Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne

Waiting on Wednesday is the excellent meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine to highlight the upcoming titles we're excited about.  This week, I'm looking forward to:

by Sara Wilson Etienne
February 2, 2012

When sixteen-year-old Faye arrives at Holbrook Academy, she doesn't expect to find herself exactly where she needs to be. After years of strange waking visions and nightmares, her only comfort the bones of dead animals, Faye is afraid she's going crazy. Fast.

But her first night at Holbrook, she feels strangely connected to the school and the island it sits on, like she's come home. She's even made her first real friends, but odd things keep happening to them. Every morning they wake on the floors of their dorm rooms with their hands stained red.

Faye knows she's the reason, but what does it all mean? The handsome Kel tries to help her unravel the mystery, but Faye is certain she can't trust him; in fact, he may be trying to kill her - and the rest of the world too.

Rich, compelling writing will keep the pages turning in this riveting and tautly told psychological thriller.

I totally have to admit that the cover first attracted me to this title.  It's just lovely and intriguing. The blindfold and the moon-lit clouds behind.  I love it.

But if the book lives up to the synopsis and there really is a psychological thriller, I'll be really excited and probably in love.  Also it's a boarding school book so how can I not be interested?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Hellos and Best Books of 2011

These past two months have been such a crazy mash-up of insanity, holidays, Yuletide, and Issues that I kind of started to hide from anything that wasn’t Absolutely Required because everything was stressing me out.  And then, of course, once that starts, it’s hard to stop hiding because there is Much Guilt.

But luckily there has been the start of the New Year and an acknowledged place for New Beginnings so I poke my head out again to say how much I missed all of you and how much I’ve missed this crazy book blogging thing we do.  So hi!  I doubt I will be posting as much as I had been last year, but I want to keep posting and keep up the conversation.  

To make this a real post, I just want to take a moment to look back at the best books I read in 2011.  I didn’t review them all, but I did review some, and I’ll link to those reviews in the list.

  • A Brief History of Montmaray and FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper - My favourite books of the year.  The story of the royal family of a tiny (fictional) island in the Bay of Biscay in the late 1930s. Gorgeous history, fantastic characterization. I can not wait for the third book.  Can. Not. Wait.
  • Entwinedby Heather Dixon - An amazing and magical retelling of the fairytale Twelve Dancing Princesses. The author managed to create distinguishable personalities for each of the twelve sisters which is a feat in itself.
  • Deadline by Mira Grant - The sequel to Feed which came out in 2010. Somehow Grant avoided the 'second book of a trilogy' curse with a further exploration of the world, the virus causing zombies, and the wonderful characters she makes us fall in love with.
  • All These Things I've Doneby Gabrielle Zevin - Not a dystopian, but a future New York where coffee and chocolate is banned because caffeine is a dangerous drug. A mafia princess (the 1st person narrator with a unique and interesting voice) tries to protect her siblings and find her own path after their father is murdered.
  • The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson - Hilarious and terrifying on the same page.
  • White Cat and Red Glove by Holly Black – Utterly brilliant writing and worldbuilding.
  • Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper - A mourning emporium with a cameo from Charles Dickens.
  • Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys - Heartbreaking and gorgeous.
  • Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty – How did I last this long without reading them before? I have no idea, but I’m kind of glad I got to read them all in one big bite.
  • Eon and Eona by Alison Goodman - Asian dragon lore and girls dressing as boys. An incredibly unique magic system and an epic fantasy.
  • If I Stay and Where She Went by Gayle Forman - These are books you'll weep over. And they're amazing.
  • Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins - Technically I read Anna at the very end of 2010, but I reread it about 6 times in 2011 so I'm counting it.
I don't know how real journalists do it! I always feel so badly when I'm choosing for 'best of' lists. All the poor books that I really liked but just didn't quite measure up!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Review: Fracture by Megan Miranda

by Megan Miranda
January 17, 2012
Received from NetGalley
Goodreads Page
Amazon Page
Grade: A-

Eleven minutes passed before Delaney Maxwell was pulled from the icy waters of a Maine lake by her best friend Decker Phillips. By then her heart had stopped beating. Her brain had stopped working. She was dead. And yet she somehow defied medical precedent to come back seemingly fine-despite the scans that showed significant brain damage. Everyone wants Delaney to be all right, but she knows she's far from normal. Pulled by strange sensations she can't control or explain, Delaney finds herself drawn to the dying. Is her altered brain now predicting death, or causing it?

Then Delaney meets Troy Varga, who recently emerged from a coma with similar abilities. At first she's reassured to find someone who understands the strangeness of her new existence, but Delaney soon discovers that Troy's motives aren't quite what she thought. Is their gift a miracle, a freak of nature-or something much more frightening?

For fans of best-sellers like Before I Fall and If I Stay, this is a fascinating and heart-rending story about love and friendship and the fine line between life and death.

Here’s a tip: when you’re reading Fracture make sure you have some fluffy blankets or a nice animal or two to curl up on you because between the descriptions of the icy lake and the Maine winter, you’re going to want to warm up!

Much of this book felt like an adaption of a Hitchcock movie - suspenseful and cinematic with an overall feeling of dread even when chocolate chip cookies are baking in the narrative.  The writing is incredibly evocative both of the cold of the winter and of the bleakness of Delaney’s situation, and the cinematic qualities had me picturing cold winter light dulling every color it touches - except for the bright red of Delaney’s parka. 

I tend to enjoy character-driven books more than plot-driven, but Fracture is definitely an exception to that rule.  Though I have to admit, it’s not entirely plot-driven either.  There’s a Major Event - which is referred to in the synopsis so this isn’t a spoiler! - and the rest of the book is how Delaney reacts to it.  All of that is a roundabout way of saying that in some ways, I found that watching the characters’ reactions to the situation more interesting than the characters themselves.

Which isn’t to say I didn’t find the characters enjoyable! I empathised so much with Delaney and her focus on grades and uncertainty about her standing with her best friend Dexter and the friends that are more his than hers.  She’s a smart girl, stuck in a situation where intelligence has to give way to feelings and intuition.  Learning that sometimes intelligence can’t fix things is a hard, hard lesson when for a girl who’s always gotten A’s (yeah, I’m totally speaking for myself here, but for Delaney too).  I liked her best friend Dexter and his easygoing approach to life which was nearly shattered when his best friend fell through the ice, and I felt so much for both Delaney’s parents as they struggled to come to terms with the fact that their daughter before her accident may not be the same girl who woke up from the coma.

I think there may be criticisms of this book for being too slow or uneven pacing, but I didn’t find it so.  When the book slowed down to examine the day-to-day minutia of Delaney’s post-accident life, I felt it served both to give greater insight into these characters and to build tension about what was happening and what might happen.  Certainly it allowed Delaney to slowly but fully comprehend everything occurring around her. 

I found the climax a bit confusing, and there were questions raised that we never really got answers to especially in regards to Troy.  What really was going on?  But the overall message really touched me and makes me rather think that sometimes questions don’t need answers even when we really want them.  I very much want to talk about the conclusion, but I don’t want to spoil everyone so I’m going to avoid it.  Suffice it to say...I liked it.

This is a tense, suspenseful book that I’d recommend to anyone looking for a cinematic read with touches of horror.  I really enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to see what the author writes next.

Thanks to Walker Books and NetGalley for allowing me to read this eARC!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler

Waiting on Wednesday is the awesome meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine to highlight tantalizing upcoming books.  This week, I'm looking forward to:

by Sarah Ockler
January 3, 2012

Once upon a time, Hudson knew exactly what her future looked like. Then a betrayal changed her life, and knocked her dreams to the ground. Now she’s a girl who doesn’t believe in second chances... a girl who stays under the radar by baking cupcakes at her mom’s diner and obsessing over what might have been.

So when things start looking up and she has another shot at her dreams, Hudson is equal parts hopeful and terrified. Of course, this is also the moment a cute, sweet guy walks into her life...and starts serving up some seriously mixed signals. She’s got a lot on her plate, and for a girl who’s been burned before, risking it all is easier said than done.

It’s time for Hudson to ask herself what she really wants, and how much she’s willing to sacrifice to get it. Because in a place where opportunities are fleeting, she knows this chance may very well be her last.... 

 How awesome is this!  The excellent Sarah Ockler and friends decided that they'd give us her new book a full six months early!  I adored the old title The Language of Impossible Dreams, but the title/cover combination here works really well too.

It's a book about cupcakes and second changes and getting back up after failure, and I just can't wait.  I wasn't a huge fan of Fixing Delilah, but I loved Twenty Boy Summer, and any new book by Sarah Ockler is worth an immediate read.  ...also her blog mentioned something about a hockey boy, and you all know how I feel about hockey (hint: sliiiiight obsession).

What books are you waiting for this Wednesday?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend by Cora Harrison

I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend
by Cora Harrison
September 28, 2010

Borrowed from Library
Goodreads Page
Amazon Page
Grade: A-

When shy Jenny Cooper goes to stay with her cousin Jane Austen, she knows nothing of the world of beautiful dresses, dances, secrets, gossip, and romance that Jane inhabits. At fifteen, Jane is already a sharp observer of the customs of courtship. So when Jenny falls utterly in love with Captain Thomas Williams, who better than Jane to help her win the heart of this dashing man?

But is that even possible? After all, Jenny’s been harboring a most desperate secret. Should it become known, it would bring scandal not only to her, but also to the wonderful Austen family. What’s a poor orphan girl to do?

In this delicious dance between truth and fiction, Cora Harrison has crafted Jenny’s secret diary by reading everything Jane Austen wrote as a child and an adult, and by researching biographies, critical studies, and family letters. Jenny’s diary makes the past spring vividly to life and provides insight into the entire Austen family—especially the beloved Jane.

It's true, I overuse the word delightful, but this book was absolutely delightful in every sense of the word.  From the design and little pictures accompanying the text to the characters of a teenage Jane Austen and her cousin Jenny Cooper, everything about it made me want to buy my very own copy so I could read it on rainy days to cheer myself up.

The author made an excellent choice in writing this book as a series of diary entries by Jenny Cooper.  A more typical third-person narrative would have either invited comparison with Miss Austen or worse, caused the author to attempt to mimic that style.  As it is, the diary entries are in an entirely new and original voice, giving the reader a very different look at the famous novelist.

I loved Jenny's voice as conveyed through her diary.  She's both sweet and naive as she attempts to navigate her new life first as a ward of her brother and his less than congenial wife and then as she becomes a fixture in her cousin Jane's enormous and slightly rowdy family.  Jenny’s also coming to terms with the slight prospects of a gentleman's daughter without a fortune.  If it sounds like the plot of a Jane Austen novel, well, yes.  And that’s part of the brilliance of the book.  Any reader familiar with Austen’s novels will recognise situations, partial quotes, and even characters, and the fact that this is handled so well just made me smile. 

Some readers may find Jenny overly sweet.  In Pride and Prejudice terms, she’s much more a Jane than a Lizzie, but I found her gentleness and delicacy a nice change from the more usual YA heroine.  Jane is the character with all the fire, and while Jenny is both diplomatic and at times stubborn, Jane’s wit and sense of humour nearly flares off the page.  The friendship that develops helps both girls come of age.  Even as a teenager, Jane’s writing plays a major role in her life, and we get to see some of her rough stories and sketches.  I’m not familiar enough with Austen’s Juvenilia to know if these snippets come from her actual teenage work, but I based on how well the pieces fit into the action and themes of the book, I doubt it.

Not all the members of Jane’s large family are fully developed, and even towards the end, I was getting some of the brothers’ names mixed up, but they all are endearing.  I definitely sympathize with Jane though - I think if I had that large of a family, I’d want some peace and quiet for writing too!

If you’re a reader interested in Jane Austen or just want a lovely little story about two girls in Regency England, I’d definitely recommend this book.  It would be lovely “cuddled up during a snowstorm” reading!

Monday, October 31, 2011

October Reads

Lots of good books this month!  The month seems to have gone really fast, but then it seems like forever since I read Little Blog or Lola.

So the books I read this October:

Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell
Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
Beautiful Americans by Lucy Silag
Wanderlust by Lucy Silag
Experienced by Lucy Silag
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Conspiracies by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edgehill
Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble
Prized by Caragh O'Brien
Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel
Bunheads by Sophie Flack
dancergirl by Carol M Tanzman
Tangled by Carolyn Mackler
Six Rules of Maybe by Deb Caletti
Hooked by Catherine Greeman
Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson
Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson
Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age by Kevin Boyle
The FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper
Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Little Women and Me by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
If I Tell by Janet Gurtler
The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne
Fracture by Megan Miranda
Mastiff by Tamora Pierce
Terrier by Tamora Pierce

I joined two challenges - the Paranormal Reading Challenge hosted by Marie over at Ramblings of a Daydreamer and NetGalley October hosted by Red House Books.  I'm happy to say I met both my reading goals, hurray!

Favourites are so hard to pick especially when it's been a good month of reading, but I think my favourite three books this month were:

...oops, that's four.  What books were your favourites this month?

Review: The Legend of Beka Cooper by Tamora Pierce

The Legend of Beka Cooper consists of three books: Terrier, Bloodhound, and Mastiff
by Tamora Pierce
October 24, 2006;  April 14, 2009; October 25, 2011
Purchased all Three
Goodreads Page
Overall Grade: A

Synopsis from Terrier:  Tamora Pierce begins a new Tortall trilogy introducing Beka Cooper, an amazing young woman who lived 200 years before Pierce's popular Alanna character. For the first time, Pierce employs first-person narration in a novel, bringing readers even closer to a character that they will love for her unusual talents and tough personality.

Beka Cooper is a rookie with the law-enforcing Provost's Guard, and she's been assigned to the Lower City. It's a tough beat that's about to get tougher, as Beka's limited ability to communicate with the dead clues her in to an underworld conspiracy. Someone close to Beka is using dark magic to profit from the Lower City's criminal enterprises—and the result is a crime wave the likes of which the Provost's Guard has never seen before.

With the publication of Mastiff over the weekend, the Beka Cooper trilogy is finally complete.  I stayed up all night Saturday to finish it, and while I’d feel silly writing a review of the third book of the trilogy, I figured I’d try to write a quick review of the trilogy as a whole for those who haven’t picked it up.

The Beka trilogy (or, more properly The Legend of Beka Cooper) is different from the majority of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books in that you don’t really need to know anything about the multitude of other series because it’s set about 200 years prior to the general action.  It’s also really, really good.

Beka Cooper begins as a trainee Dog (a Puppy) - one of the Guards who act as police in the capital city of Corus.  In the Lower City, the Dogs are vastly outnumbered by thieves, slavers and murderers, and 2 Puppies in ten die before their year of training is up.  She’s incredibly shy but determined to protect her people and her city as well as she possibly can. 

Each book is told through Beka’s journalling of the events, and while sometimes the journals feel more like simple first person narration, I love that we get not only the action and conversation that occurred but also Beka’s thoughts and reflections on the situation.  She has a very definite viewpoint on the proper way of things (which, happily, is not the same as a modern person’s proper way of things), and her devotion to duty and sense of humour shine through the writing.  I also really enjoy that Beka often brings up the memory tricks (memory palace!) she was taught that allow her to remember events as accurately as possible.

Through the three books, we get to watch Beka grow from a shy adolescent Puppy to a fully grown woman confident in her own power and capabilities.  It’s a really well done character arc, and while Beka at the end of Mastiff is very, very different from the girl at the beginning of Terrier, the path she took to get there is completely clear.

Along with Beka, we get a wide range of secondary characters from the other Dogs at the station  to some colorful ladies and gentlemen who range themselves on the other side of the law to Beka’s siblings and friends in the Lower City.  Her training officers, Goodwin and Tunstall, are some of my favourite characters.  They’re wonderfully written hard-bitten and incredibly competent police officers who teach Beka the ropes of their difficult and dangerous job.  I also adore the flirtatious and snarky Rosto the Piper who manages to make friends with Beka even though he definitely has little use for minor things like laws against thievery or murder.

As opposed to a more typical fantasy world storyline, these books all are police procedurals with definite homages to the classics of the genre.  Gods and magic come into play as they always do in Tortall, but the relationship of Beka and her compatriots to most mages is one of slightly annoyed cooperation.  Think of the reactions of Law & Order detectives to the psychologists or sometimes lawyers - it’s kind of awesome especially from the typical fantasy perspective of mages as the ultimate source of knowledge and competence.

There’s a lot of dialect and slang in these three books, but most of the terms are either easily understood from context or there’s a nice glossary and cast of characters at the back of each book.  I’m not the best judge because I don’t have much of an issue with crazy fantasy dialects, but I don’t believe they’d cause much of a hurdle for a new reader.

Most of this review is towards non-Tortall readers, but if you have read some Tortall books, you'll get even more out of these books including bookend cameos by that other slightly less law-abiding Cooper, George, and a starring role by one particular black Cat with purple eyes. Also a really neat look at how society was before lady knights faded away and bits about why that changed (beyond, you know, making Alanna special).

These is a seriously fantastic trilogy.  The Aly books (Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen) remain my favourite Tortall series, but I can’t help but look at Beka Cooper’s trilogy as the best written.  The first and third books are stellar, and while the second droops a little under the weight of second book syndrome, it’s still a worthwhile and good read.  If you haven’t read any Tamora Pierce yet, consider starting here.  She’s one of the godmothers of the strong YA heroine, and she’s worth reading by every YA reader who loves powerful and capable characters.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review: If I Tell by Janet Gurtler

If I Tell
by Janet Gurtler
October 1, 2011
Received from NetGalley
Goodreads Page
Amazon Page
Grade: A

Jasmine Evans knows one thing for sure... people make mistakes. After all, she is one. Jaz is the result of a one-night stand between a black football player and a blonde princess. Having a young mother who didn't raise her, a father who wants nothing to do with her and living in a small-minded town where she's never fit in hasn't been easy. But she's been surviving. Until she sees her mom's new boyfriend making out with her own best friend. When do you forgive people for being human or give up on them forever?

I read Gurtler’s I’m Not Her and enjoyed it, but I wasn’t blown away.  (And since it’s a cancer book, I didn’t review it.)  Still I was looking forward to If I Tell and was terribly excited when I received permission to read it through NetGalley.

Let me tell you, if Janet Gurtler improves upon If I Tell as much as she improved from I’m Not Her to If I Tell, that third book is going to be the best book ever written.  If I Tell absolutely blew me away in every sense.  The main character, Jaz, had an amazing, incredibly believable character arc, the supporting characters all read as real, fully-developed people in their own right, and the writing was searing and honest that a way we don’t often get to see.

Jaz is a good example of a character that I didn’t always like but I loved anyway.  The book begins as she’s possibly just witnessed the straw that may cause her to wall herself off from people forever - the utter betrayal of her mom’s boyfriend making out with Jaz’s best friend, and the rest of the story is her deciding how to react.  I can’t say I enjoyed watching her reactions because some of it was so very painful, but they were very realistic and just made my heart hurt. 

I also appreciated the examination of her race and the repercussions of both being biracial and the only biracial girl in her school.  Jaz’s feeling of never really belonging anywhere was clear, and her discomfort in her own identity came through in a sometimes uncomfortable reading experience.  I probably say this every time I get to read a book with a non-white protagonist, but young adult lit is so whitewashed, that I’m always happy to see someone addressing issue.  To have Gurtler really examine the issue in such a skillful way is an even bigger bonus.  Someday I’d like to read a book with a non-white protagonist and feel like it happens often enough that I don’t even need to comment!

In a less weighty issue, I adored adored the love interest in this book.  Jackson is both a great character and utterly wonderful.  He reminded me in the best ways of one of Sarah Dessen’s love interests.  And that’s a high compliment from me because I love me some Dessen boys.  He also is more than “just” the love interest.  He’s definitely a three-dimensional character who’s respectful, totally sweet to his mother, and someone trying to rebuild his life after his own mistakes.

So yes, this is seriously a great book.  It’s not always the easiest to read because of the emotions brought up, and Jaz probably will make you want to shake her as she works through her plot (seriously, Jaz, call your friends! That’s what they’re there for!), but it’s really, really good.  I’d recommend it to anyone looking for an excellent contemps read with very interesting and relevant themes.

Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcefire Books for allowing me to read this book!

In My Mailbox: Sunday October 30

Halloween's installment of of The Story Siren's In My Mailbox meme!  Have any of you dressed up yet?  What costume did you choose?  Anything book related?

Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

I've read both of these already, but then Twenty Boy Summer was on sale at Amazon, and I couldn't just buy one book!  It'd be lonely in the box!  So I got a friend to keep it company.

For my Kindle:
Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

Borrowed from the Library:
Farewell in Splendor: the Passing of Queen Victoria and Her Age by Jerrold M Packard

Only one book from the library?  I must have been off my game

Received from NetGalley:
The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls by Julie Schumacher
Busted in Bollywood by Nicola Marsh
Happy Families by Tanita S Davis
Don't You Wish by Roxanne St. Clair
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Ruby Red Heart in a Cold Blue Sea by Morgan Callan Rogers
If I Tell by Janet Gurtler
Pure by Julianna Baggott

What books did you come across this week?  Leave me a link so I can check out your mailboxes!