Sunday, May 31, 2009

June Contests

This is a new "feature" on Simply Books. I'm going to write (type) out a list of all the contests going on in the blogging community. Just call this your unofficial guide to winning free books : ) If you would like your contest added to my list, please leave a comment.

Sea Change by Aimee Friedman

Miranda's summer has been planned out for her: she is to stay in New York City to intern at the Museum of Natural History, something her scientific and logical mind enjoys. But when her estranged grandmother Isadora suddenly dies, she and her mother must travel to Georgia to clean out Isadora's vacation home, the mansion that Miranda's mother has inherited. Selkie Island, the quaint vacation spot, is full of Southern charm and pirate lore, including a mysterious local boy that Miranda finds herself drawn to. Leo is different than other boys and there is something about him that Miranda can't place. Something almost mythical.

When I first started reading Sea Change, I thought it was going to take place up North, like the New England-Cape Cod area. It seemed that a book full of legends and mystery would be more likely to take place up where the weather is cooler and foggy. But no, Selkie Island is in Georgia which seems more tropical and happy to me. I still liked the location, it just didn't seem to fit as well as other places would have.

Besides that, I really enjoyed Sea Change. Miranda was like the antithesis to Selkie Island: she's logical and doesn't believe in legends and mythical creatures, but Selkie Island is clearly full of both. I liked seeing Miranda accept that some things in life are not explained and become more open to things she doesn't understand. Obviously from the summary you know that something's up with Leo, and Aimee Friedman makes it obvious what he is right away. I think I knew what he was before I opened the book. So there is some annoyance as Miranda is trying to figure out what was going on, but it's not too bad. I actually really liked Leo too, he's mysterious and interesting and at the end you never quite know what Leo is, so the book is open for interpretation. And the fact that this book takes place in the summer and on the beach makes it that much better, in my opinion. Sea Change is a good summer read, especially if you like legends and mythical creatures.

8 out of 10.

Release Date: June 1, 2009

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Author Interview: Michael Cadnum

Awhile back, I interviewed Michael Cadnum, an award-winning historical fiction novelist. I'm just posting the review now, to coincide with the release of his new book Peril on the Sea.

Michael's Bio
Michael Cadnum is an award-winning poet, a professional photographer, an amateur archaeologist, and he is learning new respect for spiders. He lives in Albany, California, with his wife Sherina.

1. How much of Peril on the Sea is fact and how much is fiction?
In terms of time and place, duration of violence, strength of the storms, and the outcome, this is a true story. Many of the characters are actual people, and they stride forward in my novel as history records that they did. My own fictional characters allowed me an extra gift-- they gave me the power to see through their eyes, and smell the battle, and feel the salt gales. I have discovered in my travels and my reading that very often fiction can deliver true events more vividly and accurately than the historical record.

2. Why did you choose to write about pirates battling the Spanish Armada?
I have always felt that the nimble, smaller vessels of the English should have been dominated by the soldier-heavy warships of the Spanish. My amazement continues that this sea battle--which took many days, and cost many lives--turned out the way it did. In Fletcher’s era, much of government was on-the-cheap, with the crown hiring pirates instead of investing in a far-flung navy. I was reminded of the way Americans have hired private security companies to supplement regular armed forces in the Middle East. Such mercenaries are hard to control, then and now.

While there is much to admire about her reign, Queen Elizabeth’s government profited by the proceeds of professional, licensed pirates. It was an open question in my mind who was more criminal--the queen, or the sailing men who served her.

3. How much research did you have to do for the writing of this book?
I think of my writing as being based on my life. I love to travel and I love to read. I visited all the places mention in Peril on the Sea, but I had no idea that I was getting ready to write a novel. I was simply doing what I enjoy. Likewise, I have fooled around with foils and fencing, for fun. (I found the experiment painful, by the way--no wonder fencers wear heavy padding!) There comes a time when I realize that I know enough about a subject, a place or an event to write a novel or a poem.

I don’t think I choose my subjects--I think they choose me.
Incidentally, there is an example of a historical on my Poems and Pictures page. The poem is called Concrete, and is written in a voice nothing like my own personal voice.

Sometimes writing is like a séance. Every so often I feel that I am more medium than writer.

4. Captain Fletcher was a multi-faceted character: a pirate with a sense of morals. What was your inspiration for him?
It is a fair question to ask what possessed Captain Fletched to pay me an imaginative sojourn and allow me to write about him.

I owe my characters a great deal, and I color-in their lives with a feeling that I am the fictional being--these imaginative creatures are the ones who are alive.
Fletcher is exactly the kind of captain I would like to sail with--he loves adventure, is protective of his men, he designed his own ship and cherishes her, and he is capable of great sorrow when he loses a friend.

5. I especially liked the name Rosebriar for Katharine's family's ship. Where did you come up with the names for all the ships?
This is a wonderful era to visit--everything the Elizabethans touched seemed to flower into poetry.

The harbors of the era bristled with ships named things like the Bull, the Dainty, and the Delight. Not to mention the Foresight and the Fancy. Add a few well-known names like the Golden Hinde and the Mayflower, and you have to wonder why we have such dull names for ships in our own era.

This rich invention extended even to practical items like door knockers and the arms of chairs. The Elizabethan designers were apparently unhappy unless everything from fireplace pokers to sword hilts were decorated with fanciful lions or eagles, griffins or whales.

6. How long did it take you to write Peril on the Sea?
Because this novel was rooted in my love of the ocean, my respect for friendship, and my keen interest in ships and adventure, there is no starting point for the creation of this novel. In a way, I bid this novel farewell into the hands of readers only conditionally. In deep personal sense, I never began this novel, and I never ended it.

Thanks to Michael Cadnum for taking part in my interview. If you want to find out more about Michael or his books, visit his website.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Peril on the Sea by Michael Cadnum

It is the summer of 1588 and a pair of unlikely shipmates is traveling on the Vixen, a privateer that will soon be drafted to join a flotilla of English ships bound for a fiery clash with the Spanish Armada. Seventeen-year-old Sherwin is aboard to repay a debt he owes to the ship's roguish captain, Brandon Fletcher. Sixteen-year-old Katharine is sailing with them in a desperate bid to save her noble family's fortune. The fight will be harrowing and bloody, and the unfolding tumult will challenge the character of Sherwin and of Katharine, who are about to discover the deeper meaning of both strife and honor.

This fascinating tale affords an unusual view of one of the most important naval encounters in history, as a kindling romance between two young people takes place amidst a reluctant race to battle. (Once again, this summary was taken from the book.)

It's been awhile since I've read this book, so I'm not sure how much I'll be able to say. It was long enough ago that I couldn't write my own summary, since I don't remember too much. I was supposed to review this book a few days ago, because it was released yesterday. But alas, school, work, and a Coldplay concert got in the way. Anyway, I liked this book. Well, it was okay. I remember the writing style was distinctly different than other historical fiction I've read. It read more like a textbook so it was hard to get into. I could tell that this novel was intended for history buffs who read historical fiction. It felt like something my dad (a former history teacher) might like. So, if you're not a big fan of historical fiction you might not like this, seeing how it's really historical. But in a good way. I could tell that most of the facts were accurate, and the author even stated that some of the characters were real people. I also liked the subject the book was about - the defeat of the Spanish Armada. I learned about this is class last year, so it was neat to read something that went more into detail. Overall, Peril on the Sea is a good book if you like history. If not, you might want to skip it.

6 out of 10.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Love You Hate You Miss You by Elizabeth Scott

It's been seventy-five days, and Amy still doesn't know how she can possibly exist without her best friend, Julia - especially since it's her fault that Julia's dead. When her shrink tells her it would be a good idea to start a diary, Amy starts writing letters to Julia instead. As she writes letter after letter, she soon discovers that the past wasn't as perfect as she thought it was - and the present deserves a chance too. With sarcastic humor, cutting insight, and beautiful prose, Elizabeth Scott delivers a searing story of a teenage girl struggling to put the pieces of her life back together. (Stolen from back of the book. It's too late for me to come up with something on my own.)

So as I was writing this review, I kept getting the two characters names mixed up. I'm thinking that it's an indication of the (non) effect that this book had on me. I had high expectations for Love You Hate You Miss You (as I do for all of Elizabeth Scott's books), but this one wasn't for me. I'm sure other people will love it, but it just didn't leave an impression on me. I didn't totally hate it - it was merely average. First off, I didn't like Amy at all. And that's a problem if you can't find any redeeming qualities in your main character. She took all the blame for what happened to Julia. I'm not going to say what happened (we'll let that be a surprise) but it was not Amy's fault at all. Maybe like 10 percent, but not enough to be called a murderer. She just moped around, complaining, feeling bad for herself. And since it wasn't her fault, I wanted to yell at Amy to get over herself. Instead of this book being about Amy's grief and healing, it was about her self-centeredness and unwillingness to let anyone help her. It drives me crazy when people think they're too good for therapists and give one word answers in response to tough questions. I don't know, maybe I'm being too harsh. Since I've never been in Amy's situation, I guess I can't really judge her. She did get better as the book went along, and did begin to heal, so that's good.

Okay, I'm tired of ranting about the stuff I didn't like. Things I did like include the title. That sounds shallow, but I think it perfectly sums up the book. I liked Amy's parents and thought they were really nice people, even if Amy couldn't see it. I also liked Amy's sort-of friend Caro. She was actually a really interesting person and I respected her a lot at the end of the book. So this was the novel of supporting characters (except the love interest Patrick, but that's a whole other story). Anyway, even if I didn't enjoy this book so much, I still really like Elizabeth Scott and think she's a good author. I can be critical sometimes, so if you think you can sympathize with Amy, you'll probably enjoy this book.

6 out of 10.

Release Date: May 26, 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Airhead by Meg Cabot

Emerson Watts is not like other girls. She's not at all interested in clothes, make-up or fashion. Instead, she likes playing video games with her best friend, Chris. So going to the grand opening of Stark Megastores with her younger sister to see famous model Nikki Howard and teen pop idol Gabriel Luna is not on the top of Em's Fun List. But Em's life is about to change drastically, and it's not just her sister trying out for the hated cheerleading team. After a freak accident, she is transported into Nikki Howard's body, and now has to live life as a famous novel. Forget about photo shoots, a spying sponsor, and the paparazzil; Em has bigger things to worry about: such as getting her best friend and crush Chris to notice her.

As a fan of Meg Cabot's work, I can't say that I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed reading Airhead. Meg has this great talent of being able to write smart and funny novels that all bring something new to the table. What I really liked about this one was the science fiction aspect of it, which I was not expecting. Em gets a full body transplant, which means her brain was transplanted into another person's body. Obviously this type of surgery is impossible now, but it was really interesting when put into such a light-hearted and comedic book. It's the perfect antithesis: everyone would love to be change places with a famous and beautiful supermodel. Everyone except Em. It was hilarious seeing Em struggle with things most girls are good at, like clothing, make-up, etc. I also liked that although Em was not a girly-girl, she still appreciated Nikki's work (Em admits that modeling is actually hard) and even begins to like Nikki's seemingly shallow and bubble-headed best friend Lulu. Overall, Airhead was an enjoyable read, and I can't wait to see what happens next in Being Nikki.

8.5 out of 10.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey

Jessica has been leading a normal life in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania for seventeen years. It's the beginning of her senior year, though, when things turn weird. A foreign exchange student, Lucius Vladescu, arrives and claims to be Jessica's betrothed. He says that her real name is Antanasia Dragomir, and that she is a vampire princess. The biggest kicker is that Lucius and Jessica have to get married to stop the feuding of rival vampire families. There is no way that Jessica is going to buy into this nonsense. Vampires aren't real, or are they? As she spends more time with Lucius and learns about her heritage, Jess realizes that being a vampire might not be so bad. But as a hot cheerleader and Lucius's blood-thirsty uncles impede upon their romance, Jessica must find a way to win Lucius back and save the world from a vampire war.

I actually really enjoyed reading this book, even though I found the main two characters annoying. The plot was interesting, even though this is another one of the endless vampire novels being written. This is the first book I've read that has featured a vampire princess, so kudos to Beth Fantaskey for an original plotline. I liked the idea that Jessica and Lucius were forced to be together, and then ended up falling in love. Though, the fact that they were "in love" was hard for me to see, mostly because I found the characters obnoxious.

Lucius on one hand, has been raised as a prince and has a very luxurious lifestyle. So when he comes to a farm town in Pennsylvania, he has a lot of complaints and is extremely arrogant. I understand that he has been raised this way, and eventually becomes more tolerant, but it was still annoying. He flip-flops his attitude towards Jessica: sometimes he treats her like a child, and others he's saying how she has the traits to be a princess. Lucius also has an inner struggle: he thinks he's that his evil and is undeserving of being happy. That was annoying, too, because everyone knows that deep down, Lucius wasn't a bad guy. He also did that annoying thing where he wouldn't tell Jessica what was happening and instead treated her like crap, thinking it was to keep her safe. It reminded me a lot of when Edward leaves Bella in New Moon, because he wants her to have a normal life.

Then we have Jessica. She completely hates Lucius at first, because she finds him infuriating (as do I). She also refuses to accept that that Lucius is a vampire. Let me rephrase that, she refuses to believe that he is a vampire. Jessica's parents even say, "Look he's a vampire," but it takes her half-way through the book to have the revelation, that yes, he sucks blood. And then she starts falling in love with him, even though I still don't really know why. Sure he's handsome and rich and smart...but that's about it.

So it sounds like I hated the book, right? I actually didn't. Even thought it wasn't the best I've ever read, I kept wanting to read it and see what happened. Of course, the writing was pretty good, so that helped a lot. This just goes to show that obnoxious characters does not equal bad book.

7 out of 10.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Frankie Landau-Banks attends Alabaster Prep, a prestigious boarding school in New England. When she was a freshmen, Frankie was a slightly dorky girl who looked to her older sister for guidance and support. Now that her sister has graduated and Frankie has taken on a more womanly figure, she is able to find her own place at Alabaster. This includes dating popular senior Matthew Livingston and getting to know all his friends. But when she discovers that Matthew is a member of a secret, all male society, Frankie is more than annoyed. Taking matters into her own hands, Frankie attempts to show the school that girls can be as smart and strong as boys.

Surprisingly, I really enjoyed this book. It's surprising because I didn't really like The Boyfriend List, also written by E. Lockhart. But this book was completely different. It didn't even seem like it was by the same author. Which was a good thing because I didn't really like the tone of the other book. Frankie was just such an interesting character. She was a feminist, or had feminist tendencies (see below for more info) and I really liked her spunk. There was also a lot of cool information about secret societies that I thought were really interesting. As I was reading, I noticed that there were some common themes/trends that I wanted to discuss. So below is a (possibly boring) literary analysis of some things that interested me. If yiou want to bypass this part, just skip to the end.

1) Feminism
It took me awhile to see the strong feminist undercurrents of this novel. Frankie is definitely a feminist, or at least an undeclared feminist. She frequently calls friends and family members out on double standards (at one point she was mad that her mom wouldn't let her take a walk by herself when they were on vacation, but would let her male cousins do so). Frankie is constantly thinking that Matthew and his senior friends look down on her because she is a girl and two years younger than them. Sometimes Frankie was correct in her thoughts, other times I felt she was reading into everything too much. But when she finds out that Matthew is in an all-male secret society and hasn't told her about it, she gets really annoyed.

2) Power Plays
The people in this book do a lot of things to gain control in different situations. And a lot of the things they would do I have never seen before. One thing a lot of the characters did was pretend certain events or conversations never happened. I just thought this was so weird. Frankie would go up to an acquaintance and remind them of something that happened the year before, and then that person would completely deny it. They would lie even though Frankie and that person both knew it was true. Frankie recognizes that this is a way for someone to have an upper hand in a situation, but it was so foreign to me.

3) Marking Territory
Another power play I witnessed a lot was the characters "marking their territory" on their friends or signficant others. Frankie saw this a lot with her boyfriend and his best friend Alpha. Alpha would call Matthew when he knew he was with Frankie and ask him to do something. Matthew would say yes, and it was made clear to Frankie that Alpha was "marking his territory." This was another thing I've never seen before and thought it was an interesting reaction when you think your relationship with someone might be insecure.

So those themes I thought were either important to the overall story (feminism) or just interesting to me on a personal level (points 2 and 3). Since most of my analysis dealt with character interaction, I thought The Disreputable History was especially unique in how the characters related to one another. I don't know if it was because all the kids were from rich families attending a competitive boarding school, but it was definitely something I had never seen before. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Disreputable History and this reading has inspired me to check out more of E. Lockhart's works.

8 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Death By Denim by Linda Gerber

Aphra and her mom have been hiding out in France, biding their time until The Mole's minions decide to come after them again. And after three months in Lyon, someone has discovered them. On the run again, Aphra and her mom put their trust into the CIA to help them escape. But when their contact is found dead in the Seine River, the two realize that The Mole means business. Against the wishes of her mother, Aphra travels to Italy as bait to flush out The Mole, and hopefully have him captured. But, as usual, things do not go according to plan, and Aphra must use her stealth and cunning to save the day.

I think this trilogy is perfect for anyone who likes mystery or action novels. The same plot spans over three novels, but we get a whole new array of locations and characters in each book. It's also somewhat of a spy novel, since Aphra's mom works for the CIA, so any fans of The Bourne books/movies will really enjoy these books. That being said, I like the originality that comes with this mystery/action/spy novel, since it encompasses a whole slew of genres. Aphra is still her spunky self, and we get to see love interest Seth again. The relationship between Aphra and Seth is almost a Romeo and Juliet one, because the two want to be together but can't due to circumstances beyond their control. The sentence structure thing that annoyed me in Death By Latte is gone (thank goodness!) but I still felt like this book could be a lot longer. Maybe it's just me wanting to read more of Aphra kicking the bad guys' butts. Anyway, I thought the ending was perfect. It tied up the loose ends, but the epilogue leaves room for the reader's imagination. I really hope that Linda Gerber continues to write about Aphra and company, because I don't know if I will be able to find more mystery/action/spy books that can compare.

8 out of 10.

Release Date: May 14, 2009

Monday, May 11, 2009

Twilight Stuff

So obviously everyone knows about Twilight and all the merchandise that unfortunately accompanies it. Every other day there's some new Special Edition Twilight coming out. Well, I found two Twilight things that were actually pretty interesting:

Twilite: A Parody by Steve Jenner

Love between a teenage girl and a vampire can be a beautiful thing. Then again, it can get a little ugly. Just ask Stella Crow. Stella is a clumsy but otherwise ordinary girl whose life takes a radical turn the moment she meets Edweird. Though perfect on the outside, Edweird Sullen is remarkably unrefined on the inside. He also happens to be a one hundred year old vampire, trapped in the body of a teenage boy, who has yet to finish high school. Nonetheless, Stella is unconditionally smitten with him. But not everything is rosy in this gloomiest of towns. Edweird's enemies have sworn to put a tragic end to their romance. Against all odds, the bond between Stella and Edweird is nearly strong enough for their love to survive. Most love stories between an impossibly handsome vampire and an ungainly young woman have a magical ending. This one - not so much.

If you want to know more, click here. There are some excerpts that made me laugh so hard. I can't wait to get a copy of this book.

Defining Twilight: Vocabulary Workbook for Unlocking the SAT, ACT, GED, and SSAT by Brian Leaf

Can you resist the allure of Edward’s myriad charms—his ocher eyes and tousled hair, the cadence of his speech, his chiseled alabaster skin, and his gratuitous charm? Will you hunt surreptitiously and tolerate the ceaseless deluge in Forks to evade the sun and uphold the facade? Join Edward and Bella as you learn more than 600 vocabulary words to improve your score on the *SAT, ACT®, GED®, and SSAT® exams!

Use this workbook side-by-side with your own copy of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight!
• Each chapter of the workbook gives you eight words taken from Twilight, with page references for you to read the words in the context of your favorite novel
• Define the words on your own before turning back to the workbook for their actual definitions
• At the end of each section you’ll take SAT, ACT, GED, and SSAT drills and quizzes to review and integrate what you’ve learned
• Plus, you’ll learn synonyms, Latin word parts, and memorization tools throughout the workbook

I actually think this is a pretty good idea. I know Stephenie Meyer might not be the best writer, but she does use some good vocabulary. Now you won't fall asleep while studying for the SAT's. For more information, click here.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle

Fifteen year old Carly attends a private school, lives in a gated community, and can have all the expensive clothes that she wants. But what Carly wants is to be different and for people not to see her as a rich girl. So when her younger sister Anna turns Barbie doll pretty over the summer, it's hard for Carly to create her own image. As Anna begins high school, Carly must cope with a changing relationship with her sister, and rediscover the bonds of sisterhood that have been there all along, even if she couldn't see them.

I thought this book was so cute. I have a younger sister who started high school this year, too, so I could relate with Carly a lot. Sisters don't always get along, but they love each other no matter what, which was a major theme throughout the book. Even though Carly or Anna would get into all kinds of shenanigans, they each had each other to turn to for help and support. I liked reading about these two sisters, a simple story of the bonds of siblings. Peace, Love and Baby Ducks is also very funny; I would find myself laughing almost every other page. Just a sweet and heartwarming story that will make you want to give your sister (or brother) a hug.

8 out of 10.

Release Date: May 14, 2009

Friday, May 1, 2009

Cold Hands, Warm Heart by Jill Wolfson

Dani is constantly in and out of the hospital, always getting tests, x-rays, and operations. But what can you expect when you're born with your heart on the wrong side of your body? Dani hopes and prays for a normal life, which can only be achieved by getting a heart transplant. Unfortunately, organ donations are rare, and hearts are even rarer. In comes Amanda, a gymnast with a healthy body, who is declared brain dead after a head injury. Will she be able to save Dani's life?

I thought the concept of this was really good. A girl who needs a heart transplant, and a girl who can give her a heart. This is a lot like an ABC Family Original Movie, Searching For David's Heart, where this girl searches for the person who received her brother's heart in a transplant. I say this because Dani wonders about her heart donor and what kind of person she is. Dani and her mom even do some harmless stalking. Anyway, when I say this concept is good, it's because the book was average. It was okay: not bad, but n0t good either. I don't really know what to say, it was just kind of boring. There were some touching moments, because even though one girl's life ended, another one was saved. I really liked the ending of the book, and I'll admit that it made me cry. But the one problem I had was with Dani's narration. When it was her point of view, she would just ramble and it felt like she was talking to the reader rather than narrating a story. I kept thinking to myself, Ok Dani let's get to the point. So that annoyed me. Unfortunately, Cold Hands, Warm Heart was merely average.

6 out of 10.