Friday, September 30, 2011

What I Read in September

Shut Out by Kody Keplinger
The Lost Crown by Sarah Miller
Paparazzi Princess by Jen Calonita
Family Affair by Jen Calonita
Hourglass by Myra McEntire
Playing Hurt by Holly Schindler
Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler (reread)
Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl
Fateful by Claudia Gray
Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink by Stephanie Kate Strolm (netGalley ARC)
A Need So Beautiful by Suzanne Young
All You Desire by Kirsten Miller
Addison Blakely: Confessions of a PK by Betsy St Amant (netGalley ARC)
All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin
Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn’t Have) by Sarah Mlynowski
Slayers by C.J. Hill (netGalley ARC)
A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper
The Education of Bet by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
There's No Place Like Home by Jen Calonita
The Earth, my Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
Various Positions by Martha Schabas

I know I missed more than a few between The Lost Crown and Hourglass.  I got really busy and read stuff but failed to write it down.  Note to self, Emily, write what you read down.

It's so hard to pin down a favourite, but I'm going with three:

Follow Friday and TGIF!

Friday's meme day in the blogosphere, and I love getting to visit with new and old people every week to see their answers to the questions posed.

This Friday's Question:

Banned Books: How do you feel about the censorship of the freedom to read? Do you think the education system needs to be more strict on what children are exposed to in books?

I absolutely do not believe in censorship or book banning of any kind.  I believe that children - and adults - pick up and read books that they need to read.  If they're not mature enough to understand the book, they'll totally miss the 'objectionable' content.  Not to mention that telling any curious child he can't read a book will just inflame his interest, and he'll find a way to read it.

With the enormous amount of information flying at all of us every second now, I think it's really important for children to learn how to filter out the unimportant stuff and differentiate between what's legitimate or not.  Books are probably the easiest way for parents to teach children about this since the parent can review the book first and help the child understand it.  Books are also a way to open conversations about tough topics - bullying, death, stress, friendships, boyfriends, life, morals, and more. 
So yeah, books are important to me (uh, yeah, I work at a library), and the freedom to read is even more important. Which is why I talked my boss into letting me put up a Banned Books Week display last Sunday.  You know what pleased me most?  The majority of the recently challenged YA books were already checked out.  Heck yeah.

Follow My Book Blog Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Parajunkee's View and Alison Can Read to feature a different blogger every week and let all of us stop by to say hi!

This week's featured blogger is Starcrossed!
Q. What book that hasn't been turned into a movie (yet) would you most like to see make it to the big screen, and who would you like cast as your favorite character? 

I don't know!  I'm always so afraid of the movie or TV show not measuring up to my love of the book so I obsess and worry over it way too much.  Like the proposed Vampire Academy movie scares me because I freaking adore those books, and what if Rose isn't perfect and badass and Dimitri isn't a freaking hot and giant Russian and ugh, they'll cut my favourite plot threads and probably focus solely on the love story instead of the awesome Moroi politics and Rose and Lissa's friendship and argh...
Clearly I have issues.  That being said, I think I like books to movies more if the books being made into movies aren't my absolute favourites.  Like I loved the Game of Thrones show and Master and Commander a few years back with Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany.  Though I also really enjoyed the recent Tomorrow When the War Began movie, and I utterly adore that series.  I'd be really excited if  Peter Jackson (who owns the rights. I'm not picking him randomly) ever makes Naomi Novik's Temeraire books into a movie because dragons during the Napoleonic Wars would be so amazing on the big screen.

So what I'm trying to say here is...I mostly pass?

Book Blogger Hop Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme hosted by Crazy for Books that allows us to connect with and support other book bloggers who love books just as much as we do!

In honor of Banned Books Week, what is your favorite “banned or frequently challenged book”?

Such a hard question!

For the recently banned/challenged books, I'm going to say Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and (of course) Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

As far as the older books or classics go, I'd have to choose Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.  Even if mentioning the last one makes me feel like a pretentious jackass.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Review: The Earth, my Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler

The Earth, my Butt, and Other Big Round Things
by Carolyn Mackler
June 14, 2005
Borrowed from Library
Goodreads Page
Amazon Page
Grade: A

Synopsis (from Publisher): Fifteen-year-old Virginia Shreves has a larger-than-average body and a plus-size inferiority complex, especially when she compares herself to her slim, brilliant, picture-perfect family. But that’s before a shocking phone call — and a horrifying allegation — about her rugby-star brother changes everything. With irreverent humor and surprising gravity, Carolyn Mackler creates an endearingly blunt heroine who speaks to every teen who struggles with family expectations, and proves that the most impressive achievement is to be true to yourself.

I loved this book SO MUCH.  I’m pretty sure I can’t even write a coherent review here because all I am about this is starry eyes and flailing hands.  So I heard about The Earth, My Butt... after listening to the author on NPR (yeah, you knew I was a dork) about the new anthology Dear Bully.  I ran across a copy of The Earth, My Butt while putting together a display for Banned Books Week at the library.  Which obviously meant I had to substitute another book (Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret if you’re curious) and check out Mackler’s book myself.

Coherence is at a minimum so what I’m going to do here is just list the parts that made me so happy.
  • Virginia’s funny, sarcastic, completely blunt voice
  • Every character being realistically flawed
  • Froggy
  • Adult mentors.  Adult mentors!
  • Eyebrow piercings
  • Characters named after authors 
  • Family that means well even as they hurt you
  • Kickboxing
  • Virginia not suddenly becoming thin
  • Learning that even your heroes are real and very, very fallible
  • Virginia learning how to find her own voice and use it at home and school
  • Earthquacks
  • Realistic teenage worries about boys
  • Anais’ fantastic advice on making out and sex.
This was very definitely a ‘message’ book - learn who you are and be true to yourself instead of becoming who your family or friends want you to be.  But it’s done in a funny and engaging voice from a character who feels very multi-dimensional and real, and I can’t help but think that this is a message that every teenager - every person - needs to hear as often as possible.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Audition and Bunheads

Waiting on Wednesday’s a feature hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine to highlight the books we just can’t wait to get our hands on.

This week the book I'm looking forward to the most is:

by Stasia Ward Kehoe
October 13, 2011

When high school junior Sara wins a coveted scholarship to study ballet, she must sacrifice everything for her new life as a professional dancer-in-training. Living in a strange city with a host family, she's deeply lonely-until she falls into the arms of Remington, a choreographer in his early twenties. At first, she loves being Rem's muse, but as she discovers a surprising passion for writing, she begins to question whether she's chosen the right path. Is Rem using her, or is it the other way around? And is dancing still her dream, or does she need something more? This debut novel in verse is as intense and romantic as it is eloquent.

I'm so torn over this novel!  On one hand, it's a ballet book, and I'm such a sucker for them.  On the other, I'm not the hugest fan of the 'novel in verse' thing.  I don't know why I'm so apathetic about the novel in verse.  They seem like such a cool idea, and I really, really tried to read the one about the Salem Witch Trials, but I just couldn't get through it.  As I think about it more, I wonder if it's that I just really, really like dialogue?  Still...ballet book.  Dancing might get me to read a novel in verse finally.

Which brings me to...the other ballet book coming out in October!

by Sophie Flack
October 11, 2011

As a dancer with the ultra-prestigious Manhattan Ballet Company, nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward juggles intense rehearsals, dazzling performances and complicated backstage relationships. Up until now, Hannah has happily devoted her entire life to ballet.

But when she meets a handsome musician named Jacob, Hannah's universe begins to change, and she must decide if she wants to compete against the other "bunheads" in the company for a star soloist spot or strike out on her own in the real world. Does she dare give up the gilded confines of the ballet for the freedoms of everyday life?

How weird is it that two books with such similar synopses are coming out in the same week?  But I'm absolutely looking forward to both of them.  And how beautiful is the cover of Bunheads?  I seriously adore it.

Review: Ten Things We Did by Sarah Mlynowski

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have)
by Sarah Mlynowski
June 7, 2011
Borrowed from Library
Goodreads Page
Amazon Page
Grade: B+

2 girls + 3 guys + 1 house – parents = 10 things April and her friends did that they (definitely, maybe, probably) shouldn't have.

If given the opportunity, what sixteen-year-old wouldn't jump at the chance to move in with a friend and live parent-free? Although maybe "opportunity" isn't the right word, since April had to tell her dad a tiny little untruth to make it happen (see #1: "Lied to Our Parents"). But she and her housemate Vi are totally responsible and able to take care of themselves. How they ended up "Skipping School" (#3), "Throwing a Crazy Party" (#8), "Buying a Hot Tub" (#4), and, um, "Harboring a Fugitive" (#7) at all is kind of a mystery to them.

In this hilarious and bittersweet tale, Sarah Mlynowski mines the heart and mind of a girl on her own for the first time. To get through the year, April will have to juggle a love triangle, learn to do her own laundry, and accept that her carefully constructed world just might be falling apart . . . one thing-she-shouldn't-have-done at a time.

I seriously read this book while peeking through my fingers.  The choices April made were so bad and so teenager-y that I couldn’t even handle it. I wanted to shake her for being stupid and shake her parents for letting her stay in Westport and basically yell at everyone involved.

So yeah, one could say I was a little over-involved in this book.  It’s probably because I could see myself making every single one of April’s choices if I’d been given the opportunity when I was sixteen, and I’m so happy I never had the opportunity (mostly because I had to beg for weeks to be allowed to spend a weekend with my best friend at college when I was a senior in high school). 

But beyond all those personal issues, I really enjoyed reading Ten Things....  April was an engaging narrator, and I loved how the narrative jumped back and forth between the past and present as the former was needed to explain references.  It felt like a friend was telling you the story and having to keep jump back to fill you in on the people or places referred to.  In a weaker author’s hands, this style probably would have been annoying or confusing, but Mlynowski made it charming and a lot of fun to read.

Each of the girls - April, her housemate Vi, and her best friend Marissa - developed and matured through the novel.  We only see April’s point of view, but all three are challenged by their families, their boyfriends, and their friendships, and we get to see all three learn from the challenges and overcome them.  The boys in the book weren’t nearly as well-defined.  Several of them - Dean and Hudson in particular - were sweet, but none of their characterizations were more than that one dimension.

I think that’s the weakest point of the book.  I would have liked to see the boys that these girls are interested in be well-developed as the girls themselves.  I also found the premise itself unbelievable.  A caring parent will really allow his daughter to stay with a friend's "mom" without ever meeting her?  But I'm willing to accept most premises if the story that follows is a good one, and this one is.

Mlynowski always writes an entertaining story.  I enjoyed the light fluffiness of Gimme a Call, and I enjoyed Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn’t Have) even more.  I can’t wait to see what she does next!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Want to Reread

When I read this week's prompt over at The Broke and the Bookish, my thoughts went in two different directions - there are the books I want to reread to experience again and there's the ones I wish I could reread again for the first time because I just wish I could watch it all happen again with fresh eyes.  So I'm splitting my list in half.

HAHAHA, and now that the main meme post is up, I see that 'reread again for the first time' is actually a topic for a few weeks from now.  Ah well, I'm leaving this one as it is, and we'll see if my answers are the same in a few weeks.

Those I Want to Reread Because Rereading is One of My Favourite Things to Do
1. Tam Lin by Pamela Dean.  This is a book that just gets better every time I reread it.  I've read it probably 15 times, and I still find something new each time.
2. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.   I read this book pretty quickly, and I know I missed lots of details.
3. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain.  This is probably my favourite book in the world.  It's the journal of a girl goes up to Oxford then serves as a VAD overseas during World War I.  It's tragic and beautiful and utterly gorgeous.  I love rereading it.
4. A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones and so on) by George R.R. Martin.  I never read Feast of Crows because I got sick of the long wait between books, but now I want to read that and A Dance With Dragons so I really need to reread the first three.
5. Long May She Reign by Ellen Emerson White. I adore the President's Daughter quartet, and this is my absolute favourite.  It's hard to read in places due to the absolutely honesty of the emotion and situations, but Meg is a snarky, hilarious, and hardcore heroine who I like to revisit as often as possible.

Those I Wish I Could Read Again Like It's the First Time
1. Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling.  Can you imagine? I want to be able to meet Harry, Ron, and Hermione and see Hogwarts again for the very first time!  It's been twelve years since I read the first Harry Potter book, but the idea of being able to read all seven in a row without the waiting in between is so tantalizing.
2. Feed and Deadline by Mira Grant.  These are amazing, amazing books with crazy plot twists.  I love rereading them, but I wonder if I'd guess the twists if I got to try again.
3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  There was so much power and emotion while reading this book.  I stayed up til 4am, weeping the entire time.  The whole experience was awful and sad and so good.
4. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.  I wasn't in a good mood when I read this one, and it affected my enjoyment of the books and series.  I want to start over, please.
5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  I don't really want to lose all my memories of reading this over the years, but I'm so curious to see if I'd even like it without the years of memories.

I'm looking forward to seeing all of your lists too.  I love rereading books, but I know it's not for everyone so I'm so curious to see what catches people's attention.  Do be sure to leave the link to your top ten post!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Review: All You Desire by Kirsten Miller

All You Desire (The Eternal Ones #2)
by Kirsten Miller
August 9, 2011
Borrowed from Library
Goodreads Page
Amazon Page
Grade: C

Synopsis (from Publisher):  Haven Moore and Iain Morrow have been living a blissful life in Rome, an ocean way from the Ouroboros Society and its diabolical leader. But paradise is not to last. The mysterious disappearance of Haven's best friend, Beau, sends the pair running back to New York, where they encounter the Horae, an underground group of women who have spent centuries scheming to destroy Adam Rosier. Only they can help Haven uncover the secret to Beau's whereabouts in one of her past lives. But their help comes at a price: Haven must infiltrate the Ouroboros Society, charm Adam Rosier, and lure him into a trap. It's a plan the Horae believe will save the world - but Haven and Iain fear that it may destroy the happiness they've been chasing for two thousand years.

This book was a pleasant surprise.  I remember little from the The Eternal Ones beyond it being one of the seemingly thousands eternal-love-through-reincarnations books that have appeared in the past few years.  Obviously I was intrigued enough to pick up the sequel, but I don’t remember much else.

Luckily All You Desire managed to catch me up enough (without a Babysitters’ Club style expository chapter) that it was easy to follow the action even without remembering every detail of the first book.  The book also moved from the question of eternal love and the reality of reincarnations to a more political ‘so what happens now?’

What happens now is that there is more than one group of reincarnated souls each with its own agenda.  Only Haven doesn’t have much of an idea what’s going on, but all parties seem to consider her the fulcrum on which everything turns.  On one hand, this didn’t make much sense, but on the other, since she’s both a blank slate unburdened by thousands of years of memories and also a familiar quantity, the other players can attempt to predict the decisions she’ll make. 

I really enjoyed the Horae, the group of twelve ‘sisters’, who’ve been reborn life after life with the sole mission of taking down Adam Rosier.  They definitely weren’t the fairy godmothers they wanted to portray themselves as, but the shades of gray in their purpose and actions were interesting to watch develop.  The other character I absolutely adored was Leah, her snake handling upbringing, visions of the future.  She was so above all the reincarnation insanity that it was absolutely hilarious.

Like I said, the politics and some of the characters intrigued me, but Haven still strikes me as very, very dumb more often than not.  After making her choice between Iain and Adam in the last book and spending a happy year in a serious relationship with Iain, she’s again questioning her choice, seemingly only at the behest of the plot instead of through any real character development on either side.  She seems oblivious to the intrigue swirling around her and basically believes whatever the last person said...right up until someone else comes by with a new story. 

Normally I have a soft spot for the established love interest, but Adam is so much more interesting than Iain - even if his passion for Haven seems inexplicable.  Though he’s thousands of years old and apparently the embodiment of chaos, he continues to change and adapt to his surroundings, making actual choices that affect his future and completely alter the future of the Ouroboros Society which he’s spent the past hundred years running.

The writing in All You Desire is much better than what I remember from the first book as is indicated by Miller’s ability to draw the nearly minuscule details scattered throughout the novel into a cohesive and interesting plot.  I hope, however, that in the inevitable third installment (because the ending makes the intention clear) this will extend to the characterization of Haven and Iain. When the third book comes out, I’ll probably pick it up if I see it at the library, but I’ll mostly be doing it in hopes that the Horae and Leah come back.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

In My Mailbox: Sunday September 25

Sunday means football, but even better, it means we have another edition of The Story Siren's excellent meme: In My Mailbox!  This week it's more like "from my library because all my holds came in," but let's go with it!

From the library:
Blood Red Road by Moira Young
Vintage Veronica by Erica S Perl
Cate of the Lost Colony by Lisa Klein
Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial by Ronald Kidd
A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper
The Education of Bet by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
There's No Place like Home by Jen Calonita
Ten Things We Did (That We Probably Shouldn't Have) by Sarah Mlynowski

What books did you get this week?  And what are you most looking forward to reading?  I'm in the middle of A Brief History of Montmaray, and it's pretty excellent!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review: Slayers by C.J. Hill

by C.J. Hill
September 27, 2011
Received ARC from NetGalley
Amazon Page
Goodreads Page
Grade: B

Synopsis: Dragons exist. They’re ferocious. And they’re smart: Before they were killed off by slayer-knights, they rendered a select group of eggs dormant, so their offspring would survive. Only a handful of people know about this, let alone believe it – these “Slayers” are descended from the original knights, and are now a diverse group of teens that includes Tori, a smart but spoiled senator’s daughter who didn’t sign up to save the world.

The dragon eggs have fallen into the wrong hands. The Slayers must work together to stop the eggs from hatching. They will fight; they will fall in love. But will they survive?

Review:  When I first saw the synopsis of this book, I thought ‘oh hey!  Rampant with dragons!’ But I was wrong.  Slayers is much more in the Percy Jackson line (without gods obviously) with a group of superheroes by birth reuniting every summer at camp and never able to talk about camp in their regular lives.

I seriously would have done anything to go to Dragon Camp when I was a preteen or teenager!  I loved the horse camp I went to, but a whole summer with riding, archery, medieval tactics, and dragon obsessions would’ve been magic.  Literally if I’d gotten to hang out at the advanced camp with the slayers. 

Tori provides our view into the group of slayers as the new member of a team that’s been training together for four years.  She is, as the synopsis says, a spoiled rich kid who spent the previous summer at a ‘finishing school’ in Cancun and is definitely the fish out of water in the rustic surroundings.  Her uncertainty about the purpose of the group at first reads true - because seriously? a bunch of teenagers claiming to fight dragons? But since the reader knows that dragons are real and the slayers are well-intentioned, it’s also played slightly for laughs and provides some nice levity.  I also enjoyed her reaction to the idea of dedicating her life to fighting the dragons.  As much as we all hope we’d step up valiantly if we were given the opportunity to save others, I think most of us - and Tori - would have more than a few qualms at the idea.  I liked that she wasn’t immediately gung ho about her heritage and purpose and the camp itself.

The rest of the slayers fade mostly into sketched in (likeable) archetypes - there’s the snobby girls, the prankster, the gentle healer, the two immensely hot team captains (who also function as two points of a somewhat forced love triangle with Tori).  As it is, only Jesse and Dirk - the team captains - get much development.  About halfway through the book, Dirk begins to assume more prominence and starts to have his own viewpoint chapters.  The point-of-view change is a little startling, and I think alternating viewpoints might have worked better if they occurred from the beginning.

I never felt uncertain about where Slayers was headed, and none of the plot twists were terribly surprising, but the training scenarios and team interactions at Dragon Camp were very engaging.  The plot was action-packed and well-paced, and I think most readers will find it enjoyable.  Some of the dragon mythology seemed awfully convenient, but I can accept it - like the underdeveloped supporting cast of slayers - in hopes that further books will develop the mythology and other teens more fully.

The writing of Slayers is snappy with short dramatic chapters that feel made for TV.  I could almost see fade to commercial each time there was a chapter break.  While the writing was cinematic, the reading experience was extremely choppy.  However though I wasn’t the biggest fan of the style, I can definitely see people - especially boys - who may not read a lot enjoying the easily consumed and action-packed chapters.

I’m definitely interested in reading further Slayers books to see what happens as the group of heroes continue to go up against the dragons and the dragon lords who control them.  Many thanks to NetGalley and Roaring Book Press for the opportunity to read the ARC!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Follow Friday and TGIF!

This week's featured blogger is Liz over at The World of the Spork Master!

She's all kinds of hilarious, and anyone who likes sporks is good by me so go on over and check her out.

Q. Do you have a favorite series that you read over and over again? Tell us a bit about it and why you keep on revisiting it?

I'm one of those people who rereads books all the time so I could probably list off 30 or so different series that I've gone back to over and over throughout the years.  But I'm going to try not to.  So let's just take Harry Potter as a given since...yes.

1. Tortall by Tamora Pierce.  I first read the Alanna quartet when I was in elementary school (and when the covers were SO terrible), and I loved the story of the girl who dressed up as a boy to become a knight.  I loved her magic and the chivalry and the King of Thieves with his knives and the Prince who chose her as his Squire even though he knew she was a girl. 

I forgot about the books for years though, as one does, and came back to them when I found Trickster's Choice at the bookstore and discovered that Pierce was still writing about her world!  Ever since, I've kept rereading the different quartets and duos that make up the Tortall world because they're all filled with great stories about knights and spies, thieves and cops, dragons and rebellions, and lots of awesomely strong girls and boys.

2. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead.  This is a newer series obviously, but I've reread the poor books - especially the first four so many times.  I love the world Richelle created and how it's so very different from what you'd typically consider in a vampire novel.  I love the strength of Rose and her utter loyalty to the people she loves.  And I love the love story.  Of course.

3. The Drina Books by Jean Estoril.  Another childhood series, this one about a would be British ballet dancer in mid-twentieth century London.  Drina can be such a Mary Sue, but I love her and her struggles and they're some of those books that I love to curl up with when I want to shut the world out.

4. The Shoes Books by Noel Streatfeild.  Yup, childhood favourite again, and again, books about children on stage.  Between these books and the Drina books is it any surprise that I knew British slang almost better than US slang when I was little?  I wanted to go to Madame Fidolia's Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training so, so, so badly. 

This Friday's Question:
Reading Challenges: Did you sign up for any this year?
How has your progression been?

I've never signed up for a single reading challenge!  I've paid attention to them on Goodreads or blogs for a few years, but I've never actually signed up.  Maybe I should for next year?  What ones do you guys recommend?

Those Books I Did Not Finish

For some reason, I’ve been running out of steam with some books lately.  Usually no matter how much I’m not enjoying a book, I will try to finish it both because I’m a completist and, well, I want to know how it ends.  Which is saying the same thing two ways.  I also refuse to turn off a hockey game before it’s over no matter the score.  It’s a weirdness, I know, but so it goes. 

I’m going to talk about a few of these books in this post partially because I want to know if any of you feel that I really need to finish them and partially because I don’t want to pick another copy up later and be really confused about why it seems familiar.  I actually did that this summer except that I finished the entire book before thinking ‘huh, this seemed so familiar.  Oh yeah, I read this book about ten years ago!’  It was an embarrassing moment.

First up:

Sean Griswold’s Head
by Lindsey Leavitt

After a couple of reviews around the blogosphere, I seriously wanted to read and love this book.  The heroine sounded charming, and I always like to find another good contemporary read to pass on.  And it’s true, the heroine was charming; I adored her best friend.  The only problem is that I somehow missed that Payton’s issues - and her fixation on a certain head - are rooted in her dad’s diagnosis of MS., I just can’t do it.  My dad died after an out of the blue diagnosis, and while it was a good while ago, I still have a really hard time reading about fathers getting ill.  I tried to push through it but between that and the fact that Payton’s really close to her dad...yeah, not going to happen.  I’m disappointed though and slightly annoyed with myself for letting this keep me from reading what seems like a good book!

by Angie Frazier

I waited for months for this book to finally arrive on inter-library loan.  I was excited about the historical setting plus Australia plus ships and magic and fiesty heroines.  What happened here is that I got bored.  I’m not sure why!  A secret map plus a shipwreck and treasure and a handsome boy should be enough to keep me going, but for some reason, I just couldn’t connect to Camille’s character and so about halfway through, I set the book down.

Should I keep going?  Is the end amazing?  I know its gotten a lot of love, and people whose opinions I usually agree with liked it a lot.  I’m frustrated that it’s not keeping my attention after I wanted to read it so badly!

The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #1)
By Maryrose Wood

This book fell victim to my lack of time over the past few weeks, and the return date to the library arrived before I managed to read more than a hundred pages.  But I’m pretty sure I’ll be checking it out again.

The narrative style of this charming book felt like a cross between Lemony Snicket and the narrator of Miss Austen’s Northanger Abbey...which admittedly is a weird comparison, but it really does!   I was amused by the very dry and slightly mocking tone of the narrator while enjoying the ‘gothic’ set up - a (very) young governess traveling by herself to a lonely mansion filled with taciturn retainers, a mistress who’s concealing a secret, and an odd howling from the outside...

Before Versailles: A Novel of Louis XIV
by Karleen Koen

I’m still telling myself I’m just stalled on this book.  I’ve adored Koen’s earlier books especially Through a Glass Darkly and Now Face to Face which were about 18th century England, the Court of George I and II, the American Colonies, Palladian architecture, and such a gorgeous love story.  I’ve read Through the Glass Darkly at least 10 times - and since the 18th century was my major period of focus in my history degree, I’m picky about my 18th century fiction.

But Before Versailles seems to lack a certain joy that Koen’s previous books contain.  Perhaps it’s the framing device that tells us what’s going to happen before it does or perhaps its that each of the characters seems like a stock figure - a doll picked up out of a box and set in a gilded dollhouse.  They’re all gorgeously dressed dolls for certain, but other than the King himself, none of them seem to have much of a spark of life.

It’s disappointing!  It feels more like the author thought ‘and now I should write my book about Louis XIV’ instead of really being inspired to write in his time period and court.  I was really looking forward to a book about a young Louis XIV and Henrietta Stuart, Charles II's baby sister.

So there's my list of shame: those books I haven't managed to finish over the past few weeks.  My other list of shame would be longer (those books I haven't written a review for yet), but I'm still looking at that as a "to do" list.

Have any of you read these?  Should I make a point to pick any of them back up?  What do you guys do when you get to a book that you're just not enjoying?  Is life too short to keep reading?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Review: All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

All These Things I’ve Done
by Gabrielle Zevin
September 6, 2011
Bought my Copy
Grade: A

Synopsis (from Publisher):  In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city's most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.'s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidentally poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she's to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight--at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family.

So I’m going to address the biggest thing first.  This book is not, strictly speaking, a dystopia.  If we’re going to pull out definitions in a dystopian work, the government (or other controlling entity) has to be trying to create a perfect society (a utopia!) but the solution causes greater problems within the society.  To me, that intent of creating a perfect society matters.  All These Things I’ve Done has been marketed as a dystopia, I assume, because of all the hype surrounding them since The Hunger Games, and if you go into the book, expecting a dystopian society, you’ll come out thinking “what the hell?  what’s up with that whole banning of chocolate?  WHY?”

That’s the caveat I want to put out there. The society in All These Things I’ve Done is pretty much just like ours.  There’s a government trying desperately to solve problems of decreasing resources and increasing crime without much inspiration on how to do it.  Which is where we enter Anya’s 2083 where the museums of New York City are now nightclubs, pools are drained because of the lack of water, and, yes, there are gangs smuggling coffee and chocolate since they’ve been banned.

Anya’s the daughter of the Balanchine Family - one of the Five Families of the world that controls the smuggling of chocolate.  After seeing her father murdered in front of her at age 9, she’s taken care of her siblings, trying to remove and shield them from the world that killed their parents.  This particular task is made more difficult as members of the Family keep showing up to deliver chocolate or trying to hire her older but mentally disabled brother. 

I have to wonder if one of the reasons chocolate and caffeine were picked as the banned substances was to allow a teenage girl to be so heavily involved without stoking the ire of moralists who might disapprove of a girl participating in weapons or drug smuggling.  It's just chocolate after all, and the scenes where people are 'getting high' on the two substances can be pretty funny in a twisted sort of way.  The several nice callbacks to the US Prohibition pleased me since the analogy had to be made at some point and letting the characters notice it makes much more sense than simple lampshading.

I really enjoyed Anya as narrator.  She’s practical, over-analytical and as self-centered as she can be when she’s the sole caretaker of her family.  She wants to live a normal life, date like a regular teenager, and maybe even go a night or two without worrying about her brother or comforting her little sister after waking up from a nightmare.  I also loved her oddly transactional faith.  She’s Catholic because her mother was, and she’s vowed to be the best Catholic possible if only her siblings stay safe.  It’s so the reaction of a traumatized child, and it’s such a human one too.

As the story continues in Anya’s dry voice, we see just how impossible it is for the Balachine siblings to keep themselves out of their Family’s business.  Leo gets a job as a cleaner at a Family (coffee) speakeasy, and when Anya’s ex-boyfriend is poisoned, suspicion falls instantly on her because of her family’s reputation.  The scenes following were some of my favourite in the book though one was also the source of one of my biggest quibbles.

When her crush’s father, the assistant District Attorney for New York, comes to retrieve her from the juvenile detention facility (located ironically on the ruins of Liberty Island in New York harbour), he spends the ferry ride back to Manhattan having a conversation with Anya that amounts to “you’re a smart girl so don’t date my son or there’ll be trouble.”  Which - he has a point as neither he nor Anya want the media spotlight that may result, but hasn’t he learned anything from Romeo and Juliet or any of the million star-crossed love stories?  Don’t tell a teenager she can’t date someone.  It just makes the dating inevitable.

Speaking of dating, I really enjoyed Win, Anya's crush-then-boyfriend.  I kept wanting to dislike him a little because he seems just a bit too perfect.  But he was charming and real, and I could absolutely see why a girl like Anya would neglect her family to fall for him. 

My other minorish issue - which totally is probably because I sew - comes from the idea that clothes production has been halted due to water concerns.  I can buy that in the world All These Things... is set in.  But then Anya talks about things like not being able to raise her arm because there’s a hole in the arm seam.  Or a bride wearing a dress that’s too big.  What I want to know is - did people forget how to sew?  Even if there isn’t fabric, there can be thread and people can alter clothes and mend them!  Good grief, people. 

I can’t wait for the next book in this series.  I really enjoyed reading the development of the world and characterizations (Anya and her little sister Natty especially) and getting a slow introduction to organized crime in 2083.  But in many ways, it was the setup for what promises to be an awesome series about a girl and organized crime, a possible (and scary) future, and yeah, chocolate.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Waiting on Wednesday’s a feature hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine to highlight the books we just can’t wait to get our hands on.

This week the book that I just can't wait for:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone
by Laini Taylor
September 27, 2011

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

I know, I know, this is out in 6 days, but that just means featuring it here is almost like instant gratification!  The first 14 chapters were available on NetGalley so I snatched them up and read them the other day.

It’s difficult to talk to character or plot without reading the entire novel, but what I can say is that the setup to the plot - the introduction of Karou and her chimerae foster family - the secretive Brimstone and Issa and the others who buy teeth for wishes - is handled beautifully.  There’s not a lot of obvious action until the end of the sample, but the setup is so intriguingly done as it switches between Karou’s life in Prague and the errands she runs for Brimstone’s shadow world that I can’t imagine the slow buildup to be an issue for many readers. 

Taylor’s writing is absolutely beautiful.  Her description is lush without significantly slowing down the narrative, and the way she puts words together is nothing short of masterful.  I love how each word feels like it was placed perfectly to increase the meaning of the sentence.

I’m looking forward to buying a copy of Daughter of Smoke and Bone next week and sinking into the rich world of chimerae, serephim, and Karou of the blue hair and petty but hilarious wishes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Feel As Though Everyone Has Read But Me

Top Ten Tuesday: the weekly meme hosted by the fabulous ladies at The Broke and the Bookish.

1. Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins - This one isn't even out yet!  And speaking of, does anyone know why this book’s being released on a THURSDAY?  It’s so odd. I was hoping to get it next Tuesday when I’ll be in Grand Rapids.

2.  Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn’t Have) by Sarah Mlynowski - I’ve been wanting to since it came out, but I finally got a copy from the library yesterday!  I almost bought it last week but ended up with All These Things I've Done instead.

3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - Well, other than the fact that the author is apparently Valentine’s sister, I keep hearing good things about this!  Magical realism and 19th century circuses and magicians - it sounds right up my alley. The lovely Maggie gave me a Starbucks code to get it from iTunes, but it’s only the first part.  I’m so getting my hands on the whole thing soon.

4. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor - This is another one that I’ve seen tons of good reviews for.  I have a partial copy from NetGalley that I’m enjoying, but I’m dreading the end!

5. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson - There are so many books coming out that I’ve seen reviews everywhere for and I can’t wait to read!  Thankfully this one’s out today, but I probably won’t be visiting a book store until next week.  I suppose this meme proves my TBR pile doesn’t need to be bigger.

6. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - The whole Milennium Trilogy even.  This book was even at my family’s cottage and all my aunts, uncles and younger cousins were talking about it.  I got a copy for my Kindle for like $5 last summer, but... I keep hearing all about the violence and I’m kind of a wuss.

7. Waterfall by Lisa Tawn Bergen - And one that’s in my TBR pile but keeps getting pushed farther down.  Everyone’s been talking about the whole trilogy, and it's time travel so I'm intrigued!  I got it for free for the Kindle, but it's lost in the TBR category.

8. The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell - I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy!  And it’s still in the ‘new books’ section at the library so I can’t request it.  Siiiiiigh.  One day.

9. Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes - The jacket cover on this sounds awesome.  The reviews I’ve read for it make it sound fantastic.  And yet there's something about Barnes' writing that turns me off. 

10. Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn - I had this out of the library earlier this summer and ended up losing it then returning it before I could read it.  I’ve seen so much love for it though, and it seems like everyone I know was enthralled by it.

Are there any of these that you think I definitely should promote to the top of my TBR pile right away?  Or any that you have strong feelings on either way?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Review: Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink by Stephanie Kate Strolm

Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink
by Stephanie Kate Strolm
May 8, 2012

Received copy from NetGalley
Amazon page
Goodreads page
Grade: B+ (but A for the history details that manage to be accurate without overwhelming)

Synopsis (this is the synopsis in the ARC instead of the one on Goodreads mainly because I like it a lot better):  “It’s not like I’ll actually be LIVING in the eighteenth century.  It just looks like the eighteenth century.  A sanitized, tourist-friendly eighteenth century.  I’ll be like an eighteenth-century Disney princess!  Colonial Cinderella!”

Oh, I could see it now.  I had the perfect shade of lip gloss to pull off that all-natural no-makeup makeup look.

It may not be your idea of the best summer before senior year ever, but to Libby Kelting - historical-romance-reading, Jane Austen-adaption-watching, all-around history nerd - working at Camden Harbor (“In here, it’s always 1791!”) is, like, a dream come true.  Supercute coastal Maine location, a fabulous wardrobe of eighteenth-century fashion, hearth cooking, needlepoint...what’s not to love?  Throw in a summer fling with Cam, the hottest sailor in the harbor, and you’ve got yourself an old-fashioned good time.

But it’s not all sonnets and primroses.  Libby has a majorly annoying roommate situation to deal with, and bunking with rookie newspaper reporter Garrett McCaffrey aboard the Lettie Mae Howell is only a tiny step up.  What could be more awkward than sharing a fo’c’sle with a Star Trek-loving geek?

Oh, right.  Sharing a fo’c’sle with a Star Trek-loving geek and the ghost of a drowned sea captain.

It’s not quite the summer she bargained for, but Libby Kelting is going to make it work.

Oh this book!  It’s probably not a shock by now that I love history, and as a previous interpreter at living history museums, I so totally had to leap at the chance to read the ARC of this book.

First things first, Libby is a fun main character - so longing for a Jane Austen-ified version of the past that she has a hard time both seeing history for all its dirty parts and also living in the present.  She’s more than a little grossed out by the reality of cooking over the open fire (and using lard!), but she dives headfirst into her role as Education and Interpretation Intern (or “just a camp counselor” as the hilariously bitchy fellow intern Ashling points out).  Her utter excitement at getting to live in the 18th century and spend a summer teaching little girls about colonial crafts and cooking is slowly tempered by the realisation that nowhere - not even the oldest living history museum in Maine - is perfect.  Instead of living in a historical romance, Camden Harbor (and maybe even the past itself) is full of other people’s opinions, dirt, politics, and the need for more money.  And maybe, just maybe, there’s a ghost of a ship Captain.

Libby's a little too perfect at times almost the epitome of an accomplished eighteenth century girl - she can sing excellently, cook amazingly, sew, read, and be ever-patient with her group of demanding (but adorable) preteen campers.  However I really enjoyed watching her slowly grow over the course of the summer from a girl who escapes into the romance of history to someone who starts to realise that nothing is perfect and sometimes that even is better.

Her crush is one of the ‘Squaddies,’ the boys who do the demonstrations on the museum’s ships.  Cameron’s basically made for any historical romance loving girl - he quotes Shakespeare, brings flowers, and looks really, really good in a pair of breeches.  He’s also pretty much a complete ass, and it frustratingly takes Libby all summer to figure this out.  I would have liked her to catch onto his lady-killing ways earlier - she seems to miss every obvious clue, and the fact that she doesn’t makes her seem stupider than she really is.

There’s a bit of a ghost story as the plot unfolds which forces Libby to spend much of the summer sharing bunks on one of the ships with boy reporter, Garrett - he who wears Stargate t-shirts and flabbergasts Libby by paying absolutely no attention to fashion and who won my heart by reading Northanger Abbey after Libby said it was her favourite Austen.  It’s a slightly contrived plot point, but it’s hard to argue with something that allows one to read about the fo’c’sle (definition: living quarters consisting of a superstructure in the bow of a merchant ship where the crew is housed) over and over.  Best word ever.

Libby’s best friend from home, Dev, makes appearances both by phone and in person during the course of the novel, and while I enjoyed his character, it would have been nice if the character was slightly less of a stereotypically sassy gay best friend.  I love seeing LGTBQ representation in YA lit, but we need to move on from the stereotypes into real characterizations.  In contrast, the other interns at Camden Harbor have much more well-rounded characters, and while they admittedly have more 'screen time,' given how well Libby knows Dev, I think he could have been developed beyond the stereotype without much trouble.

In tone (other than a small scene with teen drinking), Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink reads more like a middle grade novel than young adult - Libby’s journey is one of self-discovery and the romance, while present, is mostly very sweet.  The history details and realities of a living history museum are consistently right on the mark.  Much more so than I’d ever expected and that part especially brought me great glee. 

I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants a charmingly light read about sweet summer romance and self-discovery.  If one’s not terribly interested in history, I’d still recommend it - the history details, as I said, are accurate but not overwhelming and other than a knowledge of the fact that Jane Austen is a 19th century novelist, I don’t think any specific historical knowledge would be required to enjoy the novel.

Thank you to NetGalley and Graphia/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for allowing me to read and review this ARC!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Review: Fateful by Claudia Gray

by Claudia Gray
September 13, 2011
Purchased my copy
Goodreads page
Amazon page
Grade: A

Synopsis (from publisher):  In Fateful, eighteen-year-old maid Tess Davies is determined to escape the wealthy, overbearing family she works for. Once the ship they’re sailing on reaches the United States, she’ll strike out on her own. Then she meets Alec, a handsome first-class passenger who captivates her instantly. But Alec has secrets....

Soon Tess will learn just how dark Alec’s past truly is. The danger they face is no ordinary enemy: werewolves are real and they’re stalking him—and now Tess, too. Her growing love for Alec will put Tess in mortal peril, and fate will do the same before their journey on the Titanic is over.

Featuring the opulent backdrop of the Titanic, Fateful’s publication is poised to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the ship’s doomed maiden voyage. It is sure to be a hit among Titanic buffs and fans of paranormal romance alike.

So I loved this book.  I tried to go to bed early last night because I was tired, but I made the mistake of starting Fateful as I lay down. The book refused to let me put it down, and I ended up reading the whole thing before I could sleep.  So, yup, loved it - even though it completely destroyed my ‘catch up on sleep’ plans.

There are some of the downfalls of a typical paranormal romance - something like love at first sight and the girl needing to be saved by her paranormal boyfriend, but I was pleased that both of these pitfalls were developed into something more.  While there’s definitely insta-attraction, I enjoyed that Tess and Alec really got a chance to get to know each other before falling in love (I also snickered as the author lampshaded the insta-romance by having another character comment on how ‘shipboard romances has its charms’).  And while Tess isn’t physically strong enough to stand up to other werewolves and gets rescued by Alex, she manages to rescue herself and him quite a few times through ingenuity and intelligence.

Which is one of the things I liked most about our main character: she’s smart and outspoken without being overly modern.  It always seems difficult to write the pre-World War I servant character mindset while resisting the temptation to make them more aware, independent, and forthright to appeal to modern readers.  But Gray manages it with Tess.  She’s been brought up to be content with her place as a servant and has learned to be a good one despite the hardships, but she hopes for more and has saved to leave service as soon as she sets foot in America.

I enjoyed watching her move between the first class and third class worlds and her candid observations on both.  Tess’ wry voice is a lot of fun to read, and it’s her voice that makes the first person/present tense narration (both of which I’m not generally in love with) so successful.

Our resident werewolf, Alex, also pleased.  I would happily read a whole book about his adventures before getting to the Titanic because I was left curious about what had happened in Paris and Wisconsin, and I so want to know more about werewolf politics!  Sometimes he fell prey to the brooding and tortured paranormal hero trope, but he also managed to move beyond that and accept Tess as an equal even with the strength and class differences between them, and for that, I liked him.  I didn’t fall in love with Alex, but I completely believed his and Tess’ love story - and really, isn’t that more important?

Of course we have to talk about the setting on the Titanic.  The fact that I (and most of us) have so much knowledge about what happened to the ship, have watched movies and read books about the history ends up adding to the suspense of the story.  We both get to see the opulent Titanic through Tess’ observant gaze and then wait on pins and needles for the sinking.  I’d forgotten how far into the voyage the boat sank, and so every time a new night fell, I was almost cringing as I worried about it hitting an iceberg (this would be why I couldn’t put it down).

There’s so much more I’d like to talk about from the (fictional) Lisle family that Tess serves to the slow building friendship with Myriam, a third class passenger with dreams of making it to New York to the revelations about Tess’ sister who appears only through letter but affects our heroine’s actions greatly.  However this review is already getting awfully long, and I don’t want to ramble on forever.  Suffice it to say that this isn’t one of those books that I fell in love with but have no words for.  This is one that I’ve an overabundance of words and thoughts and considerations.

I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes strong heroines, a bit of paranormal in their historical fiction, or who is just excited by the idea of werewolves on the Titanic.  Read, enjoy, and don’t start it late at night!

In My Mailbox: Sunday September 18

So it's Sunday again (somehow!), and I spent too much money at the bookstore this week. Which means we have another edition of The Story Siren's excellent meme: In My Mailbox!

The first three books I got at the local independent bookstore - Claudia Gray's Fateful, Gabrielle Zevin's All These Things I've Done, and Deb Caletti's The Six Rules of Maybe.  I've totally been looking forward to Gray's "werewolves on the Titanic" book since she started talking about it, and it finally came out this week!  Martha Schabas' Various Positions is one I ordered from a used book seller so I haven't gotten it yet, but it's a ballet book!  I couldn't resist.

From the library I only got two (mostly because I forgot to pick up my hold list when I left on Friday):

Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien - so I can reread and then review Prized!
The Living Dead 2 - John Joseph Adams editor - a collection of zombie stories from a bunch of awesome authors.

And thanks to NetGalley and Myrick Marketing and Media for the eARCs for review of the following!

Soldier's Game by James Killgore
Crusade in Jeans by Thea Beckman

As always, I can't wait to get reading!

What excellent new books (or new to you!) did you pick up this week?