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