what happens when you come face-to-face with the soul mate you've never met?

Will that person be the same?

Will you?



Though party girl Kyla and ballet dancer Alex meet in the most honest of situations--a confession of loneliness in an online chat room--they're afraid to reveal too much about their real lives and backgrounds and create new identities to hide behind. Needless to say, it all unravels. The two start to wonder what happened to the friend they met online or if that person even existed. It's a roller-coaster ride that inevitably ends with a romantic connection.

It wasn't the most realistic book I've ever read, but it did hit home for me. I've made a lot of friends online. Some are great! Others seem great at first and then betray you. Then there are the ones you meet in person who aren't quite the people they made themselves out to be online. It's a tricky process, figuring out what's real, what's not, and who to trust.

While the characters were easy to relate to (Who hasn't felt lonely or misunderstood?), I think the story lost something in the translation. At times, both Kyla and Alex seemed over-the-top caricatures of teenagers. I found their emails to each other to be void of a true human connection and wondered how they became friends in the first place. It was the narration of Sara Kadefors that really explained the characters' backgrounds and motivations--in short, saving the story.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Laurie Halse Anderson: Catalyst

I watched "Speak" on Lifetime Saturday night. It's a good movie. I imagine the book is even better. Problem is, it's always checked out. In its absence, I decided to grab a different Laurie Halse Anderson book--Catalyst.

Synopsis:
Meet Kate Malone--straight-A science and math geek, minister's daughter, ace long-distance runner, girlfriend (to Mitchell "Early Decision Harvard" Pangborn III), unwilling family caretaker, emotional avoidance champion. Kate manages her life by organizing it, as logically as the periodic table. She can handle it all--or so she thinks. Then things happen like a string of chemical reactions: first, the Malones' neighbors get burned out of their own home and move in. Because her father is a Good Man of God (and a Not Very Thoughtful Parent), Kate has to share her room with her nemesis, Teri Litch, and Teri's troublemaking but adorable little brother. The days are ticking down and she's still waiting to hear from the only college she's applied to: MIT. Kate's life is less and less under control--and then, something happens that truly blows it all apart. Set in the same community as the remarkable Speak, Catalyst is a novel that will change the way you look at the world.


There are two Kate Malones:

Good Kate is smart, sweet, helpful, positive, and has her act together.

Bad Kate is disrespectful, bitchy, negative, and about to snap.

Her mother died nine years ago, and it's up to Kate to take care of her preacher father and fourteen-year-old brother Toby. Despite the struggle between Good Kate and Bad Kate, she has a very well-balanced life.

Unfortunately, she only applied to one college--MIT--and things start to unravel when she receives a rejection letter.

To make matters worse, Teri Litch--a bully who used to beat up Kate daily and habitually steals Kate's belongings--and her little brother Mikey come to live with the Malones, which means Kate now has two more people to take care of, more responsibilities, and even less control.

Laurie Halse Anderson did a fantastic job describing Kate's anxiety and insomnia. (Trust me, I know a great deal about both.)

However, despite a tragic twist in the story that surprised me, I felt something was missing from the storytelling. The supporting cast of characters--even Teri--seemed rather one-dimensional. I wanted to know more about them, what makes them tick, and how they got to where they are. I suppose, as the story was told from Kate's point of view--and she's somewhat unbalanced as things spiral out of control--the blurry storytelling makes sense. Still, it took away from my reading experience.

All in all, though, Kate's story was relatable and the ending was realistic.

It wasn't a bad way to dive into Laurie Halse Anderson's writing. I still look forward to reading Speak.
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