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.

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!

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!

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!

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!

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!


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)!

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:
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