Friday, April 29, 2011

Congratulations, Prince William and Princess Kate!

What is it about a royal wedding that gets people (me!) all excited? When Diana married Charles way back when, my mother and I got up at oh-god-thirty to watch it. It was fabulous. I remember snuggling with my mom under a blanket and watching a beautiful girl become a princess (with a train to die for!). It was a spectacle I'll never forget.

I DVR-ed this Royal Wedding, however, unable to crawl out of bed so early (3/4 am EST) and then teach the entire day afterwords. But I still loved following all the hoopla. My friends and relatives over in England were so very excited and posted comments all over Facebook. And watching the wedding coverage on BBC America was fabulous (was it the accents? Or their genuine excitement about all the proceedings?). Here are a couple of my favorite pics from the wedding.

Kate--now a princess and a duchess!--and her new hubby, William greeting the crowd right after the wedding:
Poor wee flower girl doesn't look too happy!
Queen Elisabeth II--love her purse and practical heels! She looks lovely in yellow (and matches, too!):
Newlyweds should always leave their wedding in a convertible:
Princess Kate, looking gorgeous in her after-wedding party dress:
She's just so pretty! And seems very down-to-earth, too. I wish them all the best. 
*All images from

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian Novels

Last year, I moved from teaching seventh grade to eighth English/Language Arts. With that move, a world of possibilities opened up. While these eighth graders are still technically middle schoolers, by fourth quarter, they're also teenagers for real (13/14/15 years old) on the verge of so much--high school, "real" significant others (as opposed to the "going out" that happens with tweens), some major life decisions, their first real job, driving (ahhh!), and maturity. So, along with review for the state test and our final exams (yay, literary terms and research papers!), I introduce them to the Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopia genre of literature.

Sure, they've seen a lot of end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it movies and tv shows, played a lot of games that involve chopping random body parts off flesh-eating zombies, but most are unaware of the total awesomeness of the books in this genre. This year, they can choose between a bunch of different novels, most of them newer (within the last couple of years).
HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins 
(Of course! Plus, it's on one of their high school's summer reading list)
(Yay for zombies--and being on a high school's summer reading list!)
EPITAPH ROAD by David Patneaude 
(97% of the male population gone? A world run by women? A winning combo--maybe)
THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner 
(Boys trapped like rats in a maze? Good times in this post-apocalyptic world)
ENCLAVE by Ann Aguirre 
(After blazing through this one last week, I had to get this book in someone's hands ASAP. So awesome!)
DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver 
(A wonderful dystopic society with love as a disease)
UNWIND by Neal Schusterman 
(Ooh, kids raised for parts? Yes, please)
GONE by Michael Grant 
(Event cuts kids off from their parents and everything they know--cool!) 

MATCHED by Ally Conde 
(A well-designed utopia that's rotten to the core)
(Eldest runs the ship like an infamous dictator, people have no real free will, and those who question are dealt with...severely. Definitely not a utopia.)
1984 by George Orwell 
(Ooh, be careful! Big Brother's watching.)
FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury 
(Knowledge=death and books are bad. Burn 'em all!)

So, what do you think? Any I should change out for next year? Any other suggestions? (I really wanted to add DIVERGENT but, since it's not out yet, I'll have to wait for next year.) 

Monday, April 25, 2011

ENCLAVE by Ann Aguirre

YA PostApocalyptic/Dystopia
259 pages
Available now
Review copy purchased
Published by Feiwel & Friends

New York City has been decimated by war and plague, and most of civilization has migrated to underground enclaves, where life expectancy is no more than the early 20's. When Deuce turns 15, she takes on her role as a Huntress, and is paired with Fade, a teenage Hunter who lived Topside as a young boy. When she and Fade discover that the neighboring enclave has been decimated by the tunnel monsters—or Freaks—who seem to be growing more organized, the elders refuse to listen to warnings. And when Deuce and Fade are exiled from the enclave, the girl born in darkness must survive in daylight, in the ruins of a city whose population has dwindled to a few dangerous gangs. As the two are guided by Fade’s long-ago memories, they face dangers, and feelings, unlike any they’ve ever known.

Oh, my gosh! Sooo good! I'm a big fan of Ann Aguirre's Corine Solomon series (adult urban fantasy) and so I was looking forward to seeing what she did with YA. And, ooh boy, did she write some awesome!

Deuce is a great character. She's very focused, knows what she wants (to be a Huntress and feed/protect her home and family) and works extremely hard to get there. She's so proud when she makes it, with the six scars on her forearm to prove her status. But she's also willing to stand up for what she believes is right. Unfortunately, some of those ideals are quite different from what the elders believe and because of her actions, she and her partner, Fade, are exiled Topside. There's interesting chemistry between her and Fade, though she isn't really sure what to do with it, since that kind of stuff is left for the Breeders. Touching isn't encouraged in her society. Once exiled, she no longer has to follow her society's rules but then they're more concerned about survival than love.

The first part of this book takes place underground in a harsh society where kids die young and the "elders" might make it to twenty-five. Knowledge is scarce, disease is rampant, and you follow the rules or you're exiled, a death sentence in most cases. There's something about the dark that's frightening enough but add in almost-human monsters known as Freaks with claw-like nails and a thirst for flesh of any kind, and I'm sleeping with a nightlight and my dogs close for protection.

What I really liked about this story, aside from the characters, story, and overall creepiness (that's pretty much everything, isn't it?), was that I could actually picture this happening. This second holocaust, brought on by a rampant disease, decimates society, scattering those who survive. Some remained human and regrouped. Some turned into Freaks, twisted by disease, and went feral. 

Placing the reader squarely in the action, in the dark, and fighting for her life against the Freaks, ENCLAVE is another 2011 Favorite. I'm really looking forward to book two, which is due out next year. (Ah--A whole year to wait! Darn.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

DEFIANCE by Lili St. Crow

YA Urban Fantasy
259 pages
Available now
Personal copy

Hey sucker. It's showtime. The Real World is a frightening place. Just ask sixteen-year-old orphan Dru Anderson, a tough girl who has taken on her fair share of bad guys. She's armed, dangerous, and not going down without a fight. So it's gonna take her a while to figure out who she can trust...

Dru Anderson has always been a good listener. She listened to her dad, but had to gun him down when he turned zombie. She listened to the Order, but got nothing but lied to in return. She listened to Christophe, but still lost the only friend she had left.

Time to buckle up, boys and girls. Dru Anderson is done listening. From here on out, she'll face the King of the Vampires on her won terms. And if the Order has a problem with that, they can kiss their sweet little svetocha goodbye.

When this book arrived on my doorstep Tuesday (delivered by my not-so-cheerful UPS guy--I think he hates me. I don't know why. I mean, he's only delivering new books and stuff to my doorstep every other day or so!), anyway, as I was saying, when DEFIANCE plunked down on my front stoop yesterday, it was all I could do not to tear into it at that very second. I resisted it until right after work Wednesday and didn't put it down until I finished it. Oh. My. God. So good.

This is the fourth Strange Angels novel and, if you haven't read the first three, you really should check those out first. While it's possible to pick this book up and read it without having acquainted yourself with Dru, Christophe, Graves, and the rest of the gang, you'd be missing out on a lot of the backstory and might get slightly tangled up in the terminology and details of Dru's world.

Typical of Lili St. Crow (and her adult writer-self, Lilith Saintcrow), the story is nonstop action with knives flashing, blood spurting, and howls of pain echoing in the night air. Awesome (holy cow, I do love me some urban fantasy!). Finally somewhat safe and sound at the main school for djamphir and werwulfen, Dru's honing her fighting skills so that when she blooms, she'll be able to take care of business (killing nosferat, the bad vamps) and not get herself killed. But she's worried about Graves, her best friend--her only friend, really--who was taken by Sergej, the King of the Vampires.

Dru is so confident one moment, like when she's in the middle of a fight and her training kicks in and she just knows what to do, and then the next, she's lost, unsure of who to trust (Though she has every right to have trust issues. Those vamps are sneaky buggers.), unsure of her feelings for the guys in her life, and even unsure of her appearance. It makes her such a solidly real character, that she might be a tough, totally kick-butt girl on the outside and yet, she's just as confused as every other teen growing up.

And I love the action scenes. Lili St. Crow writes those scenes with clarity and precision, so much so that I can picture each whirl, twist, kick, and slice as Dru battles her way through the bad guys. Great imagery, complete with scents (the taste of rotting, waxen orange signaling the approach of the nosferat), sounds (tentacles sounding like wet hamburger being dropped onto sheet metal), and sights (maggot-white fingers).

DEFIANCE and the Strange Angels series is stellar--a stand-out in the world of urban fantasy that will hook readers from the very start.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

UNSEEN (Outcast Season #3) by Rachel Caine

Urban Fantasy (adult)
320 pages
Available now
Review copy purchased

After Cassiel and Warden Luis Rocha rescue an adept child from a maniacal Djinn, they realize two things: the girl is already manifesting an incredible amount of power, and her kidnapping was not an isolated incident.

This Djinn-aided by her devoted followers-is capturing children all over the world, and indoctrinating them so she can use their strength for herself. With no other options, Cassiel infiltrates the Djinn's organization-because if Cassiel cannot stop the Djinn's apocalyptic designs, all of humanity may be destroyed

I have to admit, I go all fangirl when a new Rachel Caine arrives in my mailbox and Unseen is no exception. Set in the same world as the Weather Warden novels (another rockin' series, if you're into urban fantasy), Unseen is the third in the series featuring the ex-Djinn, Cassiel, and her human Warden, Luis. (Since this is the third in the series, there are some spoilers if you haven't read the prior novels.)

Cassiel is growing more comfortable in her human skin, experiencing emotions on a level she never felt as a Djinn, and actually growing to love the humans she's surrounded by. She's not entirely sure she likes this new compassion. It makes her vulnerable in ways she never was when she was a Djinn. This includes caring for and loving humans like little Ibby and, of course, Luis. However, she never loses her practicality and willingness to do what's necessary, no matter what the consequences might be (oh, and there are some serious consequences).

Speaking of that hot Weather Warden Luis, things are moving along quite swimmingly between Cass and Luis. As in, they're finally getting together-together. Oh, thank all that is good—the sexual tension between the two of them was about to kill me! Except, despite the ongoing tension and their every-growing feelings for each other, Luis's first priority is his niece, Ibby, and protecting her from the psychotic Djinn Pearl, and Cass's priority is stopping Pearl without offing all of humanity. While that seems like that would go hand-in-hand, it doesn't. Those crazy kids. I have faith they'll work it out, especially considering they really do care for one another and, despite their differences, they just have such a fantastic connection.

Added into the mix are Djinn from Cass's past: Rashid and Ashan. Rashid has always fascinated me, popping in unexpectedly, interfering in Cass's now-human life, and lending aid when least expected but most needed. Then disappearing. And then there's Ashan. If you've read any of the Weather Warden series, you're familiar with Ashan and his distain for human-kind. He's perfectly comfortable ordering Cassiel to wipe out the human race in order to stop Pearl and then turning Cass into a human as punishment when she refuses. So, when he pops up back on her radar, she's somewhat unsure how to deal with him, especially with all those new-to-her human emotions roiling around in her brain. I have the feeling we'll be seeing more of him in the very near future.

Rachel Caine seems to take inordinate pleasure in torturing her characters. She takes the writers' maxim of making characters' lives miserable to a higher level. I'm awed—and a little scared—every time I pick up a book to find out what torture is in store for the characters. Cassiel gets dumped on hard core. Characters die right and left (Just a little warning—don't get attached to anyone new. Most of them don't make it very long in the Outcast world.). Ibby grows up way too fast and is forced to make decisions no one under seven should ever have to make. Unseen is an action-packed, tension-filled story that will have you reading late into the night.

Crossposted to Book Binge.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


YA Contemporary
304 pages
Available April 26, 2011 (but it's already been spotted in the wild!)
Review copy provided by HarperTeen


Ginny Blackstone thought that the biggest adventure of her life was behind her. She spent last summer traveling around Europe, following the tasks her aunt Peg laid out in a series of letters before she died. When someone stole Ginny's backpack—and the last little blue envelope inside—she resigned herself to never knowing how it was supposed to end.
Months later, a mysterious boy contacts Ginny from London, saying he's found her bag. Finally, Ginny can finish what she started. But instead of ending her journey, the last letter starts a new adventure—one filled with old friends, new loves, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Ginny finds she must hold on to her wits . . . and her heart. This time, there are no instructions.

I'm a total Maureen Johnson fangirl so I was absolutely ecstatic when I heard she wrote a follow up to 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES. We were all left hanging a bit at the end of that story, since Ginny's backpack was stolen along with all of the envelopes including the last one. Ginny sold her Aunt Peg's paintings, said goodbye to her uncle and Keith, and headed back home to America.

When we rejoin Ginny, she's staring down a college application essay and the dreaded question, "Describe a life experience that changed you. What was it, and what did you learn? (1,000 words)". While, of course, she had an amazing life experience, she just can't seem to figure out how to talk about it in a thousand words or less. Plus, then there's Keith. Do they have a thing or not? They used to IM all the time and now...not so much. As she dwells on her maybe-relationship and the essay she has to complete ASAP, she gets a mysterious email from someone in England who claims to have found her backpack and all the letters, including the last one. So, she jumps on a plane.

A good travel adventure always rocks, and this story doesn't disappoint. Ginny heads back to her uncle's house, who is more than happy to host her, even if she did drop in at the worst possible time (Harrod's at Christmas). He's a sweet guy and a great sounding board for her, as she tries to puzzle out her life.

I do wish that Ginny were a bit more forceful, more confident. Even though she's adventurous (she has to be to follow her aunt's nutty directions), she kind of sits back and lets those around her direct things. Like the writer of the mysterious email, Oliver. He won't give her the letter and blackmails her into signing a contract to split the monies from the sale of whatever art they find, and only reveals bits and pieces of the letters so they won't ditch him along the way. He comes across as kind of a jerk, and she doesn't stands up to him.

Aunt Peg's instructions are as wacky as ever and lead Ginny and her adventuresome friends around Europe once again. Ginny gets another chance to really see through her aunt's artistic eye and finally say goodbye.

Written in Johnson's quirky voice (which came through loud and clear in this novel. I think I picked up on it even more than before because I've been following her tweets.), THE LAST LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPE exceeded my expectations. Wonderful. Read it (but read 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES first. You'll appreciate this one ever so much more.).

Monday, April 18, 2011

THROUGH HER EYES by Jennifer Archer

YA Paranormal
384 pages
Available now
Review copy provided by HarperTeen

Every ghost has a story to tell.
The last place Tansy Piper wants to be is stuck in Cedar Canyon, Texas, in the middle of nowhere, with a bunch of small-town kids. But when her mother decides to move to the desolate West Texas town, Tansy has no choice but to go along. Once there, Tansy is immediately drawn to the turret of their rickety old house, a place she soon learns has a disturbing history. But it's the strange artifacts she finds in the cellar—a pocket watch, a journal of poetry, and a tiny crystal—that have the most chilling impact on her.
Tansy soon finds that through the lens of her camera, she can become part of a surreal black-and-white world where her life is intertwined with that of mysterious, troubled Henry, who lived in the same house and died decades earlier. It seems their lives are linked by fate and the artifacts she found, but as Tansy begins spending more and more time in the past, her present world starts to fade away. Tansy must untangle herself from Henry's dangerous reality—before she loses touch with her own life forever.

Tansy and her mother have lived all over the place because her mother, a horror writer, likes to get a feel for a place when she's writing about it in her novels. Tansy, on the other hand, wants to be in San Francisco, the last place they lived and where her friends (and potential boyfriend) live. But they moved to Cedar Canyon in Texas, where her grandfather, Papa Dan, grew up. And, of course, they move into a creepy, haunted house. Tansy's mom is ecstatic. Tansy...not so much.

The family dynamic in this novel is excellent. Papa Dan, Mom, and Tansy are a great family unit. Granted, they have their issues but they love each other deeply. After years of taking care of them, Papa Dan has dementia and it's up to Tansy and her mother to take care of him. Moving to this new place, with unfamiliar people, Tansy's lost and needs her Papa Dan more than ever. Though he's there physically, he isn't there mentally or verbally and, with her mother in her writing cave, Tansy gets lost in her own thoughts. And this girl does think too much. She's a bit emo, a bit dark (perhaps she gets that from her horror-writer mom, hum?), and only semi-willing to give the people of Cedar Canyon a chance.

Because she's pretty much isolated herself from all but a few people, Henry, the tormented ghost who haunts Tansy's new house, is able to contact her. As the story progresses, Tansy loses herself in Henry's world and, as his world gains color, her world loses it and she doesn't really want to return to reality. The point of view in this paranormal is unusual in that, while it's told through Tansy's eyes, it also includes flashbacks, which she sees when she looks through the lens of her camera. 

This story drew me in and made me want to stay a while, to try and figure out the mystery that haunted Cedar Canyon and to see what happened to Tansy (and to maybe shake her mother so she'd pay a little more attention to what was going on with her daughter). A tantalizing mystery, a blossoming romance, and an eerie ghost story, THROUGH HER EYES is well worth curling up with.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

In My Mailbox (14)

In My Mailbox is a meme hosted by Kristi over at The Story Siren.
Fiona had a hard time deciding between books this week, so she roped her brother, Finn, into helping her (both books purchased--and read already! Awesome. Reviews to come.).
With assistance from Finnegan and purple squeaker toy
THE GATHERING by Kelley Armstrong
ENCLAVE by Ann Aguire
For review:
CONSPIRACIES (Shadow Grail 2) by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill
(Thank you, Tor Teen!)
STEAMPUNK! Editors Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant (There are stories by Holly Black, Cory Doctorow, Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray and others--how awesome is that?)
(Thank you, NetGalley and Candlewick Press)

So, what'd you get in your mailbox?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Follow Friday

Welcome to Follow Friday! Today's question is...

Q. Do you have anyone that you can discuss books with IRL? 

Not really! Back in high school, when I read romance novels, I had a couple of people -- we'd swap books, chat about how hot the hero was, and so on. But, since I started reading young adult novels and urban fantasy/fantasy, no adults I know IRL reads what I read. Now, my students and I do talk about books and, no, they're not always the ones I assign! Every year, there's a handful who love books as much as I do and like to talk about them, too. Plus, we started using GoodReads this year, which has really promoted book discussions (makes me very happy!).

But that's one of the main reasons I started this blog, so I'd have someone to rave about books with! 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Teen Review: THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher

YA Contemporary
288 pages
Available now
Published by Razorbill
Personal copy

Reviewed by Daniel

Clay Jensen—he’s not known for anything bad. He’s not the average teenager, I will admit, however, he’s a pretty good role model. He does his homework, gets home by curfew, and does what he’s supposed to. So why is he one of the thirteen reasons why Hannah Baker killed herself? Follow Clay in his journey, guided by Hannah’s voice on a cassette tape, around his small town while slowly piecing together the reasons Hannah decided to end her own life. During his journey, he begins to see the places, sights and peers in a completely different way.

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY is a very powerful book. I mean, the whole topic itself was just mind-changing. Before I read this book, I just like went through school, being mindful of what I said and did to people but this book was a big eye-opener for me. I mean, I’ve seen many different kinds of stuff like Hannah’s situation, but I’d never be able to guess when someone’s ready to give up like that. I think that everyone, especially those in middle school like me, need to read a book like this. I give this book a 100/A. Just read it, it’s legit! (No, seriously, read it.)

Daniel would like to personally recommend, no, actually command everyone who reads this review to read the book being reviewed in this review. Simply put…just read it already.

Teen Reviewer DANIEL: soccer team captain (#18), pates staying up past 11:32 pm, really misses his bed, getting closer to his bed with every typed word, everyone else in his house is sleeping. Even Charlie went to sleep on him (by the way, don’t lose your spare change, it does add up after a while, trust him). Well, he’s met the character limit. Goodnight everyone. Final time: 11:38 pm EST *computer clicks off*

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Teen Review: DARKNESS BEFORE DAWN by Sharon Draper

YA Urban Contemporary
288 pages
Simon Pulse
Available Now
Library Copy
Reviewed by Ashley

He's a "lemon drop wrapped in licorice": tall, dark, handsome, and as smooth as his silk shirts and leather jacket. He can discuss everything from art to world events, he's traveled the world, and he owns a Jeep, a condo, and a jazz CD collection. But best of all, twenty-three-year-old Jonathan Hathaway, the new track coach and the principal's son, has his golden eyes set on Keisha Montgomery.
In her senior year of high school, still recovering from the suicide of her ex-boyfriend, Keisha's thrilled to have someone treat her like a woman rather than a girl. As Jonathan tells her, she's a butterfly ready to try her wings — much too mature for high school boys, whose only deep thoughts are words from rap songs. Jonathan makes her feel alive again; he seems like the answer to all her dreams and the cure to all her nightmares.
Gifts wrapped with silver ribbons begin to mysteriously appear on her doorstep, and Keisha is swept off her feet. But events take a terrifying turn, and suddenly darkness overwhelms her life.... As Keisha struggles to put her world back in perspective, she learns the power and the danger of silence, and discovers the secret gifts that had been waiting for her all along.

The novel, DARKNESS BEFORE DAWN, was an AMAZING book! If you’ve read the other two books in the series, then you should definitely read this novel. I love all of Sharon Draper’s books, and I think every teen should read them. All of the books she’s written teach a life lesson. They teach teens to make the right decision and show us what could happen if you end up on the wrong road. I love her books because they actually make sense and can happen in real life. While some novels are not realistic and are make-believe, hers are not.

This book has a lot of the same characters as in the previous two books. This novel mainly focuses on Keisha, Gerald, BJ, and Tyrone. They’re all seniors in high school in this story and are still coping with Andy and Robert’s deaths. It also introduces a new character, Angel, who is Gerald’s sister.

There are some surprising things that take place! While I was reading, my eyes were glued to each page. I was excited to go on to the next page, and I finished the book in one day! My favorite parts were learning about Angel’s high school experiences, and how she was doing. I wanted to know how she and Gerald were living their life after that situation with Angel’s father. I also loved all of the characters and felt as if I was actually in the book. I honestly didn’t have any dislikes—I loved every page of this book! I think everyone should read it, no matter what genres you prefer. Everyone will be interested in and entertained by this story. Sharon Draper did an amazing job on this novel, and I could read it again one million times!

Teen Reviewer ASHLEY: My name is Ashley and I’m 14 years old. I love God, dancing, sports, music, shopping, school and spending time with my family.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

In My Mailbox (13)

Actually, I was kind of happy for a semi-slow book week. I'm trying to get a bit more caught up with my reading (though I'm woefully behind in reviewing!) so I'll be ready for the absolutely amazing books that are out in May (look for a May Book Honey post soon -- so many awesome-sounding books coming out next month. I'm totally blowing my book budget!).
So very adorable and fun--loved it! (Thanks, Jennifer and Simon & Schuster) I'll be reviewing it here very soon.
From GoodReads BookSwap:
BLOOD MAGIC by Tessa Gratton (Major score!! This one's been on my wishlist for a while.)
SHE WENT ALL THE WAY by Meg Cabot (formerly Meggin--this is an older one from her)
TITHE by Holly Black
PURE DEAD MAGIC by Debi Gliori
ELEVENTH GRADE BURNS by Heather Brewer (no cover but my students won't care!)
PRADA & PREJUDICE by Mandy Hubbard
BRAIN JACK by Brian Falkner

All these except for BLOOD MAGIC are headed straight to my classroom library. BookSwap rocks!
So, what'd you get that you're excited about?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday Hop

It's Friday-Friday! (Did you just start singing that viral Rebecca Black song? I can't help it now.)

This week's question: 


Oh, yes. Most definitely. I like 'em pretty, cool, interesting, clean, and not cluttered. If I think the cover's unattractive, I'm very reluctant to pick up the book and read it, no matter how good it might be. I'm a very visual person and an awesome cover adds to my reading pleasure.

How 'bout you?

THE VESPERTINE by Saundra Mitchell

YA Historical Paranormal
293 pages
Available now
Review copy provided by publisher through Amazon Vine

It’s the summer of 1889, and Amelia van den Broek is new to Baltimore and eager to take in all the pleasures the city has to offer. But her gaiety is interrupted by disturbing, dreamlike visions she has only at sunset—visions that offer glimpses of the future. Soon, friends and strangers alike call on Amelia to hear her prophecies. However, a forbidden romance with Nathaniel, an artist, threatens the new life Amelia is building in Baltimore. This enigmatic young man is keeping secrets of his own—still, Amelia finds herself irrepressibly drawn to him.
When one of her darkest visions comes to pass, Amelia’s world is thrown into chaos. And those around her begin to wonder if she’s not the seer of dark portents, but the cause.

I wasn't sure quite what to expect when I picked up The Vespertine -- what exactly was it? A historical? Romance? Mystery? Paranormal? Actually, it's a little of all that and more. The story starts out after everything is over, after Amelia's life is ruined and she's back with her brother, locked in the attic because he believes her to be both insane and suicidal. Then it flashes back to what happened to destroy her life as well as all those around her, starting with her trip to Baltimore, her stay with the Stewarts, and subsequent search for a suitable husband. It's during the first dinner party that Amelia meets the completely unacceptable Nathaniel, an artist who makes extra money evening out numbers at dinner (because having thirteen people at a table? It Simply Isn't Done.) But she's intrigued. There's something different about him, something that draws her to him. It's also at this dinner party that she has her first vision.

I loved how, while there are paranormal elements, they don't overwhelm the story. Amelia's gift is subtle, coming only in the fire of the setting sun. She doesn't understand it and can't control it. Soon, Baltimore Society is clamoring for her visions and Amelia is in demand at the highest levels of society. There's mystery, too. Who is Nathaniel, besides a starving artist? How does he always seem to know where Amelia is and appears there to see her? And the romance isn't just between Amelia and Nathaniel. It seems all of young Baltimore is hooking up. For some, Amelia sees promise but for others, only darkness and death.

The language of the story is sometimes hard to understand but once you allow yourself to fall into the rhythm of the language, it reads more like a beautiful poem or song than a novel. Having read many stories set back in this time (most of them romances that involved the Ton of England but the principle's the same), I loved how she used expressions and the speech patterns of that time as well. It lends to the atmosphere of the entire book as well as the subtle intrigue.

Lyrical and haunting, The Vespertine is a beautiful read. 4.0/5.0 stars.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

NetGalley Challenge: Book One

This morning, I finished BUMPED by Megan McCafferty, a young adult dystopian novel.

When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents are forced to pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society.

Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and had never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Until now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend Zen, who is way too short for the job.

Harmony has spent her whole life in religious Goodside, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to bring Melody back to Goodside and convince her that “pregging” for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.

It took me a long time to get into this book. There's a ton of slang in it (not modern slang but slang everyone uses in this future), the short chapters and constantly switching viewpoints is disconcerting to say the least, and the two sisters seemed to be stereotypically opposites (one is "pregging" for money while the other is from a super-strict religious near-cult). But I was intrigued enough with the premise to read on, and I do so hate to give up on books too early. Sometimes they surprise you.

And this one did. Once fully immersed in the over-stimulated, over-sexed world of BUMPED, I became invested in what happened to Harmony and Melody. I still had some difficulty making my way through the slang and quirky names for the technology but the underlying story was interesting, moving the near-DNF to a solid 3.0 out of 5.0 stars. I'll definitely be picking up the next book in this series (due out this year, too, I think!) so I can find out what happens to Harmony, Jondoe, Melody and Zen.

As I read about young (and I mean young, as in right after they hit puberty) teens "bumping" to get pregnant, taking part in masSEX parties (pretty much orgies for kids with the goal of getting pregnant), and the practice of selling babies for profit (oh, and to save the human race from extinction), I kept thinking: Is this novel really Young Adult? Or an Adult Dystopian with teen characters?  

So, I ask you: Where does the Young Adult category end and the Adult category begin? To you, is it the age of the characters, the subject matter, or something else?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

SEAN GRISWOLD'S HEAD by Lindsey Leavitt

YA Contemporary
288 pages
Available Now

According to her guidance counselor, fifteen-year-old Payton Gritas needs a focus object—an item to concentrate her emotions on. It's supposed to be something inanimate, but Payton decides to use the thing she stares at during class: Sean Griswold's head. They've been linked since third grade (Griswold-Gritas—it's an alphabetical order thing), but she's never really known him.
The focus object is intended to help Payton deal with her father's newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis. And it's working. With the help of her boy-crazy best friend Jac, Payton starts stalking—er, focusing on—Sean Griswold . . . all of him! He's cute, he shares her Seinfeld obsession (nobody else gets it!) and he may have a secret or two of his own.

I have another novel to add to my 2011 Favorites list: SEAN GRISWOLD'S HEAD. Lindsey Leavitt has a pitch-perfect teen voice in this funny, dramatic, sad, and completely awesome novel.

Uber-organized Payton Gritas's world falls apart the day she finds out her father has multiple sclerosis -- and that her entire family's known about it for the past six months but didn't tell her. To deal with it, she turns inward, unwilling to speak to anyone in her family about it and dealing with her anger in the only way she knows how. Her grades drop. The fabulous Executive Organizer (genuine leather!) sits unused. Her room goes from "anal-retentive neat freak" to "atomic bomb dropped here".

Her parents are desperate. If she isn't going to talk to them, she needs to talk to someone and that someone is the school guidance counselor, who suggests that she choose a focus object on which she can concentrate on and write about. The theory is that she'll eventually be able to work her way up to talking about her father's illness (as well as why her family didn't tell her about it right away, though that part's secondary). After brainstorming using a web, she chooses Sean Griswold's head, which has been in front of her (yay for alphabetical seating) for the past seven years. She just never noticed it.

I love-love-love how, as Payton gets to know Sean and his life, she slowly develops feelings for him as well as respect and admiration for the person he is. It's so different than many YA books, where the characters fall instantly in love and are bonded for life.

Payton is a wonderful character, deeply caring (despite her reaction to her father's illness) and supportive. You can feel the love in the family, the emotional toll the MS as well as Payton's response takes on them and how, even with no words between them, they love one another.

Payton's best friend, Jac (or Jaclyn, depending on the day), is a great foil for Payton. She's chipper, cheerful, determined to be her own person, and fun to be around. Payton, in turn, provides Jac with the love and stability she needs, since she's not getting it at home.

All in all, a fantastic story that, despite dealing with a very difficult topic, is fast-paced and fun. I highly recommend this book! 5.0/5.0 stars.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fool for Books Winner!

The winner of the BOOK OF CHOICE from The Book Depository is...

(email begins with "cjmfnob"...)

Congratulations, Carla! I've sent you an email and look forward to seeing what book you choose.

Stay tuned for our next giveaway -- complete with links, contests and cotton candy! -- the Spring Carnival, which starts in May.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

In My Mailbox (12)

Yowzah! It's been over a month since I did an IMM and I've got some FABULOUS books waiting for me to read (begging for me to read faster).

First, we'll start with 
Can you tell she's cranky because I interrupted her reading
That's right, Fiona's totally in love with SEAN GRISWOLD'S HEAD by Lindsey Leavitt. It's a smart, funny, sweet story about family and first loves and noticing all the good things that are right in front of you. Completely awesome (I cried but Fiona's not to that part yet, so I couldn't tell her about it.). Beg, borrow or buy it -- both Fi and I highly recommend it. 

Also in my mailbox, I was lucky enough to receive (is there anyone else who has trouble spelling receive? I don't know what it is but I always seem to flip the i and the e. *sigh*):
For Review:
THE VESPERTINE by Saundra Mitchell
DARK MIRROR by M.J. Putney
HOURGLASS by Myra McEntire
A&L DO SUMMER by Jan Blazanin
TRIAL BY FIRE (Raised by Wolves #2) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
POSSESSION by Elana Johnson
(Thank you so much Egmont USA, Simon & Schuster, Harcourt Children's Books!)

RELIC MASTER: THE DARK CITY by Catherine Fisher (won from LibraryThing--yay!)
360 DEGREES LONGITUDE: One Family's Journey Around the World by John Higham
FORGIVE MY FINS by Tera Lynn Childs
PINK BOOKS AND A MACHETE: My Journey from NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer by Mireya Mayor
STEEL by Carrie Vaughn

I know there were more but they've been absorbed into my library and I'm not sure which ones I've posted and which I didn't. I know I didn't post my NetGalley books. Maybe a stand-alone post. I'm not sure. Especially since I'm doing the NetGalley challenge this month (Care to join me? Read my post HERE.)

Oh, and last but not least, I'll post the winner of the Fool For Books Hop tomorrow (though it may be later in the night, since I'm off to Charleston tomorrow!). Thank you to all who entered and best of luck!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Fool For Books Blog Hop: Apr. 1-2, 2011 (international)

It's been a LONG time since I've done a giveaway so I figured I'd join the FOOL FOR BOOKS Hop and pass along some book love. I don't know about you but so far, 2011 has been an awesome reading year for me, and I'd like to give you the opportunity to add some awesome to your bookshelf.

Enter here for a chance to win
a book of YOUR choice 
from the Book Depository
(Up to $15)
This contest is INTERNATIONAL! Yay! Fill in this form to enter:

Now that you've filled in this form, go visit some of the other participating blogs for chances to win MORE awesome stuff! (Holy cow, there are a TON of people participating--yahoo!)