Sunday, January 30, 2011

Nevermore by Kelly Creagh

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!
--from "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe

Cheerleader Isobel Lanley is horrified when she is paired with Varen Nethers for an English project, which is due—so unfair—on the day of the rival game.

Cold and aloof, sardonic and sharp-tongued, Varen makes it clear he’d rather not have anything to do with her either. But when Isobel discovers strange writing in his journal, she can’t help but give this enigmatic boy with the piercing eyes another look.

Soon, Isobel finds herself making excuses to be with Varen. Steadily pulled away from her friends and her possessive boyfriend, Isobel ventures deeper and deeper into the dream world Varen has created through the pages of his notebook, a realm where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life.

As her world begins to unravel around her, Isobel discovers that dreams, like words, hold more power than she ever imagined, and that the most frightening realities are those of the mind.

Now she must find a way to reach Varen before he is consumed by the shadows of his own nightmares.

His life depends on it. (from GoodReads)

Oh, Nevemore. What are we going to do with you? You started off so strong but then something happened and I didn't enjoy you as much as I thought - and hoped - I would. Kelly Creagh has an excellent premise but her plotting and writing could be a little tighter, which was my main problem with the book.

I haven't read too much Edgar Allan Poe, but I love horror and thrillers so his work is right up my alley. And I love when contemporary books pay homage to other classic works - it's kind of like a a neat literature lesson right in your favorite novel. So Nevermore seemed like it would be the perfect blend of fantasy, literature, romance, and horror. The novel also serves to answer the question of Poe's death, which is somewhat mysterious as he was found lying unconscious in a gutter.
Like I said before, Nevermore starts off strong. The reader is introduced to Isobel, who besides being blonde, popular, and a cheerleader, is also a pretty nice and brave person. Once Isobel starts to get to know Varen, she drops her friends right away when they start bullying him. I thought that was a very nice gesture and Isobel is clearly a person who knows right from wrong. Slowly throughout the story weird things start happening, which Isobel writes off as her imagination. But soon she discovers that Varen has a part in all this, and things start getting really creepy.

I liked Nevermore for most the book. Honestly, though, it was a slow-moving novel with a lot more exposition than needed. But once I got to the 400 page mark, I couldn't believe that I still had almost 150 more pages to go. Yes, that is when the book got exciting, but it was entirely too long. By that point, I was so bored that I didn't care about all the excitement at the end. Nevemore could have probably been shorted by a good 100 pages or more. Hopefully in the sequel Creagh will have tightened her writing and edited a bit more so it isn't as long.

That being said, I loved the originality of Poe and Isobel as a character. Though I didn't really see the romance between her and Varen, hopefully that will be furthered developed in the next novel. If you don't mind really long books, I would recommend this to fans of Poe's work and paranormal novels in general.

Rating: 7 out of 10.
FTC: Ebook on Pulse It.

2010/Atheneum/543 pages.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Other Words for Love by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal

Ari Mitchell feels she is extraordinarily average - especially in comparison to her beautiful friend Summer who attends a prestigious private school in Manhattan. But when Ari receives an unexpected inheritance that allows her to attend Hollister Prep, it gives her hope that she will someday get into Parsons School of Design and become an artist. While at Hollister, Ari becomes friends with Leigh, who introduces her to her cousin Blake. Blake is older, attractive and wealthy - and Ari has never had a boyfriend before. Soon enough, Ari and Blake's relationship becomes serious. But when tragedy befalls Blake's family and he becomes distant, Ari has to deal with the subsequent break-up and the hard feelings that come after losing your first love.

I really enjoyed Other Words For Love. I loved that it was an historical novel in that in took place in 1985, however, it just seemed like a simpler twenty-first century. Everything was pretty much the same as now, except there were no computers, cell phones or iPods. It made the love story simpler in that there wasn't facebook or text messages complicating everything. It was also fun reading about a time period that I missed living in by only a few years.

Besides the setting, the characters in Other Words for Love were really strong. From Ari to her parents to her sister to Blake, everyone is well-developed and dynamic. Ari is the responsible one, the daughter who will get a good education and have a career before she gets caught up in boy drama, unlike her sister Evelyn who was pregnant when she was seventeen. But when Ari meets and falls in love with Blake, everything changes. Even though Ari's life starts going downhill towards the end of the novel, she still manages to fix everything in the end. Ari is at a low point which is sad to see, but watching her eventually bounce back and turn herself around was really rewarding. Even though she has experienced heartbreak, Ari is able to go on with her life and hopefully become a successful artist.

I also loved reading the romance between Ari and Blake because they seemed like a real couple. Blake was a pretty nice guy until the end, where I think he just got caught up in his own family drama. You could tell he meant well, so he wasn't a total creep, but still hurt Ari pretty badly. I thought that Rosenthal did a great job of writing all of the feelings that come along with love: excitement, elation, sadness, longing. She really has a great voice and was able to capture Ari's emotions really well.

Overall, Other Words for Love was a very well-written and sincere love story that girls of all ages will enjoy.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
FTC: reviewed for Flamingnet.

2011/ Delacorte Press/368 pages.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday - 22

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

Sometimes It Happens by Lauren Barnholdt

On the last day of her junior year, Hannah's boyfriend Ryan dumped her. Facing a summer of loneliness, Hannah turns to her best friend Ava for comfort. Ava does what BFFs do: she stays by Hannah's side...until it's time for Ava to head up to Maine for the summer. Also left behind is Ava's boyfriend, Noah, who's such a great guy he gets Hannah a job at the diner he waits tables at. Slowly, Hannah comes out of her funk thanks to Noah's good conversation and their fun times at the diner. But things get complicated when their friendship turns into attraction--and one night, into a passionate kiss. The novel opens on the first day of senior year; the day Hannah is going to see Ava, Ryan, and Noah all in one place. Over the course of the day secrets and betrayals are revealed, and alliances are broken and reformed. In the end, everyone is paired up once again, but not the way you might think... (from GoodReads)

I love contemporary fiction and haven't been reading a lot of it lately. This story seems simple yet I hope it turns out to be really good! Look for it on July 12, 2011.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

College Courses on Young Adult Literature

So I was looking through the course catalog for the university that I attend and I saw that my school offers a course in Young Adult Literature. I thought this was so cool, so I've decided to share with you the course description:

"A critical study of literature, including nonprint media, for young adults, focusing on helping prospective teachers develop familarity with young adult literature and how it may be used in the middle school and high school classroom, stressing gender roles and multi-cultural issues."

And for anyone who's curious, there are three prerequisites to taking this course: Conventions of Reading and Writing; Histories and Texts; and Theory, Meaning and Value.

I would love to take this course, but even if I stay in the English program I have no idea if I will even be able to take the prerequisites, let alone the actual course. But I just thought it was awesome that my school offered a course on something that I read everyday. Do any of your schools offer similar classes?

Monday, January 24, 2011

The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal

Princess and heir to the throne of Thorvaldor, Nalia knows her role in life. But everything changes when she learns, just after her sixteenth birthday, that is a false princess - a stand-in for the real Nalia, who has been hidden away for her protection. Cast out with little more than the clothes on her back, the girl now called Sinda must leave behind the city, her best friend Kiernan, and the only life she's ever known.

While struggling with her new peasant life, Sinda discovers that magic runs in her veins - long-suppressed, dangerous magic that she must learn to control. Returning to the city to seek answers, she instead uncovers a secret that could change the course of Thorvaldor's history forever.

A perfectly plotted and completely satisfying palace fantasy, The False Princess is perfect for fans of Gail Carson Levine, Shannon Hale, and Catherine Murdock. (from back cover)

I really enjoyed The False Princess. Like the summary states, if you've ever read anything by Shannon Hale than you will see that this book is very similar to her fantasy novels, in a good way. These novels aren't usually my cup of tea, but The False Princess was well-written, with a fast plot and likable characters.

I loved that The False Princess took place in a royal court. And this isn't just any royal court. It is one set in the early 12th century and there's magic, too, which is pretty awesome. The setting is perfect for intrigue and scandal to abound. And that it did. In the book, Nalia finds out just after she turns sixteen that she is only a stand-in for the real princess and is subsequently sent from the castle. It seems as though the novel should end here, but Nalia (or Sinda, as she becomes) learns that she is magical and returns to the city to learn how to control her magic. While there, she learns a deep dark secret that is the main plot twist of The False Princess.

The plot is well-done and moves quickly, not leaving a dull moment for the reader. I was surprised at the twist because I was not expecting it, but once you discover it, everything pretty much falls into place after that. The characters, especially Sinda and Kiernan were fleshed-out and developed, even though Sinda's extreme klutziness was starting to grate on me (I'm sorry but no one is that clumsy in real life, Sinda and Bella). Kiernan was also a great character as he's obviously the love interest, but he is also very sweet and a prankster as well. Speaking of characters, I loved Philantha, the wizard that takes Sinda in. She was a little eccentric but an interesting person, nonetheless.

Overall, I really enjoyed The False Princess. It wasn't the best novel I've ever read, but definitely a commendable debut for Eilis O'Neal. Once again, if you like palace fantasies, you should make sure to check this out.

Release Date: January 25, 2011
Rating: 8 out of 10.
FTC: ARC provided by publisher.

2011/Egmont USA/336 pages.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Drought by Pam Bachorz

Ruby Prosser dreams of escaping the Congregation and the early-nineteenth century lifestyle that’s been practiced since the community was first enslaved.

She plots to escape the vicious Darwin West, his cruel Overseers, and the daily struggle to gather the life-prolonging Water that keeps the Congregants alive and gives Darwin his wealth and power. But if Ruby leaves, the Congregation will die without the secret ingredient that makes the Water special: her blood.

So she stays.

But when Ruby meets Ford, the new Overseer who seems barely older than herself, her desire for freedom is too strong. He’s sympathetic, irresistible, forbidden—and her only access to the modern world. Escape with Ford would be so simple, but can Ruby risk the terrible price, dooming the only world she’s ever known? (from GoodReads)

I wanted to love Drought, I really did. I thought that it was extremely interesting and I was able to get sucked into the story. But the world-building was a bit confusing and not as seamless as I would have liked, which prevented me from absolutely loving the story.

Let's start with the good: Pam Bachorz has created a very engaging world. It's a world that takes place in our time, but it is the world of a small cult in New England. The members of the cult, called Congregants, are forced to collect sacred water in the forest for hours on end every day, with little food and less freedom. They are under the thumb of the evil Darwin West and his Overseers who keep everyone in line. But what everyone doesn't know is that the water isn't actually sacred, it's Ruby's blood that she adds to it that has incredible healing powers and grants eternal life to its drinkers. This blood has allowed the Congregants to live for over 200 years while they wait for their messiah, Otto, to return. I thought this whole aspect was very interesting, even though it wasn't that well explained. I also loved the relationship between Ruby and Ford. I was surprised that he was the first Overseer with a heart, but he geniunely cared about Ruby and wanted to help her to escape her terrible life.
And now the bad: as I said before, I thought the world-building was a little weak. In the beginning, I was so confused. I wasn't sure why the Congregants had to walk around in the forest collecting drops of water with spoons and cups and I wasn't sure if they had actually been living for 200 years. I also didn't understand any of the character motivations. The people could have risen up and attacked Darwin and the Overseers at any point in their 200 year enslavement but no one does because they are awaiting the return of Otto. Their blind faith seemed to me almost ridiculous, since they were waiting in extremely unhumane conditions. Ruby's mother and the Elders are almost comical in their heartlessness; once you read the book you will see what I mean.

Besides the less than stellar world-building, I still enjoyed Drought and was pulled into the story. I liked Ruby, even though she could be annoying, and she seemed to be a more level-headed character. I liked the book, but I would be warn readers that you might be confused in the beginning.

Release Date: January 25, 2011
Rating: 8 out of 10.
FTC: ARC from publisher.

2011/Egmont USA/400 pages.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

The year is 1929. New York is ruled by the bright young things: flappers and socialites seeking thrills and chasing dreams in the anything-goes era of the Roaring Twenties.

Letty Larkspur and Cordelia Grey escaped their small Midwestern town for New York's glittering metropolis. All Letty wants is to see her name in lights, but she quickly discovers Manhattan is filled with pretty girls who will do anything to be a star...

Cordelia is seraching for the father she's never known, a man as infamous for his wild parties as he is for his shadowy schemes. Overnight, she enters a world more thrilling and glamorous than she ever could have imagined - and more dangerous. It's a life anyone would kill for... and someone will.

The only person Cordelia can trust is Astrid Donal, a flapper who seems to have it all: money, looks, and the love of Cordelia's brother Charlie. But Astrid's perfect veneer hides a score of family secrets.

Across the vast lawns of Long Island, in the illicit speakeasies of Manhattan, and on the blinding stages of Broadway, the three girls' fortunes will rise and fall - together and apart. From the New York Times bestselling author of The Luxe comes an epic new series set in the dizzying last summer of the Jazz Age. (from book jacket)

I loved The Luxe series by Anna Godbersen (though I still haven't read the last book, Splendor) so when I heard that she wrote another book set in the 1920s, I really wanted to read it. I love the Twenties and books that take place in that loose and frivolous era (especially The Great Gatsby). Bright Young Things follows three girls, Cordelia, Letty, and Astrid, and their experiences living in New York City at the end of the Twenties. I would love to live in this time period but the whole Great Depression happening right after kind of puts a damper on everything.

Anna Godbersen is a good writer in that she is really detailed and her facts seem historically accurate. Her writing is what I would call luxurious: kind of slow and silky so it makes you feel like you are living in New York City with the Cordelia, Astrid and Letty. However, since it is so slow, it sometimes translates to the story and plot. A lot happens in Bright Young Things, but it happens pretty slowly. If you are looking for something fast and exciting, this is probaby not the book for you.

Also, the fact that the novel is written in third person really distances the reader from the characters. While I liked them all, I didn't actually feel a connection with any of the girls. While, these things prevented me from loving Bright Young Things, I still enjoyed reading it a lot and would definitely read the sequel when it is published.

I liked the references to The Great Gatsby. Cordelia's father, Darius Grey, is a bootlegger and is known for his wild parties just like Jay Gatsby. They were actually pretty similar characters but I can't go into detail because it's spoilery.

So all in all, I loved the setting of Bright Young Things and the storyline in general, though the slow-moving plot and distant characterizations prevented me from loving it. If you enjoyed Godbersen's other series, I would definitely recommend this.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from library.

2010/Harper Teen/389 pages.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday - 21

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme started by Jill at Breaking the Spine for bloggers to get excited about upcoming books.

In the Shadow of the Lamp by Susanne Dunlap

It's 1854 and sixteen-year-old Molly would give anything to change her circumstances as a lowly servant in a posh London house. So when she hears of an opportunity to join the nurses who will be traveling with Florence Nightingale to the Crimea, she jumps at the chance. The work is grueling, the hospital conditions deplorable, and Miss Nightingale a demanding teacher. Before long, the plight of British soldiers becomes more than just a mission of mercy as Molly finds that she's falling in love with both a dashing young doctor and a soldier who has joined the army to be near her. But with the battle raging ever nearer, can Molly keep the two men she cares for from harm? A love story to savor, and a fascinating behind-the-scenes imagining of the woman who became known as "the lady with the lamp." (from GoodReads)

I love historical fiction but I have yet to read anything about the Crimean War or Florence Nightingale. I am curious to learn more about this time period while also reading what looks like an interesting love story! In the Shadow of the Lamp will be released on April 12, 2011.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Triple Shot Bettys in Love by Jody Gehrman

Geena is freaking out. After five perfect and comfortable months with Ben, he's suddenly putting the pressure on to be way more physical. She finds it difficult to even say the word boyfriend out loud, so she's certainly not ready for that.

And then there's Amber, who has an incredible crush on Mr. Sands, Geena's delectably hot and brilliant English teacher (who just happens to speak to Geena's soul!). Amber needs Geena's help talking to him because he's such an intellectual. Geena finds herself writing love notes, MySpace messages, and texts to Mr. Sands under Amber's name - and he writes back! Geena's just doing it for Amber (sort of), so it's not technically cheating on Ben...right?

Sexy teachers, em0-rockers, and glamorous new students populate Geena and Amber's world, making their search for true love bumpy and mystifying. Good thing they always have the Triple Shot Betty coffee shack, where they serve up espressos the way they'd like their guys - hot. (from inside jacket)

Triple Shot Bettys in Love is the sequel to the hilarious Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty. I read the first book a long time ago, but the sequel can practically be read as a stand-alone, so I didn't really need to remember anything.

In the first book, Geena and Ben start dating and their relationship continues into this book, and no relationship is complete without a few bumps along the way. Ben's friend Sophie moves back to California, and she is much prettier and more stylish than Geena, so she is understandably jealous, especially when it seems that Sophie wants Ben to herself. This causes problems while Ben is oblivious (aren't most boys?) but I still thought that Geena and Ben were so cute together. Besides dating, they are also viciously competing to be number one in their class, which I thought was hilarious.

Geena is not the only one with boy problems; Geena's friend Amber is crushing hard on a teacher at their school. Obviously this is a big no-no, but since Amber doesn't actually have him as a teacher she is able to lie and say she's a college student. Hilarity ensues when Geena and Amber convince Mr. Sands via MySpace that Amber is very intellectual and attends Brown University, which is the complete opposite of Amber. This would never happen in reality (hopefully) but it was extremely funny to watch everything play out.

Speaking of funny, Geena has to be one of the most relatable characters I've read. Triple Shot Bettys in Love is written in first person, so it allows the reader to access all of Geena's hilarious thoughts and witty comments. I don't know if there is another book after this one, but I would love to read more about Geena and her friends.

Overall, Triple Shot Bettys in Love was an extremely cute romantic book and a great sequel to Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty. If you've read the first, I highly recommend picking up the sequel.

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

2009/Dial Books/249 pages.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley

A year ago, Ann and Peter Brooks were just another unhappily married couple trying - and failing - to keep their relationship together while they raised two young daughters. Now the world around them is about to be shaken as Peter, a university researcher, comes to a startling realization: a virulent pandemic has made the terrible leap across the ocean to America's heartland. And it is killing fifty out of every hundred people it touches.

As their town goes into lockdown, Peter is forced to return home - with his beautiful graduate assistant. But the Brookses' safe suburban world is no longer the refuge it once was. Food grows scarce, and neighbor turns against neighbor in grocery stores and at gas pumps. And then a winter storm strikes, and the community is left huddling in the dark.

Trapped inside the house she once called home, Ann Brooks must make life-or-death decisions in an environment where opening a door to a neighbor could threaten all the things she holds dear.

Carla Buckley's poignant debut raises important questions to which there are no easy answers, in an emotionally riveting tale of one family facing unimaginable stress. (from book jacket)

I am, and I'm sure the rest of you, are not strangers to the threat of a pandemic. I remember a few years ago everyone getting worried about the avian influenza (which is the virus of focus in The Things That Keep Us Here). Newspapers would report practically every new case, but then it suddenly died down. And then again last year we had the same problem with swine flu or H1N1. I would read our county newspaper and see a whole article dedicated to the fact that one person came into the city airport who might have H1N1. Luckily, that has also seemed to die down. So having a worldwide pandemic is not out of the realm of possiblility and that makes The Things That Keep Us Here an extremely frightening novel.

The Things That Keep Us Here follows a normal suburban family, complete with marital problems, jobs, school, children. It's not until the avian flu hits home that the Brooks's world falls apart. If this novel is accurate of what would happen during a pandemic, I am really worried. If you can imagine what would happen if the country came to a grinding halt, that's what occurs in The Things That Keep Us Here. Grocery stores stop getting shipments, mail delivery ceases, the electricity goes out during a storm and no one is around to fix it, hospitals are full and understaffed. And if all this is happening and no one is allowed to leave their town because they are quarantined - and no one wants to leave their home because they fear contracting the flu - we have a very scary situation.

Even though I was starting to get really freaked out reading The Things That Keep Us Here, the writing was so compelling and the plot was so riveting, that I could not put it down. The book reads like a true account of a pandemic and Carla Buckley seems to have done a ton of research to accurately portray the daily struggles of family living with a limited food supply and no electricity. It might sound boring reading about five people trapped in their house, but it wasn't at all. Buckley writes about all the emotions that you could ever experience in this situation with great detail and all the characters are completely fleshed out and three-dimenstional. Plus, there is never a dull moment in a world that is crumbling to pieces.

Besides being an excellent read, The Things That Keep Us Here should serve as a warning - that a epidemic or pandemic is not an impossible idea and that at one point we could be living like the characters in this book. I hope this novel sparks discussion about the country's emergency preparedness and that we can become ready for any virus-related emergency. Because if we don't, it will not be pretty, as Carla Buckley so aptly describes in her frightening, thrilling, sometimes sad, and always hopeful debut novel.
Rating: 9 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from library.

2010/Delacorte Press/404 pages.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

Orphan Mary Quinn lives on the edge. Sentenced as a thief at the age of twelve, she's rescued from the gallows by a woman posing as a prison warden. In her new home, Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls, Mary acquries a singular education, fine manners, and a surprising opportunity. The school is a cover for the Agency - an elite, top secret corps of female investigators with a reputation for results - and at seventeen, Mary's about to join their ranks.

With London all but paralyzed by a noxious heat wave, Mary must work fast in the guise of lady's companion to infiltrate a rich merchant's with hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the Thorold household is full of dangerous secrets, and people are not what they seem - least of all Mary.

Packed with action and suspense, and evoking the gritty world of Victorian London, this first book of the Agency series debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits. (from inside jacket)

A great start to an exciting new series, A Spy in the House will not disappoint fans of both historical fiction and mysteries. Seeing two of my favorite genres combined is what attracted me to A Spy in the House, and the book was just as good as I hoped it would be.

Mary is an unusual protagonist. She is almost hanged for stealing, but is rescued by a Good Samaritan who sees Mary's skills as useful in another application. So we have a character who is not a bad person, but one who will do what it takes to survive, even if it is something that is illegal. This, and Mary's wit, intelligence, and strength, makes her a formidable spy and investigator. She is assigned to the Thorold household, ostensibly as a companion to Mr. Thorold's young daughter, but instead she is supposed to search for evidence of illicit trade. Along the way, she forms a relationship with handsome and sharp James Easton, who is also doing a bit of investigating on his own. I loved seeing James and Mary interact, because they are both very similar. Their witty comments back and forth always made me laugh, but together as a team they were able to accomplish a lot.

As for the mystery, I am usually able to guess the outcome before it is written, but this time I was surprised. There is a twist, which is to be expected, but it was perpetrated by a character that flew under my radar the entire book. Luckily, Mary is able to figure it out in the nick of time and save the day.

I thought A Spy in the House was an excellent beginning to a thrilling new series. I can't wait for Mary to solve more mysteries and for her to delve a little farther into her past and heritage, which was focused on a little in this book. The sequel, The Body at the Tower, is already published, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

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

2010/Candlewick Press/335 pages.

Waiting on Wednesday - 20

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

Siren's Storm by Lisa Papademetriou

Nothing has been the same for Will ever since what happened last summer. One day, on an ordinary sailing trip with his brother, there is a strange accident. When Will wakes up, he learns his brother has disappeared, presumed drowned. Worst of all, Will can't remember what happened—his family finds him unconscious, with no memory of the accident.

Now Will and his best friend and neighbor, Gretchen, are starting a new summer. Gretchen seems troubled—her sleepwalking habit is getting worse, and she keeps waking up closer and closer to the water. Will is drawn to Asia, the exotic new girl in town. Nobody knows where she's from—all Will knows is that her beauty and her mesmerizing voice have a powerful effect on people.

Then there is another mysterious drowning, and Will and Gretchen begin to wonder: Is Asia just another beautiful, wealthy summer resident? Or is she something entirely more sinister . . . and inhuman? (from GoodReads)

There are so many fantastical creatures written about in YA fiction (vampires, werewolves, fairies), but the more obscure mythological creatures have yet to be seen, like sirens. I think this sounds really good because it is about a creature I don't really know much about. And just look at that cover! Siren's Storm will be released August 9, 2011.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory

In the autumn of 1558, church bells across England ring out the joyous news t hat Elizabeth I is the new queen. One woman hears the tidings with utter dread. She is Amy Dudley, wife of Sir Robert, and she knows that Elizabeth's ambitious leap to the throne will draw her husband back to the center of the glamorous Tudor court, where he was born to be.

Elizabeth's excited triumph is short-lived. She has inherited a bankrupt country where treason is rampant and foreign war a certainty. Her faithful advisor William Cecil warns her that she will survive only if she marries a strong prince to govern the rebellious country, but the one man Elizabeth desires is her childhood friend, the ambitious Robert Dudley. As the young couple falls in love, a question hangs in the air: can he really set aside his wife and marry the queen? When Amy is found dead, Elizabeth and Dudley are suddenly plunged into struggle for survival.

Philippa Gregory's The Virgin's Lover answers the question about an unsolved crime that has fascinated detectives and historians for centuries. Intelligent, romantic, and compelling, The Virgin's Lover presents a young woman on the brink of greatness, a young man whose ambition exceeds his means, and the wife who cannot forgive them. (from back cover)

The Tudor reign has to be one of the most fascinating aspects of history. I honestly cannot get enough of this royal family and the intrigue and scandal that runs rampant as its court. My friend and I just finished season one of The Tudors, which is such a good show. Mostly my reading of Tudor England is restricted to Henry VIII's wives, and my personal favorite, Anne Boleyn. But I thought I would enjoy a story about Elizabeth I, Anne's daughter, written by one of my favorite authors, Philippa Gregory.

Everyone knows about Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, and one of England's greatest monarchs. To read a story about the intimate life about Elizabeth was so interesting. I know most of the book is fiction, but a lot of it is also fact, and Philippa Gregory's detailed and immersive writing quickly sucks you into this cutthroat world of politics. It is very difficult to be king or queen and I think Gregory effectively captured that feeling. Elizabeth had to make many tough decisions, not sure which would be the right one and was constantly second-guessing herself. She sometimes annoyed me with her unwillingness to find a husband, even though it was extremely important for the security of England. Nonetheless, Elizabeth was helped througout the book by her advisor, William Cecil, also Secretary of State. Cecil was one of my favorite characters because he was smart, cunning, and faithful to Elizabeth and England. He was ambitious, but would not sacrifice the country for his own interests, unlike Robert Dudley, who was more than willing to do so. How can you not love a character who has a spy network all over Europe numbering in the thousands and knows everything before everyone else?

In addition to Cecil, Robert Dudley was also an interesting character. His love for Elizabeth seemed sincere, but it was also colored by his unhealthy ambition to be king of England. He treated his wife pretty poorly but seemed genuinely distressed at her death. Amy Dudley's death is a real-life mystery, and The Virgin's Lover works to answer that question. By the end you'll have Gregory's imagining of what she thought happened, though not much is focused on the death as it happens at the very end of the novel.

When historical fiction is good, it is really good. The Virgin's Lover is historical fiction at its best, along with Philippa Gregory's other works. The story is finely detailed, compelling, even romantic at times. If you are interested in this era, I would highly recommend this series because its one of the best I've come across.

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

2004/Touchstone/438 pages.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

A story of love, murder, and madness aboard an enormous spaceship bound for the future.

Amy is a cryogenically frozen passenger aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed. She expects to wake up on a new planet, 300 years in the future. But fifty years before Godspeed's scheduled landing, Amy's cryo chamber is unplugged and she is nearly killed.

Now, Amy is caught inside an inclosed world where nothing makes sense. Godspeed's passengers have forfeited all control to Eldest, a tyrannical and frightening leader, and Elder, his rebellious and brilliant teenage heir.

Amy desperately wants to trust Elder. But can she? All she knows is that she must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets before whoever woke her tries to kill again. (from back cover)

Across the Universe totally amazed me. I heard so many good things about it, and when I received a review copy in the mail, I was overjoyed. Across the Universe lived up to my expectations and even surpassed them.

In a world of incredible technology (seriously, what will Apple release next?), science fiction seems to be almost a prediction of our future rather than a fantastical imagining of it. In Across the Universe, the United States has the techology to cryogenically freeze humans and send them on a spaceship that will be able to travel for three hundred years. Once there, the humans can be awakened and start inhabiting the planet. However, humans are also needed to man the ship during its voyage, so generations of people are being born over and over again on the ship.

What I loved about the novel, and what kind of freaked me out, was the total claustrophobia of living on Godspeed. It's a huge spaceship, but it still has its boundaries. It's modeled after the earth, but as Amy notes, the air smells different, the sky isn't quite as blue, and there are no stars. As I was sitting in my room, I could almost feel the walls close around me. I would never want to be stuck on a ship, alive or asleep. This novel really made me appreciate even more the beautiful planet we have. Across the Universe definitely stressed the importance of real, not fabricated, nature.

I love mysteries, and the fact that this ship was full of them, made the novel better in my opinion. Someone is trying to murder the frozen people, and the whole time the reader is wondering who it is and why. I kind of guessed who the perpretrator was before the ending, but there were so many twists and turns that it didn't matter. This was definitely a ship built on secrets and lies. By the end, we discover that Eldest has been hiding a lot from Elder and the rest of Godspeed's residents. Everything you thought was true is pretty much false, leaving you feeling like you were the one who had been lied to the entire time.

Across the Universe features two narrators: Amy and Elder. Amy and her parents are some of the cryogenically frozen passengers, but Amy is woken fifty years too early. She is rightly confused and a little shocked at what she discovers on Godspeed, in regards to both technology and practices. Eldest has some unusual methods to control the populace, and it is very creepy, when Amy and Elder discover them. I actually liked Elder as a narrator better; I thought he was much more interesting and a more active character in the story.

Another thing that fascinated me about Across the Universe was the way that Eldest changes Earth's history to suit his agenda. For instance, Elder comments on how Hitler was a strong leader and even reads a revised version of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which is way different than the original. I love history and seeing how easily it can be changed creeped me out.

The only problem I had with Across the Universe was the ending. Not the content so much as the way it was written. With twenty pages left to go, suddenly everything is neatly tied up with a little bow The murderer is caught, out of the way, everyone learns the truth and everyone lives happily ever after. I was a little confused when the author started telling us everything that happened rather than showing us. I wish there was a little more detail as to how everything got accomplished because I'm sure it wasn't as easy as the narrators made it sound like.

Overall, I really enjoyed Across the Universe and thought that Beth Revis's world-building was incredible. I felt as though I was living on Godspeed, and I really think that Revis effectively captured the claustrophobia of the ship. The mystery was engaging, the characters interesting to watch, and the technology was unbelievable. Across the Universe is a gem of science fiction.

Release Date: 1/11/11 (!!)
Rating: 9 out of 10.
FTC: received copy from publisher.

2011/Razor Bill/398 pages.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Book vs. Movie: The Last Song

A few nights ago I watched The Last Song. I really had no interest in seeing it, but when I read the book I wanted to see what they changed and what they kept the same. So here's a mini review. No spoilers for either the book or movie, so don't worry about that :)

The Last Song movie wasn't too bad, and followed the book pretty well. This makes sense, since Nicholas Sparks wrote the screenplay first and then the novel. Pretty much everything in the book can be found in the movie, with a few minor changes and everything shortened a little so the movie didn't have to be five hours long. I thought Greg Kinnear did a good job as the dad, and the actor who played Ronnie's little brother was so adorable!

The only thing that I have to comment on is Miley Cyrus. I have nothing against her personally, but I honestly believe that she cannot act or sing. I don't want to bash her, but it was comical watching her portray a "rebel" teen and her portrayal of Ronnie's grief was shallow at best. I really wish they had picked another actress because this movie could be a lot better. It also didn't help that Miley had the worse dialogue in the movie. I wonder who wrote her lines (*cough*Nicholas Sparks*cough*)? Or maybe the lines just sounded cheesy by the way Miley was saying them. I don't know. I'm only mentioning this because I really think it will make or break how you enjoy the movie. If you like Miley, you'll probably love this. If not, you might want to stay away.

All in all, the movie wasn't horrible, but I probably wouldn't recommend it to anyone. If you've read the book and want to see the characters and plot in movie form than you can see it. Otherwise, beware.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Edges by Lena Roy

It is a story of love and grief, addiction and redemption, set in both NYC’s Upper West Side and in the red rock desert of Moab, Utah.

Seventeen-year-old Luke lives and works at the Moonflower Motel in Moab, having fled New York City where his father Frank drowns his sorrows after the death of Luke’s mother. Back in New York, eighteen-year-old Ava meets Frank at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. When these lost souls converge in Moab, what happens transforms them all. (From GoodReads)

I probably would never pick up Edges on my own - both the cover and synopsis don't really appeal to me - but since I received it for review I decided to give it a chance. And I am really glad I did because Edges was way better than I expected.

First, I loved the setting of Moab, Utah, which is where half the novel takes place. There are so many popular locales for books, movies, and TV (namely New York City, and the other half of Edges does take place here) that it was nice to see something totally different. Moab is in the desert and the narration really made the red rocks and sand sound beautiful. The way this place is described made me want to visit it, which is surprising because the desert is not some place that I would normally want to go.

Edges alternates between the perspectives of Luke and Ava. Two very different characters, but that also have a ton of connections. Luke runs away to Moab after his father begins suffering from alcoholism and lives at a youth hostel run by Ava's parents. Ava is an alcoholic (albeit a very young one) and she meets Luke's father at AA meetings. After this great of a connection you know that the two characters will meet up someday and that they do, although their meeting is brief.

I didn't realize in the beginning how big of a role alcoholism plays in the novel. And it's great to get both perspectives - that of an alcoholic and that of someone whose family member is an alcoholic. Anyone who has to deal with alcoholism in any way will enjoy this book for both views it presents. I thought that Lena Roy did an excellent job describing the struggles, challenges, and heartbreak that come with this addiction, while also conveying hope and optimism in her story.

Edges was an extremely short novel, but I still felt like I knew all the characters - even the ones on the periphery, including Tangerine, Jim and Clare (Ava's parents), Charlie and Cin. Every character, however small, had some depth to them, which made for a nice read. I liked that Edges showed the hard parts of alcoholism, while still being hopeful and inspirational.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
FTC: reviewed through the Henry Holt InGroup

2010/Farrar Straus Giroux/162 pages.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday - 19

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

Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky

Maddie lives in a world where everything is done on the computer. Whether it’s to go to school or on a date, people don’t venture out of their home. There’s really no need. For the most part, Maddie’s okay with the solitary, digital life—until she meets Justin. Justin likes being with people. He enjoys the physical closeness of face-to-face interactions. People aren’t meant to be alone, he tells her.

Suddenly, Maddie feels something awakening inside her—a feeling that maybe there is a different, better way to live. But with society and her parents telling her otherwise, Maddie is going to have to learn to stand up for herself if she wants to change the path her life is taking.

In this not-so-brave new world, two young people struggle to carve out their own space.

This book looks amazing because it sounds eerily reminiscent of what our society is becoming: a wholly digital world. I can see this book being a warning for future generations, while being an awesome read at the same time. Awaken will be released on May 23, 2011.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

For Keeps by Natasha Friend

For sixteen years, Josie Gardner and her mom, Kate, have been a team. It's the Gardner girls against the world, and that's how Josie likes it. Until one day, in the pet food aisle of Shop-Co, they run into the parents of Paul Tucci, Kate's high school boyfriend - the father Josie has never met. If Mr. and Mrs. Tucci were back in town, it's only a matter of time until Paul shows up.

Suddenly Josie's mature, capable mother regresses to the heartbroken teenager she was when Paul moved away. Meanwhile, Josie's on the verge of having her first real boyfriend, while her free-loving best friend, Liv, begins yet another no-strings-attached fling.

When Josie learns some surprising truths about Paul Tucci, she finds herself questioning what she's always believed about her parents - and herself.

In For Keeps, Natasha Friend tells a fresh, funny, smart story about what happens when a girl gets the guy she always wanted and the dad she never knew she need. (from book jacket)

If you've ever seen the TV show Gilmore Girls, then you already know what For Keeps is about. And if you liked that show, then you will also like For Keeps.

Like Gilmore Girls, For Keeps features two funny, smart, quirky and lovable characters in the shape of mother and daughter. The dynamic is pretty much the same: young mother who's fun-loving but has a daughter who is a little more responsible and grounded. I felt like I could relate to Josie because she is the one that makes sure everything is running smoothly and is a little more even-keeled, while Kate is very sentimental and often reminiscing about the past. Besides the two leads, I loved all the other characters, including Josie's best friend Liv and the resident love interest Matt. Both brought something to the table, and I found Liv in her outrageous outfits and bold statements to be hilarious.

There are many subplots in For Keeps, one of which is Kate's new boyfriend that Josie seems to be determined not to like. The only time in the novel that I disliked Josie was when she was whining about her mom's new boyfriend. Even though I understand how hard that might be for a daughter, Josie was acting very selfish and slightly out of character in my opinion. However, this part was the only thing that I didn't like about For Keeps.

I loved that Josie's father makes an appearance, and that you learn a lot about him. You wouldn't expect it, but For Keeps has some twists, in that you learn some truths about Kate and Paul before Josie was born. Everything was very interesting, and I liked that not everything was as it seemed to be on the surface.

Overall, I found For Keeps to be a very sweet and adorable novel, much like the TV show Gilmore Girls. If you like books about the mother-daughter dynamic, then I would definitely check this one out, because Natasha Friend does a great job writing about this particular subject.

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

2010/Viking/267 pages.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks, and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, who are members of a secret organization called the Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What's more, the Magister, the shadowy figure that runs the club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own.

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to help her find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by - and torn between - two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, who caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length... everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and saving the world... and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all. (from inside flap)

I absolutely adored The Mortal Instruments trilogy, and it's probably one of my top favorite series of all time. When I heard that Cassandra Clare was going to keep writing about the Shadowhunter world, but this time set it in Victorian England, I was ecstatic. I love historical fiction, and the thought of this world brought to life in the past got me so excited.

I was a little worried that Clockwork Angel would be too much like City of Bones - and it was similiar. We have the protagonist who knows nothing of this secret world, a love interest who uses an unhealthy amount of sarcasm, the search for a family member, the list goes on. But I didn't mind too much because even though certain elements of the plot and characterizations were similar, the setting and time make the book a lot different. And even with these similarities, by the end I could see that Tessa was not Clary, Will was not Jace, Jem was definitely not Alec and so on, even if their characters play similar roles.

Regardless, I loved Clockwork Angel so much. I was so glad to be back in the Shadowhunter world, but this time with a new mystery, that of the creepy Magister. There were a lot of twists and turns, and by the end, everything I thought I knew was wrong. Cassandra Clare continues to amaze me with her flawless world-building, witty dialogue, interesting narration, and a healthy dose of action and suspense. The fact that all this was happening in Victorian London gave everything a gothic feel and I imagined all the characters fighting demons in tophats and fancy suits - which was pretty awesome.

As for the characters, Tessa was really interesting because she is not a Shadowhunter, but a Downworlder, even though technically the Clave has yet to discover exactly what she is. Throughout the novel, she struggles with the fact that she might not be human, but remains a strong and bright heroine regardless of her birth. I loved the fact that Tessa enjoyed reading, and would often quote famous literature or poetry. I also found myself drawn to Will, who gets more face time in the novel than Jem. Like Jace, he is the sarcastic and funny character, but he definitely seems to be hiding something very dark. And that cliffhanger! How will I be able to wait until September to find out what happens to everyone?

Clockwork Angel was an excellent debut to a hopeful new trilogy - one that combines fantasy with history in a splendid novel. I cannot wait to read more about Tessa and will be wistfully counting the days until Clockwork Prince is released.

Rating: 10 out of 10!
FTC: Christmas gift.

2010/Margaret K. McElderberry/479 pages.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The TwentyEleven Challenge

Steph Su introduced me to this challenge, and I think it sounds really fun. Hosted by Bart's Bookshelf, this challenge requires participants to read 20 books in 11 different catagories. I'm going to list the catagories below and then put the books I read under them. For more information, visit the challenge post.

1. To YA or Not YA (If you read more YA, read something non-YA, and vice versa)
The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory [adult]
The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley [adult]

2. ...With a Twist (sub-genres)
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare [historical fiction fantasy]
Across the Universe by Beth Revis [science fiction mystery]

3. Hot off the Presses (published in 2011)
Drought by Pam Bachorz
The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal

4. It Wasn't Me! (aka Bad Bloggers) (Books you read based on a recommendation from another blogger)
The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee [ Steph Su Reads]
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins [Frenetic Reader]

5. Show It Who is Boss! (books in your TBR pile published before 2011) Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr [2007]
Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr [2008]

6. Bablefish (Books translated from another language)
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy [Russian to English]
Nothing by Janne Teller [Danish to English]

7. Will Power? What Will Power? (books purchased in 2011)
City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare
Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter

8. Mind The Gap (book read to finish a series/trilogy)
Violet in Private by Melissa Walker

9. Back in the Day (reread a favorite book)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
Sleepaway Girls by Jen Calonita

10. Way Back When (read a book published before you were born)
Summer of Fear by Lois Duncan [1976]
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell [1936]

11. Slim Pickings (read a novella between 90 and 150 pages)
Animal Farm by George Orwell [138 pages]