Friday, December 31, 2010

The Top 15 Books of 2010

I read a lot of great books this year and I thought, as the last day of 2010, it was the perfect opportunity to make some suggestions. All the books on the list are books that are published in 2010, and are not necessarily debut authors. Also, all links lead to my reviews. So, in no particular order...

1. Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien
This dystopian about a girl trying to save her parents, secret codes and a mysterious soldier blew my mind when I read it and reaffirmed everything I loved about dystopian literature. You will not be able to put this down!

2. The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting
As an avid reader of Nancy Drew, I always make time for some mysteries, and this did not disappoint. Violet has a secret power that enables her to locate dead bodies (yes, it is very morbid) and she uses her skills to track a serial killer. The Body Finder was a very suspenseful read perfect for a stormy night.

3. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
This mix of historical and contemporary fiction was flawlessly executed in a novel that deals with grief, love, families, death, and the healing powers of music. If you want some thought-provoking and insightful literature, look no further than Revolution.

4. The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
This thrilling sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth follows Mary's daughter Gabry into the forest again as she has to deal with flesh-eating zombies while looking for her mother. This novel is one of the creepier post-apocalyptic series (but it a really good way!).

5. Heist Society by Ally Carter
I was completely blown away by this book because I wasn't expecting it to be totally awesome. The protagonist, Kat, has decided to give up the family business of art heisting, but is pulled back in when her father is accused of a heist he didn't commit. Heist Society has funny characters, a clever and strong heroine, and a jet-setting plot. I can't wait for the sequel!

6. Girl, Stolen by April Henry
One of my favorites of the year, Girl, Stolen, features a blind protagonist who is kidnapped...and she's also suffering from pneumonia. Despite unbeatable odds, she manages to be a strong and capable heroine in this exciting novel.

7. Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales
Mostly Good Girls is probably the funniest book I've ever read. Told in vignette style, the narrator Violet will make anyone laugh at her crazy antics at an all-girls' prep school. I read this so fast and even found myself laughing out loud in public. Be careful where you read this!

8. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
The epic conclusion to arguably one of the best YA dystopian trilogies, this book didn't quite live up to my (extremely) high expectations. Regardless, this novel and the trilogy still remains on my list of top books. I don't think it really needs an explanation.

9. Grace by Elizabeth Scott
I was amazed that one of my favorite contempory authors who pretty much just writes romantic comedy-esque novels (excluding Living Dead Girl) could also write this astonishing dystopia with eerie similarities to current day theocracies. Keep your eyes on Elizabeth Scott - she is a great author!

10. The Lighter Side of Life and Death by C.K. Kelly Martin
Another contemporary romance, this time from a boy's point 0f view, which I don't read quite enough of. There's romance, but there's also familial tension, like the struggles of a new step-family, which are very well-written and realistic. The Lighter Side was my first Martin novel and I can't wait to read more!

11. This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas
This subtlely creepy novel about a priest who begins to stalk his protegee will have you looking over your shoulder every few minutes. You feel the fear and suspense right along with Olivia, and you feel powerless to help her, but you'll still want to keep reading.

12. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
This debut by Lauren Oliver seemed like it might be boring - a girl reliving one day over and over again? But the hype was well-deserved in this beautifully crafted and meaningful novel of second (and third and fourth) chances and the ability we all have to change our lives.

13. All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab
Another mystery, All Unquiet Things was more realistic in that it moved slowly and focused heavily on the character development between the two leads, Neilly and Audrey, and their dead friend Carly. Not without excitement, All Unquiet Things proved that you don't need to stumble across blood stains or have crazy police connections to have an interesting mystery.

14. The Six Rules of Maybe by Deb Caletti
Six Rules features an extremely relatable protagonist, Scarlett, who feels the need to solve everyone's problems, including those of her newly married and pregnant sister. Unrequited love puts Scarlett in the middle of her own drama, but she eventually learns life lessons about herself, her family and her friends. Insightful but accessible, all of Deb Caletti's novels will leave you looking around for her next book.

15. The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott
Another Scott novel, this time one of her famous contemporary romances. In this novel, Sarah falls for her best friend's boyfriend, with interesting consequences. All of Scott's novels are light and cute, but still manage to be more than just mere rom-coms.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday - 18

Waiting on Wednesday is a blog meme started by Jill at Breaking the Spine so bloggers and readers could get excited about upcoming books.

Bumped by Megan McCafferty

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

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

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

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

Oooh, I am so excited for all the upcoming dystopians that are going to be published in 2011! Infertility in futuristic societies seems to be a popular theme (anyone see the movie Children of Men?) but Bumped just sounds plain awesome. Look for it in stores on April 26, 2011.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman, but her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With the Great War brewing, Alek's and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way... taking them aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure. One that will change both their lives forever. (from inside flap)

I have literally been reading Leviathan since the beginning of October. I read most of it, but then suddenly I had all these books for school and review that needed to be read. I put Leviathan aside until now, and just finished the last one hundred pages yesterday. I would not recommend doing this with any book, but luckily I was able to remember most of what was going on.

Leviathan is a really cool novel because it's steampunk and the first steampunk book I've ever read. For those who don't know, steampunk is historical fiction with futuristic elements, with an emphasis on machinery and industrial kinds of things. I also loved that this whole novel was an alternate World War I, with a lot of the historical facts the same, just the technology was totally different. Knowing a bit about WWI helps, but it's not necessary in order to understand Leviathan.

Scott Westerfeld is one of my favorite authors, and his ingenius creations continue to amaze me. In Leviathan, the British took the work of Charles Darwin and "fabricated" animals to help them in war. There are lizards that relay messages like telephones, and a giant airbeast that flies like a zeppelin. I was astounded by the creativity of this and loved the illustrations that helped me to picture these new animals. On the other hand, the Germans and Austro-Hungarians are kind of boring and just have really huge tanks that walk on two legs like a person would do. Still pretty cool, though.

I really enjoyed reading Leviathan because it was just so different from anything I've ever read before. The story, however, wasn't as exciting as I hoped. The novel also read a little like middle grade and think that this may be because the characters are a little younger, like fourteen or fifteen. The third person narration made it hard for me to actually get into the character's heads, too.

I'm not dying to read the sequel, Behemoth, but I am curious as to what happens with Deryn and Alek. I also really want to see what happens when Deryn reveals that she's actually a girl - that should make for some interesting moments. Regardless, fans of steampunk and alternate realities will definitely enjoy Leviathan.

Rating: 7 out of 10.
FTC: bought.

2009/Simon Pulse/440 pages.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

First 70 Pages of Desires of the Dead Online!

Kimberly Derting has announced that the first seventy pages of Desires of the Dead, sequel to the amazing novel The Body Finder, are online. I'll admit that I gave in and read all of it in one sitting and I almost wish I hadn't because now I can't wait to read the rest! Really, though, how am I supposed to wait until February 15 to find out what happens to Violet and her super creepy power? Still, if you are unsure if you want to buy Desires of the Dead, read some of the PDF to get a taste.

The Lost Saint by Bree Despain

Grace Divine sacrificed her soul to cure Daniel Kalbi and lost her beloved brother in the process.

Desperate to find Jude, Grace befriends Talbot - a newcomer to town who promises he can help her be a hero. But as soon as the two become closer, the wolf grows in Grace, and her relationship with Daniel is put in danger - in more ways than one.

Unaware of the dark path she is walking, Grace begins to give into the wolf - not realizing that an enemy has returned and a deadly trap is about to be sprung.

The heart-pounding sequel to The Dark Divine delivers the same sizzling romance and thrilling action as Bree Despain's first novel. (from back cover)

I think that The Lost Saint is a very well-written and exciting sequel to The Dark Divine. If you read my review of the first novel, you will know that I was not particularly enamored with the book, even though I still enjoyed reading it. I am still not in love with this series/trilogy (not sure which it is at this point), but I definitely liked The Lost Saint better than its predessor and definitely recommend it for fans of paranormal reads.

The Lost Saint picks right up where The Dark Divine left off - Jude has run away, Grace is grappling with what happened to her that fated night, and Daniel is still in the picture as Grace's boyfriend. Grace's family is slowly falling apart, as her mother is extremely upset due to Jude's disappearance and Grace's pastor father is absent for extended periods searching for Jude.

What I've come to love about Grace is that she is very strong and independent. And what cracks me up about her is that she refuses to do what anyone tells her. Repeatedly in The Lost Saint, Grace is given commands by her parents, her boyfriend, even her brother occasionally. She pretty much just ignores them and does what she wants anyway, which is awesome in the girl power aspect but is sometimes not so smart because these people are giving her good advice.

A series wouldn't be complete with a love triangle, which develops midway through The Lost Saint. For most of the novel, Daniel is absent and their relationship is strained because Grace won't tell her anything that's going on (even though Grace keeps some secrets herself). Actually Daniel became kind of annoying because he was always lying to Grace where he had been and wouldn't explain himself. So naturally Grace turns to Talbot, who helps her and has some answers to her questions. He even agrees to help her find Jude, something that everyone else in her life doesn't seem to care about. I don't particulary like or dislike Daniel - he's just kind of there, not really doing anything - but I did like Talbot. He's mysterious and has that bad boy thing going on (moreso than Daniel) and I'll be excited to see how the love triangle develops further in the next book.

Speaking of the next book, when is it coming out? Because The Lost Saint left off with such a huge cliffhanger that I really need to find out what happens next. Unfortunately, The Lost Saint hasn't even been released yet so I will probably have to wait awhile.

While this series isn't my all-time favorite, I do enjoy a paranormal book every once and awhile (especially one that doesn't feature vampires). If you've read The Dark Divine, you should definitely read its sequel, which is a superior novel in my opinion.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
FTC: ARC provided by publisher.
Release Date: December 28, 2010

2010/Egmont/404 pages

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas & Contest Winnner!

First off, I would like to wish a very Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it! I hope Santa brings you everything you want and you get to enjoy the day with your family and friends. And hopefully there's a couple books under the tree :) I got some that I can't wait to read!

Also I'd like to announce the winner of The Lost Saint giveaway.

Nicole B!

I have just sent you an email so please contact me within a week with your address or I'll pick another winner.
Merry Christmas again!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Reminder: The Lost Saint Giveaway Ends Tonight!

This is just a little reminder that the contest for an ARC of The Lost Saint by Bree Despain ends tonight. The contest post says it ends at 6 pm, but in the spirit of Christmas I'll extend it to 8 pm so you have a little more time to enter. Extra entries are available if you want more chances to win. Visit the contest post for details.

I also hope everyone's Christmas Eve goes well! Get out to the stores soon to get your last minute shopping done.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Dark Divine by Bree Despain

Grace Divine - daughter of the local pastor - always knew something terrible happened the night Daniel Kalbi disappeared and her brother Jude came home covered in his own blood.

Now that Daniel's returned, Grace must choose between her growing attraction to him and her loyalty to her brother.

As Grace gets closer to Daniel, she learns the truth about that most mysterious night and how to save the ones she loves, but it might cost her the one thing she cherishes most: her soul. (taken from inside jacket)

I started out not liking The Dark Divine at all. I was all ready to write a review saying how this book just didn't click with me. But once I got past the halfway mark, I started liking The Dark Divine more and more. While I still didn't love it, I can definitely say that I enjoyed reading The Dark Divine.

The book took awhile for me to get into. I just wasn't all that interesting in reading about Grace and some of the other characters. Grace annoyed me in small, subtle ways - like how she always described her friend April like a dog. And then Grace's brother, Jude, was so perfect in the beginning it seemed unrealistic (that changes very quickly, however, and makes Jude a much more interesting character). I'm still not completely sold on Daniel, as the only reason that Grace seems to be in love with him was shared history and people telling her not to talk to him.

But as the plot unfolded, those little things I disliked in the beginning were pushed to the side. I loved the religious symbolism and that it wasn't preachy at all. I loved how the mystery tied into the religion stuff and was just pretty awesome. There's a lot of action at the end and a pretty big twist in which things are cleared up while other things are left open.

While I'm not jumping for joy for The Dark Divine, I did like it and enjoyed reading it a lot. I definitely liked it enough to read the sequel, The Lost Saint, which I hope answers some of my questions. If you want to read The Lost Saint, be sure to enter my contest, which ends tomorrow night!

Rating: 7 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from library.

2010/Egmont/372 pages.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday - 17

Waiting on Wednesday was started by Jill at Breaking the Spine for bloggers and readers to get excited about upcoming books.

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

City of Fallen Angels takes place two months after the events of City of Glass. In it, a mysterious someone’s killing the Shadowhunters who used to be in Valentine’s Circle and displaying their bodies around New York City in a manner designed to provoke hostility between Downworlders and Shadowhunters, leaving tensions running high in the city and disrupting Clary’s plan to lead as normal a life as she can — training to be a Shadowhunter, and pursuing her relationship with Jace. As Jace and Clary delve into the issue of the murdered Shadowhunters, they discover a mystery that has deeply personal consequences for them — consequences that may strengthen their relationship, or rip it apart forever. Meanwhile, internecine warfare among vampires is tearing the Downworld community apart, and only Simon — the Daylighter who everyone wants on their side — can decide the outcome; too bad he wants nothing to do with Downworld politics. Love, blood, betrayal and revenge: the stakes are higher than ever in City of Fallen Angels.

When I heard that Cassandra Clare was writing a fourth book in The Mortal Instruments series, I was estactic.This trilogy was one of my favorites and I can't wait to follow Clary and Jace around some more. Look for it in stores on April 5, 2011.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Summer of Skinny Dipping by Amanda Howells

Sometimes I still wake up shivering in the early hours of the morning, drowning in dreams of being out there in the ocean that summer, of looking up at the moon and feeling as invisible and free as a fish. But I'm jumping ahead, and to tell the story right I have to go back to the very beginning. To a place called Indigo Beach. To a boy with pale skin that glowed against the dark waves. To the start of something neither of us could have predicted, and which would mark us forever, making everything that came after and before seem like it belonged to another life. (from back cover)

As I was typing the summary, I realized that it is very vague and doesn't really tell you anything at all about the novel. So I'll give you the scoop: basically, Mia and her family go to the Hamptons in New York to stay at her aunt and uncle's beach house for the whole summer. This is usually a tradition, but it's the first time it's happened in a few years. Mia is really excited to see her cousin Corrine, who's the same age, and they are really close whenever they get together. However, since the last time Mia saw her, Corrine has transformed into a beautiful, and snobby, socialite, who likes to party and spend her parents' money. So we have this conflict about Mia feeling out of place... and the she meets Simon, the love interest.

I was really excited to read The Summer of Skinny Dipping because I love summer (and need some of the beach and warm sun to get me through this cold cold winter) and because I heard some good things about it from other bloggers. However, I was slightly disappointed with the book as a whole, and really disappointed with the ending.

Starting with the book as a whole, I definitely found The Summer of Skinny Dipping to be enjoyable. There was never a time where I wanted to stop reading nor do I regret this read. It was fun, the romance was light and cute, and it takes place at the beach, which in my book can make any novel infinitely better. I thought Simon was sweet and interesting because he likes The Great Gatsby and wants to be an artist.

What I didn't like was the class conflict and social distinctions that became very tiresome. Everything about the book centered around money, and sometimes even that wasn't enough. You have Mia and her immediate family, who isn't poor but is struggling, and Mia's mother was a debutante in her day. There's Mia's aunt and uncle and their family who are wealthy and have a lot of rich friends. There's Corrine's rich friends that come over for parties. And there is also Simon, who is also rich, but they are noveau riche, which is apparently a bad thing, meaning that their money is new and they still aren't part of the elite social stratum that constitutes the Hamptons. I don't have a problem with rich or poor people or anyone in between, but when all the conflict in the novel centers around these class distintions the novel becomes tiresome. It was all about how Mia didn't fit in and then how Simon also didn't fit in (though for two different reasons). I started to get sick of reading about stereotypical airhead rich kids (though obviously there are some). For some reason, all this just rubbed me the wrong way. At least Corrine started taking on some character development but all the rest of the characters were really shallow. This might not annoy anyone else but it just didn't work for me in the novel.

The part of The Summer of Skinny Dipping that disappointed me the most was the ending. It was obvious the author was going for some TRAGIC ENDING, but it just made me scratch my head and think, really? Not that I'm against sad endings or anything, I just thought this was was not well-written and not what I would have chosen. It was just so...bizarre.

Sorry if this review doesn't make much sense, I'm a little tired. But all in all, I definitely enjoyed The Summer of Skinny Dipping and think that it was fun read (until you get to the end, of course). I probably won't read it again, but you can still give it a try and see if you like it.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from library.
2010/Sourcebooks Fire/295 pages.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Six Rules of Maybe by Deb Caletti

Scarlet spends most of her time worrying about other people. Some are her friends, others are practically strangers, and then there are the ones no one else even notices. Trying to fix their lives comes naturally to her. And pushing her own needs to the side is part of the deal.

So when her older sister comes home unexpectedly married and pregnant, Scarlet has a new person to worry about. But all of her good intentions are shattered when the unthinkable happens: she falls for her sister's husband. For the first time in a long time, Scarlet's not fixing a problem, she's at the center of one. And ignoring her feelings doesn't seem to be an option...

This beautifully crafted novel by National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti is about crossing that blurry line between helping other people and hurting ourselves - and how to step back over it. (from inside flap)

Deb Caletti is an awesome writer, and her newest book, The Six Rules of Maybe, doesn't disappoint in the least. I love reading her books because I always get totally and completely sucked into the story and the characters, and feel as though they are real people whose lives I am intruding upon.

I loved reading about Scarlet because she was a lot like me. She's kind-hearted and feels compelled to help everyone, even if that means that she ignores her own feelings and needs. She's the girl who would be the secret advice columnist in the school newspaper - everyone, including the popular crowd, come to her with their problems. Besides dispensing some words of wisdom, Scarlet always goes a step futher and actively tries to solve their problems. It's really nice of her, but sometimes Scarlet gets too involved in her subjects' lives that when not everything goes as planned she gets upset.

This same thing happens when her older sister Juliet returns home pregnant and married. But this time it's not so much helping her sister as making sure Juliet's making the "right" choices. When Scarlet suspects that Juliet is cheating on her husband, Hayden, Scarlet feels like its her place to step in and berate Juliet and try to stop her. Though, I would probably do the same thing with my sister, so I can't really blame Scarlet. But this causes problem because, as I said before, Scarlet feels as though she has the weight of the world on her shoulders.

On top of all this, Scarlet also falls in love with Hayden, which is kind of sad only because he's married and it's obvious that he's head over heels in love with Juliet, even though most of the time she acts pretty aloof towards him. I really felt Scarlet's pain because he's a really good guy: kind, terribly romantic, hopeful, and sweet. He would be a great guy for Scarlet besides the married part. And Scarlet and Hayden really did have a connection; it wasn't just her longing from afar. They become good friends, however, Hayden doesn't feel the same way about Scarlet that she does about him.

Despite this, throughout The Six Rules of Maybe, Scarlet learns some important lessons. Namely, that she can't control and fix everything, no matter how good her intentions are. She also learns to stand up for herself and doesn't allow her kind-heartedness to cause her to be a doormat to the world. There's even a happy ending in the love department, though I'll leave the details to the novel.

I love Deb Caletti and absolutely adored The Six Rules of Maybe. The book just felt so real, and I swear that there really is a Scarlet somewhere out there in the world. The book had so much detail, and just felt so realistic. I definitely recommend this and all of Caletti's other books - you won't be disappointed.

Rating: 9 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from library.

2010/Simon Pulse/336 pages.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday - 16

Waiting on Wednesday was started by Jill at Breaking The Spine for book bloggers and readers to get excited about upcoming books.

The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan

There are many things that Annah would like to forget: the look on her sister’s face when she and Elias left her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, her first glimpse of the horde as they found their way to the Dark City, the sear of the barbed wire that would scar her for life. But most of all, Annah would like to forget the morning Elias left her for the Recruiters.
Annah’s world stopped that day and she’s been waiting for him to come home ever since. Without him, her life doesn’t feel much different from that of the dead that roam the wasted city around her. Then she meets Catcher and everything feels alive again.

Except, Catcher has his own secrets -- dark, terrifying truths that link him to a past Annah’s longed to forget, and to a future too deadly to consider. And now it’s up to Annah -- can she continue to live in a world drenched in the blood of the living? Or is death the only escape from the Return’s destruction?

This is the last book in The Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy and I cannot wait to read it! The cover and title are both amazing. Look for it in stores March 22, 2011.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Spray by Harry Edge

A group of teens sign up for an assassination game on the streets of a big city. Their weapons: pressurized water guns. It's meant to be a game, a sport. But for some it's more than harmless fun. To win, they'll use any means necessary.

Two hundred players. Three weeks of tense cat-and-mouse action. Every stalker is being stalked and only one player will be left standing. No one will be the same.

Through multiple points of view, Harry Edge puts readers right into the middle of the action - watch your back! (from back cover)

It's been a long time since I've read any action novels. Actually, I don't think I've read that many action novels at all, since I'm not a big fan of action movies. But I really liked Spray and it's thrilling and fast-paced plot.

It's sort of my life goal to play the game Assassin, and hopefully while I'm at college someone will get the game going. For those who don't know, Assassin is kind of like tag, but you have a target and you are also someone else's target. There's different variations, and in Spray you have to spray your opponent with a water gun.

If the game Spray came to my city, I would definitely want to play. However, since it's city-wide, it's pretty likely you won't know your target, and a lot of time is spent staking them out, trying to hit them in valid locations (for example, you can't spray someone in transportation or while they are at work). I don't know how well this game would work in real life, because you get the home and work address of your target and to me that's a little creepy. But I suspended my disbelief and really got into the action.

Spray is a little confusing, because they are a ton of different points-of-view, and I started to forget who was who and who was after who. You also don't get any in-depth characterizations of any of the characters, which could be a minus to those who like character-driven novels. By the end it's a little better, but I understood why the author wrote it this way, so the reader could see a lot of things going on at once. And you really do get sucked into the book. I was reading this in the library waiting for my next class, and when I got up to leave I started looking around and felt like I was in the game myself.

There's also this interesting backdrop that the country is in a major drought and it's becoming a world-wide problem. Ironically, the players are still playing Spray with water guns. I thought this theme would have been really cool if it was explored more, however the author left it in the background.

I would recommend Spray for fans of action and thriller books/movies, because it has a fast-paced plot. This book isn't a masterpiece by any means, but it's definitely a fun read if you're in the mood for a lot of action.

Rating: 7 out of 10.
FTC: reviewed through the Henry Holt InGroup program.

2010/Feiwel and Friends/228 pages.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Giveaway: The Lost Saint by Bree Despain

I have the pleasure of hosting another contest, this time for an ARC of highly-anticipated novel, The Lost Saint by Bree Despain. For those who don't know, The Lost Saint is the sequel to The Dark Divine and will be released on December 28.

Grace Divine made the ultimate sacrifice to cure Daniel Kalbi. She was infected with the werewolf curse while trying to save him, and lost her beloved brother in the process.
Desperate to find Jude, Grace befriends Talbot, a newcomer to town. But as the two grow closer, Grace’s relationship with Daniel is put in danger — in more ways than one.

Unaware of the dark path she is walking, Grace begins to give into the wolf inside of her — not realizing that an enemy has returned and a deadly trap is about to be sprung.

Bree Despain delivers sizzling romance and thrilling action in the heart-pounding sequel to The Dark Divine. (From GoodReads)

Contest Rules:
- Contest ends on December 24, 2010, 6 pm EST.
- Open to US residents only.
- Extra entries are available.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks

Her parents' divorce left 17-year-old Veronica Miller embittered and confused. Three years later, "Ronnie" still seethes with anger toward her father, a musician and teacher who has abandoned hectic New York City for the quiet beach town of Wilmington, North Carolina. Nevertheless, she reluctantly agrees to her mother's altruistic plan that for the good of all concerned, she should visit her estranged father in his new home. As the story of The Last Song unfolds, novelist Nicholas Sparks weaves his magic, threading together the intricate story of three very different people tied inextricably together. (from GoodReads)

I was a little wary about reading this book. I haven't seen the movie (which is a good thing) but I knew that Nicholas Sparks wrote this book with Miley Cyrus in mind for the lead character (why in the world, I have no idea). Once I read the author's notes in the back, I realized that a producer called Nicholas Sparks saying that Miley was interesting in doing one of his movies, and did he have anything laying around? Sparks didn't, but of course he set out to write the screenplay first and then the book. Which is the oddest thing I've ever heard of. Anyway, I didn't know all this in the beginning, but I set out reading The Last Song not sure what to expect.

The good thing is that I enjoyed The Last Song more than Dear John. Since this book is newer maybe Sparks has improved his writing style, but I'm not really sure. I liked the story better, the ending better, and the characters better than I did in Dear John. In the beginning of reading The Last Song I was trying really hard to not imagine Miley Cyrus as Ronnie. And it actually wasn't too difficult; although, if I had seen the movie it probably would have been impossible.

As for the plot, Ronnie is supposed to be the bad kid, the rebellious teenager who sneaks out, talks back, and has an all-around rude attitude. But, Ronnie was the parent's dream rebellious child (or maybe Spark's imagining of what he thinks a rebellious child is). Besides stealing a bracelet once and hanging around some sketchy people, she doesn't sleep around, do drugs or drink. I thought it was a tad unrealistic that she didn't do anything bad, but I didn't mind so much because I don't condone those things at all.

So Ronnie and her brother Jonah visit their father for the summer and she falls in love with a rich kid named Will. I liked Will and I liked their relationship, although Sparks doesn't go that in-depth in their feelings and emotions. I didn't really feel anything when they said they loved each other, so I think Sparks needs to work on not distancing his characters.

This wouldn't be a Nicholas Sparks novel if there wasn't some TRAGIC EVENT that is supposed to illicit some emotion. I was spoiled beforehand so I knew what happened, and while I was sad for all the characters, I wasn't actually sad. I didn't cry and I didn't really feel anything deeper than some sympathy for everyone in the book.

That being said, The Last Song wasn't a bad novel at all and I would recommend it to fans of Nicholas Sparks. It had a cute romance and a sad ending if you like to cry over books/movies, but it wasn't an amazing novel.

Rating: 7 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from a friend.

2009/Grand Central Publishing/390 pages.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

This drama is one of the great comedy plays by William Shakespeare. The play revolves around the adventures of four young lovers, a group of amateur actors and their interactions with the fairies who inhabit a moonlit forest. The story takes place in Midsummer and is a complex farce featuring Hermia & Lysander and Helena & Demetrius. Their romantic intrigues are confused and complicated still further by entering the forest where Oberon, the King of the Fairies and his Queen, Titania, preside. Puck (or Robin Goodfellow) is a major character who is full of mischief and tricks. Other visitors to the enchanted forest include Bottom the weaver and his friends Snug, Snout, Quince and Flute the amateur dramatists who want to rehearse their terrible but hilarious version of the play Pyramus and Thisbe. (from

I've read a few of Shakespeare's plays at this point, and I must say that A Midsummer Night's Dream is up there as one of my favorites (and is probably my favorite comedy). It was actually pretty funny as a play. You might think that something written in the 17th century wouldn't appeal to people of today, but it still does, even after all this time. It really demonstrates the timelessness of Shakespeare and his work.

I had to read this play for my theater class and now we are in the midst of a group project on it, which includes acting out a scene. It's really cool to read the play, research it, discuss it, and then watch others act it out. I feel like I learned more about the play this way.

As for the story, I think it has a brilliant plot. There's a lot going on, as well as a lot of characters, but it all ties together wonderfully. You have the lovers, Hermia and Lysander, and then Demetrius, who is in love with Hermia and Hermia's friend Helena, who is in love with Demetrius. Hilarity and disaster ensues when Puck (a fairy) matchmakes the couples and messes everything up. There's also Oberon and Titania, the fairy king and queen, and group of workers who are putting on a play. These workers are hilarious because they aren't the smartest characters and are always using the wrong words to describe things and just all around not very bright.

I feel like I'm not doing the best to explain this play, but just know that it's really funny and well worth a read if you need a good book for English class or something. I also read the Spark Notes No Fear Shakespeare version, with modern English on one side and Shakespeare on the other, which was really helpful. Though I do insist you still read the Shakespeare side because his writing is beautiful.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from a friend.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday - 15

Once again, it's Waiting on Wednesday time! WoW was started by Jill at Breaking the Spine so bloggers could get excited about upcoming books.

XVI by Julia Karr

Nina Oberon's life is pretty normal: she hangs out with her best friend, Sandy, and their crew, goes to school, plays with her little sister, Dee. But Nina is 15. And like all girls she'll receive a Governing Council ordered tattoo on her 16th birthday. XVI. Those three letters will be branded on her wrist, announcing to all the world, even the most predatory of men, that she is ready for sex. Considered easy prey by some, portrayed by the Media as sluts who ask for attacks, becoming a "sex-teen" is Nina's worst fear. That is, until right before her birthday, when Nina's mom is brutally attacked. With her dying breaths, she reveals to Nina a shocking truth about her past - one that destroys everything Nina thought she knew. Now, alone but for her sister, Nina must try to discover who she really is, all the while staying one step ahead of her mother's killer

Yay, another dystopian novel! Turning 16 isn't the celebration it is today - it sounds so creepy. XVI will be released January 6, 2011, so not long now!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hearts at Stake by Alyxandra Harvey

On Solange's sixteenth birthday, she is going to wake up dead. As if that's not bad enough, she also has to outwit her seven overprotective older brothers, avoid the politics involved with being the only daughter born to an ancient vampire dynasty, and elude Kieran Black - agent of an anti-vampire league who is searching for his father's killer and is intent on staking Solange and her entire family.

Luckily she has her own secret weapon - her human best friend Lucy - who is willing to defend Solange's right to a normal life, whether she's being smothered by her well-intentioned brothers or abducted by a power-hungry queen. Two unlikely alliances are formed in a race to save Solange's eternal life - Lucy and Solange's brother Nicholas, and Solange and Kieran Black - in a dual romance that is guaranteed to jump start any romance-lover's heart.

Even fans of the genre who've seen it all will find a fresh read with kick-butt characters and family dynamics that ring true for all brothers and sisters - vampire or otherwise. (from Fantastic Fiction)

My, oh my, it can't be another vampire book, can it? Well, it is. Normally I should be sick of vampires by now, but when I find a well-written and interesting book, well vampires become very interesting creatures again. Hearts at Stake tries its hand at some original vampire lore. In this novel, people can be turned into vampires, but they can also be born, which is the case with Solange. She and her seven brothers were human until their sixteenth birthdays (always the catalyst for supernatural events) when they undergo the bloodchange and become vampires. Soon they start craving blood, sleep all day and can't be out in the sunlight, like traditional vampires. Solange is on the cusp of her sixteenth birthday and is dreading the change because it can be very dangerous.

Meanwhile, royal intrigue abounds, because Solange is part of a vampire dynasty and as the first female vamp to be born in centuries, she's right in line to be princess. There's also the vampire hunters that are looking for the Drakes and suitors from all over the world that would come with being Solange's husband.

There's a lot of stuff happening in Hearts at Stake, which keeps the story fresh and action-packed. There's never a dull moment for Solange and Lucy, between whom points-of-view switch every chapter. Each also has a new romance; there's Lucy and Solange's brother Nicholas and Solange and vampire-hunter Kieran Black. I though Lucy and Nicholas's relationship was a little more convincing as it got more page time, but I think Kieran and Solange should be interesting in the next two books.

Since there was so much going on, things got a little confusing at time but I still thoroughly enjoyed Hearts at Stake. I can't wait to read the sequel, Blood Feud.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from library.

2009/Walker Books for Young Readers/256 pages

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult

One of America's most thought-provoking novelists, New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult brilliantly examines belief, miracles, and the complex core of family.

When the marriage of Mariah White and her cheating husband, Colin, turns ugly and disintegrates, their seven-year-old daughter, Faith, is there to witness it all. In the aftermath of a rapid divorce, Mariah falls into a deep depression - and suddenly Faith, a child with no religious background whatsoever, hears divine voices, starts reciting biblical passages, and develops stigmata. And when the miraculous healings begin, mother and daughter are thrust into the volatile center of controversy and into the heat of a custody battle - trapped in a mad media circus that threatens what little stability the family has left. (from back cover)

By now everyone should know that I absolutely adore Jodi Picoult and her novels so I'm sure you will not be surprised when I say that I thought Keeping Faith was an amazing book. I'm sure there will be some Picoult books that I don't like that much, but out of the several I have read, I have loved all of them.

I picked up Keeping Faith even though, like Faith, I do not come from a religious background. Since Picoult is such a seasoned writer, I knew she wouldn't be preachy, but instead would just examine and discuss the story. I liked that there was room for interpretation in Faith's case, even though it heavily leans toward the divine intervention interpretation. Another connection I felt with Faith was that even though she was seven years old in the book, the novel takes place in 1999, so I would have been the same exact age then. Which is pretty awesome, in my opinion.

Keeping Faith has many themes: faith, belief vs. non-belief, broken families, Christianity vs. Judaism (this comes into play because technically Faith is Jewish, but she exhibits Christian visions, like stigmata), depression and mental health, some romance, the love of a mother. Even though there is a lot going on, including flashbacks and different points-of-view, everything is still seamlessly weaved together to create a convincing story. All of the characters are completely fleshed out and have many complexities. Mariah, for example, has a history of suicide and depression, however by the end of the novel she is strong and loving and a great mother to Faith. I loved watching her progession and seeing the changes that people can achieve. Another awesome character was Millie, who was Mariah's mother. She was the grandmother you always want - tough, but funny and also very kind and loving. She reminded me a little of my grandmother, but Millie has much more spunk and sass, which I love.

Overall, I think Keeping Faith accomplished a lot - it was a story about faith and belief, and I think people of all religions or non-religions will enjoy this book. Jodi Picoult picked a tough topic but she did a wonderful job and Keeping Faith turned out to be a very thought-provoking book.

Rating: 9 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from library.

1999/Harper Perennial/432 pages

Saturday, November 27, 2010

2011 Debut Author Challenge

Kristi at The Story Siren is once again hosting the 2011 Debut Author Challenge! This is will be my third year participating (and winning) and I'm really excited to read some books by some new authors. My goal is to read 15 books and here are some of the ones I would like to read:

1. XVI by Julia Karr
2. The False Princess by Ellis O'Neal
3. Across the Universe by Beth Revis
4. The Demon Trapper's Daughter by Jana Oliver
5. Wither by Lauren DeStefano
6. Momento Nora by Angie Smibert
7. The Liar Society by Lisa & Laura Roecker
8. Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys
9. Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris
10. The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher
11. Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer
12. Exposed by Kimberly Marcus
13. Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell
14. A Beautiful Dark by Jocelyn Davies
15. Vicious Little Darlings by Katherine Easer

Friday, November 26, 2010

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Andi Alpers is having a tough senior year. After the death of her brother two years ago, she has been self-medicating herself on anti-anxiety pills and has started to slack off in school. The only thing that keeps her somewhat sane is music; playing guitar, studying famous musicians, and listening to her iPod are the only things that Andi has going for her. But when her absent father discovers that Andi has been slacking off so much that she might not graduate, he takes her to Paris with him so she can work on her senior thesis. While in France, Andi discovers the diary of Alexandrine Paradis, a young girl in Revolutionary France who is the companion of the dauphin, Louis-Charles. Immediately Andi finds a connection with Alexandrine, who's love for the young prince parallels Andi's feelings about her own brother. But one night in the Catacombs makes Alexandrine's story come alive, and changes Andi forever.

I thought that Revolution was a magnificient novel. It takes two tough stories - Andi's grief and Alexandrine's suffering during the French Revolution - and makes them feel real. The stories intertwine so perfectly; nothing is rushed and the different tales are not choppy - it's almost as if they belong together. The reader is smoothly and surely drawn into both Andi and Alexandrine's worlds. Jennifer Donnelly did an amazing job of writing about the French Revolution, one of history's most interesting periods. I loved learning about this time in history class, and I felt like I had an even richer experience reading it in this context. There is so much detail and you feel as if you are there with Alexandrine, experiencing the horror of the Revolution and the Reign of Terror. At times the plot is slow-moving, but it allows for a lot of backstory and for the reader to learn about the Revolution.

The parallels between Andi and Alexandrine are uncanny - their names are even an anagram - and it's as if they are the same person living in two different centuries. Andi could be a handful at times, she contemplates suicide several times throughout the novel, but she actually was a sympethic character. Alexandrine was a little more likable: in the beginning very ambitious, but at the end she is self-sacrificing, her love for the the young boy Louis-Charles taking over.

As for the writing, Revolution is truly literary in every sense of the word. There are all the literary techniques involved: symbolism, allegory, allusions. There were references to Dante's The Divine Comedy throughout the book and parallels between Andi's life as a rich New Yorker and the aristocracy of the French Revolution. I could definitely see this book becoming one used in English classrooms because the story was so rich, so complex, yet so the message so simple. All in all, Revolution was an amazing novel and I recommend that everyone go and buy it.

Rating: 10 out of 10!!
FTC: I received this book through the Flamingnet Student Review Program.

2010/Delacorte/496 pages.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday - 14

Waiting on Wednesday was started by Jill at Breaking the Spine to promote upcoming books that have yet to be published.

Stay by Deb Caletti

Clara’s relationship with Christian is intense from the start, and like nothing she’s ever experienced before. But what starts as devotion quickly becomes obsession, and it’s almost too late before Clara realizes how far gone Christian is—and what he’s willing to do to make her stay.

Now Clara has left the city—and Christian—behind. No one back home has any idea where she is, but she still struggles to shake off her fear. She knows Christian won’t let her go that easily, and that no matter how far she runs, it may not be far enough...

Deb Caletti is an amazing author and Stay sounds wonderfully creepy and I'm sure it will be another awesome read. Stay will be published on April 19, 2011.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Book vs. Movie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1)

I haven't done a Book vs. Movie post in sooo long, but it's probably because I haven't seen that many movies that have been based on books that I've read. But I did see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on Saturday.

Review: (no spoilers)

Let me just say it: the movie was awesome!!!! Usually, I have to separate the books and movies, because the movies are never as good as the books and always leave a ton of stuff out, but this movie was just like reading the book. It helped that I had just finished reading the first half of Deathly Hallows right before I saw the movie, so it was like watching the book on a screen, which is the whole point of the movie franchise. Everything was taken right from the book, even the dialogue, and when they did gloss over parts, it was understandable and all the feelings and themes were still conveyed effectively. I think splitting it into two movies just allowed for so much more detail to be put into it. Now I am so excited to see Part 2 and cannot wait for July!

Friday, November 19, 2010

When It Happens by Susane Colasanti

Reminiscent of the movie Say Anything, a debut novel for all those searching for The One!

Sara and Tobey couldn't be more different. She is focused on getting into her first-choice college; he wants to win Battle of the Bands. Sara's other goal is to find true love, so when Dave, a popular jock, asks her out, she's thrilled. But then there's Tobey. His amazing blue eyes and quirky wit always creep into her thoughts. It just so happens that one of Tobey's goals is also to make Sara fall in love with him. Told in alternating points of view, Sara and Tobey's real connection will have everyone rooting for them from the minute they meet! (from Goodreads)

You know, this book wasn't half bad. I've never read anything by Susane Colasanti before this, and she did a pretty good job capturing the sweet romance and teenage perspective on life. It took me a little time to actually get into When It Happens; the first 30 pages weren't that great and I kind of wanted to stop reading. But then I decided to give the book a chance and started liking it much better as I kept reading.

In the beginning, Sara starts dating Dave, who seems perfect: popular, cute, on the football team. But in reality he's kind of a jerk and is an extremely shallow character. And while Sara is trying to figure out what to do with Dave, she starts talking to Tobey, the quiet musician who's a bit of slacker (which is opposite of Sara's valedictorian-esque mania for getting good grades. Just joking, that's how I was (and still am)). I liked that Tobey takes matters into his own hands and starts popping up whereever Sara is. For example, he asks to switch partners in music class so he can be partners with Sara - I thought it was kind of cute, even though it does sound a little creepy.

What I liked about Tobey was that he changes his slacker ways and starts focusing on his schoolwork and future a little more. It was nice seeing good changes occuring due to a girlfriend's influence. Too many books have a girl ruining her life because she's dating some guy who tells her what to do all the time. This book showed the positive things that can happen when you let good people into your life.

One thing I didn't like was that when the book changed points-of view between Tobey and Sara sometimes we got the same scene from each other's perspective. Sometimes that was nice, but at times it was a little repetitive.
There isn't much more to say on When It Happens. It was a fairly good read - not my favorite book ever, but I would recommend to someone wanting a sweet romance. It definitely fits the bill.

Rating: 7 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from library.

2006/ Viking Juvenile/320 pages.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Contest Winners!

The You Already Know How to Be Great giveaway is closed. And I have picked the winners. Drum roll please...


Congrats, guys! I've emailed everyone who won and I'll need your full name and mailing address by November 20, or else I'll pick another winner.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Contest Reminder!

I just wanted to let everyone know that the You Already Know How to be Great giveaway is ending tonight, 11:59 pm EST! So if you still want to enter you have some time. There are five copies up for grabs so I would totally recommend entering. Visit the contest post for more details.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love - the deliria - blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the governments demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love. (from Goodreads)

I think I'm going to have a fangirl moment while reviewing Delirium. Because it was AWESOME!!! And I really want everyone to their hands on a copy but it isn't released until February, so no ardent encouragement for you to get in your cars and drive to the nearest bookstore. Not yet, at least. Okay, so let me tell you why I loved Delirium.

You guys are going to get really tired of hearing me talk about dystopias, but alas, Delirium is a dystopia. I'm trying to write a dsytopia for NaNoWriMo, and let me just say, it's is really hard. The world building is actually really difficult; you have to have all these rules and then the characters have to follow them and then they have to make some sense and it's a big ole mess. So now that I've attempted to write one, I have a newfound respect for any author who writes a believable dystopian novel, Lauren Oliver included. Lena lives in the United States but it's so different that it takes a lot of work to successfully set everything up.
But I was really interested in the fact that love has been outlawed. It's kind of hard to believe, but is there anything bad about love? The government in Delirium wants to get rid of the negative emotions that can be experienced with love: jealousy, longing, sadness, the famous lovesickness (loss of appetite, concentration, etc). Also, in eradicating love, the country is also hate-free, which I guess could be a good thing. But what you notice about people who have had the operation is that they are kind of emotionless. At least they are free of extreme emotions. They may care for their family members and spouses, but there is no actual love. All the characters at some point say that they are happy now that they have the operation, but it's more of that they are content, which is not the same thing as being happy.

I found some similarities between Delirium and the Uglies series: an operation that takes place only at a certain age, two protagonists who want the operation at the beginning, all characters who have the operation say how happy they are, the operation actually changes your brain chemisty, etc. I don't think these were intentional, but it's interesting to compare the two.
I should probably mention the love interest: Alex. He was a pretty interesting character, he has some secret history which you'll learn about. It's kind of ironic that Lena falls in love just as she is saying how she can't wait to get the operation, but it really changed her. In the beginning, Lena truly believes that her life will be better once she doesn't love anymore, but by the end, her outlook is completely different. Which is a good thing, in my opinion.

Another thing I loved was that each chapter was headed by a little excerpt from some history textbook or book that is prominent in their culture. It just made the world Lena was living in more believable and realistic, like I could see some future society writing those things. I also loved that the characters read Romeo and Juliet as a cautionary tale, even though the readers know it's anything but.

All in all, I absolutely loved Delirium. It has excellent world-building, realistic characters and an interesting plot (all prerequisites for a great book). It's also a trilogy, which I didn't find out until I finished it, but I am so excited to read more about this society. I definitely recommend this, but unfortunately you will have to wait a few months for the release date.

Release Date: February 1, 2011
Rating: 9 out of 10.
FTC: provided through One ARC Tours.

2011/HarperTeen/440 pages.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday - 13

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature for bloggers to discuss their favorite upcoming books. Started by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

The Demon Trapper's Daughter by Jana Oliver

Riley Blackthorne just needs a chance to prove herself – and that’s exactly what the demons are counting on…

Seventeen-year-old Riley, the only daughter of legendary Demon Trapper, Paul Blackthorne, has always dreamed of following in her father's footsteps. The good news is, with human society seriously disrupted by economic upheaval and Lucifer increasing the number of demons in all major cities, Atlanta’s local Trappers’ Guild needs all the help they can get – even from a girl. When she’s not keeping up with her homework or trying to manage her growing crush on fellow apprentice, Simon, Riley’s out saving distressed citizens from foul-mouthed little devils – Grade One Hellspawn only, of course, per the strict rules of the Guild. Life’s about as normal as can be for the average demon-trapping teen.

But then a Grade Five Geo-Fiend crashes Riley’s routine assignment at a library, jeopardizing her life and her chosen livelihood. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, sudden tragedy strikes the Trappers’ Guild, spinning Riley down a more dangerous path than she ever could have imagined. As her whole world crashes down around her, who can Riley trust with her heart – and her life?
This book reminds me A LOT of the tv show Supernatural, which I love, but from a girl's perspective. So I think it sounds really good! It will be released February 1, 2011.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Beginner's Guide to Living by Lia Hills

Seven days after his mother dies in a sudden, senseless accident, seventeen-year-old Will embarks on a search for meaning that leads him to the great philosophers—Plato, Seneca, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche—and to Taryn, the beautiful girl he meets at his mother’s wake. Will is desperate to find, however he can, something authentic, something ultimate, something so true he would live or die for it. But is he willing to risk losing Taryn—losing everything--to seek the answers he craves? (from Amazon)

I really enjoyed reading The Beginner's Guide to Living. It starts out with a depressing subject - the death of Will's mother - but doesn't make it overly sappy. It shows the hurt and sadness that Will and his family feel, but it doesn't trivialize their grief by trying to get an emotion out of the reader. I don't know if I'm making any sense, but you know how there are scenes in movies that are only there to make everyone get teary eyed and cry? Almost like they're there on purpose? Well, this book doesn't do this, which I love. I didn't cry, I didn't even get remotely close to that, but I still felt a profound sadness. Because it is a terrible thing to lose a mother, but the last thing I want is to get unnecessarily weepy.

Saying that, Will goes on a journey to discover the meaning of life. He starts reading the work of a lot of different philosophers (if you love quotes like I do, you'll find some great ones in here). I was fascinated by Will's research because it's pretty deep for a seventeen-year-old; I think a lot of people wonder about life and death and everything in between but don't really do anything to find some answers. It was also interesting for me because I have an Eastern philosophies class, so some of the things Will read I've learned about. I love making connections between things I read and things I've learned or seen somewhere else.

Will gets into a relationship with a quirky girl named Taryn, so besides his existential crisis, Will is researching on the meaning of love, which brought some happiness and lightness into the book. Their relationship was sweet, even though it seemed a way for Will to fill the void that was left when his mother died.

Another thing I loved about this book was that it was set in Australia. You could hardly tell, since I think some things and the spellings were translated, but there are some cultural differences, like the drinking age, that were fun to point out. I like learning about different cultures, even ones that are somewhat similar to American culture.

Once again, I really enjoyed The Beginner's Guide to Living. I thought it was a pretty deep book and not at all fluffy (not that there's anything wrong with fluff, but sometimes you got to throw in some serious stuff too). One other thing, I loved that there were photographs in the book that coincided with photographs that Will was taking. So cool!

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
FTC: Provided through the Henry Holt InGroup review program.

2010/Farrar, Straus, Giroux/232 pages.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg

Penny is sick of boys and sick of dating, so she vows: no more. She's had one too many bad dates, and has been hurt by one too many bad boys.

It's a personal choice... and soon everybody wants to know about it. It seems that Penny's not the only girl who's tired of the way girls change themselves (most of the time for the worse) in order to get their guys... or the their guys don't really care.

Girls are soon thronging to The Lonely Hearts Club, and Penny finds herself near legendary for her nondating ways - which is too bad, since the leader of The Lonely Hearts Club has found a certain boy she can't help but like...

In The Lonely Hearts Club, debut author Elizabeth Eulberg tells a very funny, very relatable romantic story for anyone who's ever sworn off love and then found it anyway. (from the inside flap)

I thought this book was really really cute! I've been wanting to read it for so long, mainly because I am a huge Beatles fan (honestly, though, who isn't). But even though everyone loves the Beatles, not that many books are Beatles themed, so that just made The Lonely Hearts Club ten times better. Besides the cute Beatles references, the book is really well-written and adorable. Some of the things Penny and her friends said I rolled my eyes at but it seemed pretty realistic as far as teenagers go. I loved that Penny started a club swearing off boys - I thought the book was really empowering for girls. At first, the club is about not dating boys, but then it turns into a club where girls don't forget about their friends even if they have boyfriends, which I thought was a really positive message. And of course, no book is complete without a little romance, and of course the girl who swears off boys finds one she likes. It was interesting watching Penny trying to work through her feelings of loyalty to the club and then the ones she had for a certain cute boy, but in the end everything works out perfectly.

This review is pretty short and sweet, which is fitting for The Lonely Hearts Club. It was such a cute novel (I know I keep saying that!) and had a really good message for girls. I would recommend it to girls of all ages and especially if you're a Beatles fan. How can you not love a character named Penny Lane?

Rating: 8 out of 10.
FTC: I borrowed this from my library.

2009/Point/285 pages

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pretty Dead by Francesca Lia Block

Charlotte Emerson has been young, beautiful, and rich for almost a hundred years. She's a vampire, but has been struggling with her existence for almost the entirety of her change. Charlotte's life may seem perfect, but has been keeping a painful list of grief that just gets longer with the suicide of her best friend Emily. Soon after, Charlotte's nail breaks. Something that hasn't happened since she was human. Could Charlotte's deepest wish be coming true?

I was not that impressed with Pretty Dead. I've never read any of Francesca Lia Block's other books and I know she is supposed to be a really good author, but I did not like Pretty Dead at all. First off, it just seems to be another faceless book in the vampire genre. There are way too many now, and if an author doesn't want her book to get lost in the shuffle, it must be extraordinary. I didn't care for any of the characters, which I blame on the fact that Block doesn't go into much detail and the detail she did go into made everyone seem very superficial and shallow. No one's motivations were explained, and I felt like everything was kept on the surface, including some of the plot. I would have liked to learn a lot more about the vampire lore, Charlotte's past and her relationships with the other characters. This book was so boring that halfway through I just started skimming it (I didn't miss much).

The only thing I liked about Pretty Dead was that it tried a new idea, with a vampire turning mortal. Normally books deal with the opposite, so I was interested in learning more about this process, but everything was very vague. If you want to read about vampires, I would recommend skipping Pretty Dead and finding another book.

Rating: 4 out of 10.
FTC: I received this book through the Flamingnet Review Program

2009/HarperTeen/208 pages

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Heist Society by Ally Carter

When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her to the Louvre... to case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to Austria... to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own - scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving "the life" for a normal life proves harder than she'd expected.

Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring her back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has good reason: a powerful mobster's priceless art collection has been stolen and he wants it returned. Only a master thief could have pulled off this job, and Kat's father isn't just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat's dad needs her help.

For Kat there is only one solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it's a spectacularly impossible job? She's got two weeks, a teenage crew, and, hopefully, just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family's (very crooked) history - and with any luck, steal her life back along the way. (Taken from inside flap)

When Heist Society was first released in the beginning of 2010, I thought it seemed like an interesting read, but didn't really think about it again. But when I saw it in my library, I decided to give it a chance. And I'm so glad I did because I thought that Heist Society was amazing!

First, I loved the whole art thief/heist aspect of the story. I've never read a story about any type of high profile thieves, let alone a whole family of them. After reading Heist Society, I now want to become an art thief. The novel made it sound so glamorous and intesting. Kat is also one of the smartest heroines I've ever read about. She knows how to disable CIA level security systems, speak about five different languages, and con herself out of any sticky situation. She and her crew are also smart enough to break into the Henley, an art museum with the highest security in the world. Their plan was so clever, and so crazy, but it was awesome to watch everything fall into place and watch Kat perform the biggest heist ever.

Besides the art, a big part of the story is Kat's relationship with her friend Hale. He's part of their "family" and has been working with Kat for two years, though they don't really explain how they met (and I am dying to know!). Their relationship isn't quite romantic (yet) but there's definitely tension and potential for more. Plus, their banter is hilarious and super witty; I just loved reading scenes with them together. When I finished Heist Society, I needed to read more, so I looked it up online. I was delighted to discover that Ally Carter is writing a sequel! I am so excited now. It's slated to be released Summer 2011 and I don't know how I will be able to survive.

I would recommend Heist Society to those who like their heroines intelligent and stealthy, or for those who like movies like Ocean's Eleven. There's humor, action, clever plans, spying, expensive art, jet-setting, and visits to London, Paris, Las Vegas, New York City, to name a few. I loved Heist Society and think that it should get way more recognition than it already has.

Rating: 9 out of 10.
FTC: I borrowed this from my library.

2010/Disney-Hyperion/304 pages.

Friday, October 29, 2010

New Email Address

So I've been having a problem with my email. Depending on who I'm sending it to, it will go to people's junk folder (this has happened with yahoo and gmail accounts so far). This is super annoying to me, so I am just going to use another email address. The new address is megan1430[at]yahoo[dot]com. If you have my old email in your address book, feel free to keep emailing me there. I will still check my aim account regularly, but otherwise, this is the email I'll be using. Thanks!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Beautiful Between by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

If high school were a fairy-tale kingdom, Connelly Sternin would be Rapunzel, locked not in a tower by a wicked witch but in a high-rise apartment building by the SATs and college applications—and by the secrets she keeps. Connelly's few friends think that her parents are divorced—but they're not. Connelly's father died when she was two, and she doesn't know how.

If Connelly is the Rapunzel of her school, Jeremy Cole is the crown prince, son of a great and rich New York City family. So when he sits down next to her at lunch one day, Connelly couldn't be more surprised. But Jeremy has a tragic secret of his own, and Connelly is the only one he can turn to for help. Together they form a council of two, helping each other with their homework and sharing secrets. As the pair's friendship grows, Connelly learns that it's the truth, not the secrets, that one must guard and protect. And that between friends, the truth, however harsh, is also beautiful.

This lovely and memorable debut by Alyssa B. Sheinmel contains many of the hallmark themes found in young adult literature—friendship, coming of age, finding a place to belong, and overcoming the death of a loved one. Emotionally moving from start to finish, The Beautiful Between introduces a strong new voice to the genre, a voice with a long future ahead of it. (from Goodreads)

I was really interested to read The Beautiful Between. When it was first introduced a few months ago, there was a lot of positive buzz. But after it was released, I read some negative reviews. I was wondering which would win - the positive buzz or the negative reviews? I believe that buzz won out. I really enjoyed The Beautiful Between and thought it was wonderfully written novel. Sure, it has some negatives: some of the sections were a little choppy, and it could have gone even deeper into Connelly's and Jeremy's past, relationship, and personalities. Regardless, I still liked The Beautiful Between.

First, I loved the analogy Connelly made between high school and a kingdom. It fits so well, in general, but then it also applied to the story. Connelly is prone to fantasy and daydreaming, so it makes sense that she would use the fairy tale of Rapunzel to understand her world. A big section of the plot is devoted to Connelly wondering about her father. She knows her father died, but she doesn't know how or pretty much anything else about him. She's afraid to ask her mother because there are a lot of tough feelings and memories, so she decides to investigate on her own.

Then there's her relationship with popular boy Jeremy. This actually ties into her father's death, but I won't go into details. I loved their friendship so much. One, because I thought it was realistic and two, because the author did such a wonderful job writing it. It was slow, but steady, and didn't unnaturally turn into a romance. I actually believed that these two people were best friends. It was so sweet. I would love a sequel, though it's probably unnecessary plotwise, just to see what happens between them. There are some sad parts in The Beautiful Between, but I thought they were, once again, well done.

Overall, I enjoyed The Beautiful Between. It was nice to read a book about a beautiful friendship and two people opening up to each other. It was sweet, it was sad, it was interesting. Even if you've read some bad reviews, I would still give The Beautiful Between a chance and see if you like it.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
FTC: I borrowed this book from my library.

2010/Knopf/192 pages

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Best Middle School Novels

I was originally going to title this post: "The Best Middle Grade Novels." But I wasn't really sure if the books I was listing would be considered middle grade. Even though the three books I have below feature protagonists who are twelve years old, the stories and plots are pretty deep and I wasn't sure if they should be catagorized YA or MG. To compensate, I'm calling them Middle School novels, because that's when I read them. I feel like these are YA books with younger characters. Not quite MG, not quite YA. Regardless, these books are worthy of audiences of all ages.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

I think this is my favorite book of all time. And it's probably pointless to have up on here because I'm sure everyone has already read it. But I have to give some love to The Giver. I first read it in fifth grade on my own and loved it. It was the first dystopian novel I've ever read and look at me now! I had to read it again in seventh grade for school and I enjoyed analyzing and dissecting the novel. If you don't know, The Giver takes place in a future society that's "perfect" - no pain, no hunger, no disease. When you turn twelve years old, a committee decides what job you will have, and you start training. Jonas, the main character, gets the job of the Receiver, which is an honored position where Jonas will receive the memories of the community.

The Giver is one of those books that is banned, so obviously that means it's an amazing and thought-provoking novel. I consider this to be a must read for everyone.

Tangerine by Edward Bloor

I also read this in seventh grade for school. It's about a middle school boy, Paul, who moves to Tangerine County in Florida with his family. Paul is legally blind, so he's not a star athlete like his brother Erik. But as time goes on, Paul discovers some secrets that Erik has been hiding.

Tangerine is also another one of my favorite books (I'm sensing a theme here). This definitely is not as popular as The Giver, and I haven't really seen it in bookstores or anything. But it's such a good book in that it's like a mystery, as Paul is trying to figure out some things about his brother. And there's a pretty big twist ending which was awesome. If you haven't read this, I would definitely give it a try, it's a really good book.

A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin

I picked up this book because the cover was so pretty and because it was written by Ann M. Martin, the same author who "wrote" The Baby-sitter's Club series (I say "wrote" because I think she used a lot of ghostwriters). A Corner of the Universe is about a twelve year old girl Hattie, whose uncle she's never met comes to stay with her family in the summer of 1960. Her uncle is mentally challenged (though it was undiagnosed since it was 1960) and Hattie befriends him and struggles to cope with teasing from other children and the ups and downs of his personality. It's a really good novel: thoughtful and pretty deep compared to the Babysitter's Club. This may be more for younger girls but I really liked it and still do.

So that's it for now, I need to get some studying done. I'll probably do another post of this because there are a lot of middle grade novels that I really enjoyed when I was younger and I think other people would like them too.