Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic

Never Eighteen is the debut book from author Megan Bostic. It is also another cancer and YA book. This one really missed the mark for me.

Synopsis: I had the dream again. The one where I’m running. I don’t know what from or where to, but I’m scared, terrified really.

Austin Parker is never going to see his eighteenth birthday. At the rate he’s going, he probably won’t even see the end of the year. But in the short time he has left there’s one thing he can do: He can try to help the people he loves live—even though he never will.

It’s probably hopeless.

But he has to try. (Goodreads.com)



This book reads like a badly written self-help book in the fact that Austin seems to truly believe that he can make everyone in his life face their bad decisions and turn things around. His dad, his grandmother, friends from school, even the kid he used to bully in elementary school. Austin becomes this guru into the human condition and it rang very false for me. I wanted to know more about HIM, what made him tick, what he thought about his cancer experience, what he hoped for in the after life, but instead I was treated to character after character in his life as he tried to help them. And unfortunately, not only was this highly presumptuous, but it was frustrating because I never got the chance to truly understand these characters for more of a handful of pages. These people were important in Austin's life, I totally get that, but I never saw them beyond their issue: the gay student, the victim, the drunk. They were not real people to me at all.

Even Kaylee, Austin's best friend since third grade, is a very periphery character. I knew Austin loved her but I couldn't see why exactly beyond the fact that he just has for most of his life. I didn't know enough about her, what qualities made her stand out, to truly understand Austin's love. I didn't doubt his love at all but Kaylee was rather like this woman on a pedestal, the idea of love, but not necessarily real. Given that he knew he wouldn't make it to eighteen (hence the title), I think he had to throw himself wholeheartedly into love and accept it for what it was, an illustrious dream where he could fantasize about what might have been instead of the reality that he was going to die and Kaylee at some point would find someone else to love and build a life with.


What did work in this book's favor is the short length because it did give Austin's situation more urgency, at least for me. He really did only have a short time left to live and he was trying to use that time to its fullest. I felt he thought he was doing the right thing even as I couldn't help finding his actions forced and annoying. How can you refute a boy who is dying? How can you even answer to something like that when he is looking critically at your life and sees you failing it? It was very manipulative.


There is one point, towards the end of the book, that rang truer for me as Austin talks about not wanting to have another round of chemo. He just wanted to die peacefully. He had reconciled himself to the fact that another four or five months would not give him back any real quality of life and he was brave enough to face that. 


I am a reader who cries quite often during stories but I will say, I did not cry in Never Eighteen and I think it's because I felt so very removed from the characters. There is just this great distance between Austin and the reader and heck, I barely got the chance to dig into the other characters. I don't think a lengthier novel would have improved that, but perhaps less of those random characters could have made them stand out a bit more.


I do see potential in Megan Bostic though. I connected with her writing and felt she had a really good male voice in Austin. I am intrigued about seeing what she can do with a situation that doesn't seem so forced and uncomfortable because really, that is what cancer is. It's sad and uncomfortable and heartwrenching and it makes your heart bleed, even as you don't necessarily find common ground with the characters.


Perhaps I've finally hit my wall on young adult cancer books?


Other reviews:
Galleysmith reviews Never Eighteen
Early Nerd Special reviews Never Eighteen
Chick Loves Lit reviews Never Eighteen


Copy borrowed from local library.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Guest Post: Meredith Zeitlin, author of Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters

I'm so excited today to bring you a guest post with debut author Meredith Zeitlin, author of Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters. You can read my review for more details but suffice it to say this is a humorous look at the high school freshmen experience!

Meredith is here today to talk a little bit about her theater experience which plays a very fun role in Kelsey Finkelstein's own freshman year. So, read on and I hope you'll visit Meredith's website for more information about this book or follow her on Twitter!


THEATRE MY FRESHMAN YEAR: SUCCESS, OR UNNATURAL DISASTER??

I started doing plays in elementary school, because that's where they send hyperactive kids who can sing. Since being in plays as a child mostly consists of looking cute and then having people clap, I thought it was a heck of a good time. And as I got older, I realized how much I actually loved musical theatre, and how much I loved being a theatre geek.

I was on a track after that – school plays, after-school classes, and right before my freshman year in high school, I spent my first summer at theatre camp (Stagedoor Manor shout-out!). That summer changed how I thought about theatre (and myself as a participant) in so many ways; for the first time, I was part of a really big community of people who took it seriously and also celebrated it. I was suddenly cool in a way I'd never experienced before. Being a great belter was divine. Being a lousy dancer who tried hard was laudable. Talking about shows was the norm. Getting a good part wasn't showing off – it was being awesome.

That summer was amazing. I'd never felt like I belonged anywhere so completely and easily before, and could let my guard down and be myself - and if that sounds cheesy and like a lame movie, that's totally okay. It's still the truth.
When I started at a new school freshman year, I was still riding the high from camp. At the same time, I was really anxious to be in a totally different environment, surrounded by strangers. All my “I'M GREAT, CAN'T YOU TELL!?” safety shields were up. I'm sure I tried way too hard when I should've relaxed and been myself. But come on – is anyone that self-possessed at fourteen? (Well, maybe Dakota Fanning was. I definitely wasn't.) Even so, I made friends and went to class and had a pretty normal time.

Then I auditioned for the fall play. It was Iphigenia at Aulis, and I was so nervous I thought I was going to die. I HAD to get cast. My reputation with myself was depending on it.

We waited... the cast list went up, finally. And... I got a part. I was cast as Young Iphigenia. I thought I was going to lose my mind with happiness, right there next to the bulletin board.
So that's the success part.

Here's the disaster part: I was so happy, and so badly wanted to get back in my theatre camp frame of mind, that I went up to the junior who'd been cast as Athena and said, “You're in my play! That's so awesome!” If you've read the book, you know Kelsey does the same thing with soccer. And you know how it turns out... poorly. Within minutes, the entire school had heard the tale of the freshman who thought it was “HER play.” Not good. Not my intention, and not good at all.

As Kelsey does, I survived being tortured by that girl and her friends for the entire year. The seniors in the show sort of adopted me, so at least I wasn't facing down the junior theatre clique by myself. But it was not fun. It took some of the joy out of it. And it taught me a pretty valuable lesson: school isn't camp. Also: keep your big mouth shut, Zeitlin.

So, success or disaster? I think both - like most things. Or in my case? Like everything.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Review: Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters

Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin is a great comedy about the hijinks of the freshman year, when it seems there are endless possibilities to reinvent yourself only to discover it's not nearly as easy as one thinks.

Synopsis: Kelsey Finkelstein is fourteen and FRUSTRATED. Every time she tries to live up to her awesome potential, her plans are foiled – by her impossible parents, her annoying little sister, and life in general. But with her first day of high school coming up, Kelsey is positive that things are going to change. Enlisting the help of her three best friends — sweet and quiet Em, theatrical Cass, and wild JoJo — Kelsey gets ready to rebrand herself and make the kind of mark she knows is her destiny. 


Things start out great - her arch-nemesis has moved across the country, giving Kelsey the perfect opportunity to stand out on the soccer team and finally catch the eye of her long-time crush. But soon enough, an evil junior’s thirst for revenge, a mysterious photographer, and a series of other catastrophes make it clear that just because KELSEY has a plan for greatness… it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is in on it. (Goodreads.com)


Let me just say it plain and simple: this book is funny! If you have a soft spot for the humor in Brent Crawford's Carter Finally Gets It, well then hop on board the Kelsey Finkelstein train! She wants her freshman year to a success on every level and she'll do anything she can to make it happen. Unfortunately, that leads to some situations that prove funny to the reader but are definitely not Kelsey's ideal freshman experience. That being said, I really liked how Kelsey was open to so many experiences. She truly didn't let anything hold her back, even when the situations showed her in not the best of moments. But that didn't stop her from trying soccer, theater, heck, even the newspaper!

I totally admit to having a rather juvenile sense of humor so this book totally worked for me in that respect. There is a scene involving a beard during theater that had me cracking up nonstop. It was absolutely hilarious and told in a very personable, droll fashion. That describes Kelsey's voice somewhat. She has all these grand ideas that she pursues with enthusiasm and they don't always work out but somehow she takes it in stride, chalking it up to another experience.

I also liked that Kelsey and her friends didn't totally lose touch with each other during the course of the book. That's not to say it was all sunshine and roses because it wasn't but it was nice to see this core group of friends still having something in common and not totally going their separate ways even as they made new friends and became a bit more independent of each other.

This is a very lighthearted book but that being said, there are scenes of drinking and a lot of talk of sex. I'd like to be able to say you could sell this to an seventh or eighth grader but the scene where Kelsey pukes because of alcohol will not be for every reader. It's a definite case of having to know your reader. The cute cover is going to grab many readers though and hopefully they'll learn a positive lesson from Kelsey's experience which is I'm sure what the author was hoping for. You can also sell this on the sweet romance which is not a focus of the story but is definitely there. Kelsey crushes on a photographer gone awry which leads to even more humor in this story.

Kelsey is a great character to spend time with. Zeitlin has a really great sense of humor and it appears in the book. Additionally, Kelsey is close to her family, for all her histrionics about how her mom fails to appreciate her and invades her privacy, etc. Her parents have an active role in her life and that shows throughout the course of the story.

If you read and liked Brent Crawford's Carter books or Don Calame's Swim the Fly, I truly think Meredith Zeitlin is the female equivalent to those stories. Kelsey has quite the freshman year of high school filled with mistakes, excitement, surprises, and growth. I'd love to see another adventure from Kelsey. I know I would devour it and I think this book is going to have great appeal for younger teen readers. Meredith Zeitlin, you've come into the YA world with a bang.

Tomorrow, look for a guest post from Meredith Zeitlin!

Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters is available on March 1 from G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Other reviews:
YA Reads reviews Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters
Books from a Shelf reviews Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters
The Cheap Reader reviews Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters

ARC provided by publisher/agent.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Making a run for the Printz!

Remember how I'm running for the Michael L. Printz Award committee for 2014?? Well, now you can find out a bit more about WHY I'm running. YALSA Blog has posted an interview with me about my qualifications and why I think the Printz is so important.

I hope you'll head on over there to take a look and consider voting for me in the upcoming ALA elections. And if you have questions, please feel free to contact me personally.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Picture Book Saturday!

Did you know that March 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts? I'm betting a lot of you were Girl Scouts as little kids. I know I was! I still have all my badges to admire. And yeah, a lot of it is about the cookies for me now (Samoas, YUM!) I still fondly recall my days in the Girl Scouts. I had excellent troop leaders.

So, what does this have to do with Picture Book Saturday? Well, there are a lot of new books coming out this year to commemorate the life of Juliette Gordon Low. Here are two recent ones that have come through in my Baker and Taylor order.

Here Come the Girl Scouts! by Shana Corey with illustrations by Hadley Hooper. This is a great nonfiction picture book detailing the life of Juliette Gordon Low. I absolutely love Hadley Hooper's illustrations, they really make the text shine. The book does a great job of weaving the details of Juliette Gordon Low's life into her ideas of the Girl Scouts, with frequent Girl Scout sayings adorning the pages. The end features a information about the legacy of Juliette Gordon Low along with all the sources the author used. This is a small book but it really works well. There is a great melding of text and illustration, leaving you nostalgic for your own time in the Girl Scouts.


For a more in depth look at Juliette Gordon Low, be sure to read First Girl Scout: The Life of Juliette Gordon Low by Ginger Wadsworth. This is a great biography about the founder of the Girl Scouts and I can see it being used in many reports in the future. I loved the opening of each chapter as it showcases a different Girl Scout badge. This is not a picture book (despite it being Picture Book Saturday) but I was really impressed with the quality of this biography showcasing Gordon Low's life. She was a phenomenal woman and the legacy she has left behind is about more than cookies. This is really a book about Juliette Gordon Low however and much of the book focuses on her life before she founded the Girl Scouts. I found it very interesting myself but if you have readers who are more interested in the Girl Scout angle, it takes a bit of reading to get there.

Both of these books are quality reading with different ways of examining the legacy that Juliette Gordon Low left behind. 

Picture Book Saturday is a feature from A Patchwork of Books! Check out her blog to see what she is talking about today.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Things I Like! (05)

This week I've really been in a re-reading kick, specifically romance author Kristan Higgins who writes some of my favorite contemporary romance books.

It all started when I got her upcoming April 2012 release, Somebody to Love, from Netgalley. It was so, so good and it featured previous characters from another of her books that I just had to re-read that book too (that book being The Next Best Thing).

Lately, re-reading my favorite romance books has been way more rewarding than reading new romance or YA books. I guess I'm just in that kind of reading phase right now. I never take enough time to re-read so I'm going to enjoy it. (Though yeah, I do feel guilty about ignoring all the new, never been read, books I have waiting for me.)

Do you re-read books? What's your favorite re-read?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Audiobook review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, read by Wil Wheaton

So, this is probably the most fun I've had with a book in quite awhile! Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is a great book for the nerd in all of us and actor Wil Wheaton (yes, THAT Wil Wheaton) is the perfect narrator for this story.

Synopsis: It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. 


Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. 


And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune--and remarkable power--to whoever can unlock them. 


For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved--that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig. 


And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle. 


Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt--among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life--and love--in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape. (Goodreads.com)


Now, make no mistake, this book has its flaws. The Book Smugglers review of Ready Player One most succinctly points out the flaws, the biggest that stands out for me is how Cline basically ignores any and all female fantasy writers which is a travesty but that being said, I still had a great time with this book. I listened to it while working and while traveling in my car to visit family and frankly, I didn't want to stop driving. I'm not sure whose brilliant idea it was to get Wil Wheaton to narrate this book but it was pure genius. Considering how involved in the world of fandom and "nerds" Wheaton is, he seems like the only choice to read this book and wow, does he make his mark. Some actors are not meant to read audio books, it's just fact. I've listened to some audio books narrated by famous actors where it is an abysmal listening experience. Not so with Ready Player One and Wil Wheaton. Wil Wheaton brings eighteen year old Wade Watts to life through sarcasm, nerdery, and excitement over the contest. And not just Wade. Wheaton is not afraid to change his voice, to be dynamic and robust in his narration. There is a part where he is voicing a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the British touch is just right.

There is A LOT of exposition in this book. A lot. I think if I had been reading this rather than listening, I would have ended up skimming chunks of the text. But with listening, I was engaged because Wheaton makes even the exposition important and interesting. He is NOT a dull, monotonous narrator by any means and I was really thrilled to hear him seemingly get just as excited as Wade over some of the 1980s pop culture and trivia. Narrators can easily lose me in exposition but I was hanging on every word of this book.

Ready Player One is a 2012 Alex Award winner and there is no doubting why. This is a great quest novel. It's about friendship and reaching a huge, momentous goal. Yes, the villains are static, yes there really isn't a whole lot of character depth in this book but it is nonetheless hugely engaging. Fast-paced, filled with humor and sarcasm, plenty of swearing, a lot of crushing on a certain female Gunter, the chance to be greater than your parents before you, and the chance to put down the man. While this book really only touches very lightly on heavier matters, it makes for an extremely readable story nonetheless. I tend to love stories with character development and emotional impact. While this book has some character growth, it is truly about plot momentum, about story and setting. The Oasis is this amazing other world. It is leaps and bounds better than say, Second Life, which FINALLY seems to have died out. Wade's journey in the Oasis and the emerging story is where reader interest lies, NOT in ruminating on why people are much more interested in being part of the Oasis than real life.

If you like video games, the 1980s, movies and obscure facts, give this book a try. I cannot claim to be any real expert on the 1980s but I do know my movies fairly well and I enjoyed the references to movies I have seen and enjoyed. Ernest Cline did his research that much is obvious because this book brims with both the well known and the obscure. Wil Wheaton adds another layer of enjoyment to the book and I highly recommend listening to the audio rather than just reading it. There is something rather meta about having him narrate, considering his own role in Ready Player One (and not just as narrator). This is a very cinematic book! There are huge, grandiose villains, sweeping adventures where one has to use any and all knowledge at hand, and fun friendships formed along the way. Ready Player One is a climactic adventure and Wil Wheaton throws himself wholly into the experience, relishing the narration experience. It is quite obvious he took a lot of joy in the production of this audio book and in turn, readers are going to have just as much joy in the finished product.

Ready Player One is an unabridged production by Random House Audio. It is 13 compact discs for a total of fifteen and a half hours of listening.

Borrowed from local public library.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review: There You'll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones

I live in and work for a fairly conservative community. I get many requests for stories for "Christian girls". And honestly, this is not my normal milieu as a reader but I am really trying to reach outside my boundaries to better serve my community and that means trying to read more Christian teen fiction. There You'll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones may be marketed as a Christian fiction book for teens but there is a lot in this story that any teen reader is going to enjoy.

Synopsis: Grief brought Finley to Ireland. LOVE WILL LEAD HER HOME. Finley Sinclair is not your typical eighteen-year-old. She's witty, tough, and driven. With an upcoming interview at the Manhattan music conservatory, Finley needs to compose her audition piece. But her creativity disappeared with the death of her older brother, Will.
She decides to study abroad in Ireland so she can follow Will's travel journal. It's the place he felt closest to God, and she's hopeful being there will help her make peace over losing him. So she agrees to an exchange program and boards the plane.
Beckett Rush, teen heartthrob and Hollywood bad boy, is flying to Ireland to finish filming his latest vampire movie. On the flight, he meets Finley. She's the one girl who seems immune to his charm. Undeterred, Beckett convinces her to be his assistant in exchange for his help as a tour guide.
Once in Ireland, Finley starts to break down. The loss of her brother and the pressure of school, her audition, and whatever it is that is happening between her and Beckett, leads her to a new and dangerous vice. When is God going to show up for her in this emerald paradise?
Then she experiences something that radically changes her perspective on life. Could it be God convincing her that everything she's been looking for has been with her all along? (Goodreads.com)

What I liked about this book, and what I think teen girls in particular are going to relate to, is Finley's slow breakdown as she tries to deal with all the pressure in her life. She's being courted by a celebrity (think Robert Pattinson but less amusing ), school is another pressure she deals with, as is her constant practice sessions for her upcoming audition to the New York Conservatory. And oh yeah, trying to retrace her brother Will's footsteps. Will is dead but he lives on in Finley's life through her grief about him and she is hard pressed to let it go. Much of this book deals with her relationship to God in terms of her relationship with Will, her grief, and the process of finally letting it go.

Readers will enjoy the lush Irish setting as Finley is studying abroad. Getting to know the various residents of Abbeyglen, spending time sight-seeing, and dealing with a school bully, a crush, making new friends, and the pressures of the future all combine to make this book readers are going to respond to. That being said, this is a definite Christian fiction book and Finley seriously questions her relationship with God. She is dealing with seeing someone dying right before her eyes and that too makes her question where God is leading her. A nun becomes a bit of a guide to Finley and helps her see that prayer is a way to reach God and that even though she feels empty, as if he has abandoned her, he is in fact right there, waiting for her to reconnect. This is not light on the religious message but I didn't find it to be a turn-off. To me, teenagers are at the point in their lives where they are questioning everything and everyone so it felt natural for Finley to be somewhat repelled and scared of her relationship with God, to distrust Him.

And intertwined with all of this is Finley's foray into an eating disorder. I felt this was actually really well done in the story. As Finley starts to feel more and more pressure, as her relationship with God changes, she finds comfort in the emptiness of her stomach. The signs are clearly laid out for readers and things get progressively worse as the story continues. This is not an eating disorder story however; there is a lot more to this book than Finley's trouble with food.

The only thing for me that was a turn-off was the epilogue which rang rather... falsely cheerful. Finley's journey into healing is just beginning by the end of the book so the abrupt switch to the epilogue where she is seems much happier and more resilient was a bit of a shocker for me. All in all though, There You'll Find Me proved to be an engaging foray into Christian teen fiction for me. Religious or not, teens are going to relate to Finley's struggles, her need to achieve, and how down to earth she is in her love for her family and her brother. I obviously need to read more in order to continue to my readers' advisory for my teen customers but I definitely found this to be a great start. I think this is a thoughtful story that teen readers, no matter what denomination or even lack of interest in religion, will find complicated and engaging.

Other reviews:
Much Loved Books reviews There You'll Find Me
Book Review Sisters reviews There You'll Find Me
Born Bookish reviews There You'll Find Me

Reviewed from public library book.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti

Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti is the latest book that tackles bullying in high school. It is a very emotional book as warrants the subject  but also carries a certain "after school special" feeling to it that is rather burdensome to the entire storyline.

Synopsis: Between Noelle’s difficult home life and the bullying she endures at school, all she wants is to get out of her small town. Noelle would give anything to be with Julian Porter. But staying with her emotionally distant boyfriend is safer. When things heat up between Noelle and Julian, she has to decide whether she can be her true self with him. (Goodreads.com)


Every reader is going to sympathize with Noelle. You would be very cold-hearted if you didn't feel sympathy for her. She has a secret boyfriend who wants nothing to do with her outside of random make-out sessions. Her mother is awful and only concerned with herself and every day at school Noelle is assaulted mentally and physically and no one does anything about it. Believe me, I felt awful for Noelle. But.. that did not make this story all that strong really. Colasanti is a very, very readable author. This is a relatively short book and has high reluctant reader appeal: short chapter, a romance, a great best friend, and a character many teens are going to relate to. That being said, I really felt the message of anti-bullying was so heavy-handed and blatant. This is not a bad thing but it also, for me, did not do the story any favors.

Honestly, as I was reading, instead of envisioning the character of Noelle, I felt like I was reading Susane Colasanti's teenage years in a book, especially as the story progressed. Noelle became less and the authorial voice just seemed to overtake the story with messages so heavily laden with being unique, standing out, and that being different is good that it all felt forced. None of those messages are bad of course but it would be great if they had been worked into the text in a way that was not quite so right in front of your face. There was also a very negative "small town, suburban area" message to this book which I found to be quite distasteful. I realize that the suburbs are not for everyone and in fact a lot of teenagers do want to escape them but I feel like it was not Noelle who wanted out of the suburbs but Colasanti who wanted out of the suburbs. Yes, there are definitely negatives to the suburban life but there are also positives too.

There is also a plot involving Noelle's best friend, Sherae, who was raped by her boyfriend. It is only finally addressed as rape towards the end of the book but it is clear that what Sherae has been having nightmares about, why she has been avoiding her ex-boyfriend, is clearly rape. There is a bit of an attempt at the end to say that Sherae is getting the help she needs but it didn't seem like the boy who raped her was facing any consequences. This plot was just barely fit in amidst Noelle's issues and it really got short-shrift because the story really was not long enough or frankly complex enough to handle the very scary and complex issue of rape.

While I definitely breezed through this book and I definitely like Colasanti's stories, I have many reservations about Keep Holding On. There was just too much of Colasanti in the book. Noelle had so many issues going on but by the time the book was over I felt Noelle was a bit of a Mary Sue. She had this perfect, amazing writing talent that she just seemingly discovered. She had this really handsome boy who wanted her despite everything and Noelle's relationship with her mother was strange and was fairly glossed over by the end of the book. After years of being abused by her classmates, she finds her confidence out of nowhere. It just felt all very abbreviated and too fast.

When it comes down to it though, teens are going to enjoy this book and even though it didn't all work for me, this book is going to fly off the shelves and that is one of the most important criteria I have when purchasing a book for my library.

Keep Holding On comes out in June 2012 from Viking.

ARC from Around the World Tours.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: Fever by Lauren DeStefano

Fever is the second book in Lauren DeStefano's Chemical Garden trilogy. You can read my review of the first book, Wither, here. Fever did not quite engross me the way the first book did.

Synopsis: Running away brings Rhine and Gabriel right into a trap, in the form of a twisted carnival whose ringmistress keeps watch over a menagerie of girls. Just as Rhine uncovers what plans await her, her fortune turns again. With Gabriel at her side, Rhine travels through an environment as grim as the one she left a year ago - surroundings that mirror her own feelings of fear and hopelessness.

The two are determined to get to Manhattan, to relative safety with Rhine’s twin brother, Rowan. But the road there is long and perilous - and in a world where young women only live to age twenty and young men die at twenty-five, time is precious. Worse still, they can’t seem to elude Rhine’s father-in-law, Vaughn, who is determined to bring Rhine back to the mansion...by any means necessary.

In the sequel to Lauren DeStefano’s harrowing Wither, Rhine must decide if freedom is worth the price - now that she has more to lose than ever. (Goodreads.com)


I think what most frustrated me about this book is that Rhine was brought full circle, back to where her troubles began. It didn't feel like anything happened in this book at all. It truly seemed like a placeholder to me, to whatever lies ahead for Rhine. Some of the things that happened to her, particularly how she was discovered, felt so obvious to me. Given how evil her father-in-law is, it should have been obvious that she just was not going to get away that easily.

However, there were some truly scary elements in this book that worked to its benefit. The addiction Gabriel faced, the prostitution and the frightening carnival (whose Madame reminded me of The Last Unicorn's Mommy Fortuna), and the death of Rhine's hopes all made for a lot of fear and struggle for survival. Unfortunately, I just wasn't as engaged in their struggles as I had been in Wither. I missed the sister wives, I missed Linden. I know the situation between of all them was not normal or healthy, it had intrigue and energy to it. Watching Gabriel and Rhine escape dire situation after dire situation just started to read like every other YA dystopian book out there.


Of course, and here I back track again, I did find the ending interesting enough to continue on with the final book. I want to see Rhine happy, I truly do. I hope that is coming for her in the final book. I also hope we get to see more of Maddie who was my favorite new character. She is smart and a sweetheart and I liked her story line a lot. A mother's love and sacrifice always gets to me and that is definitely the case with her.


Fever didn't live up to all my hopes but it was not bad. It just read like a middle book, where the action didn't really move the story forward all that much. I feel like there is going to be a lot in store for the third book and I know I want to read it and share in the end of Rhine's journey.


ARC provided by Around the World Tours

Friday, February 17, 2012

Things I Like! (04)

Here are a few of the things I'm really liking this week!

These utterly lovely shoes I got at Target! They surprisingly go with just about everything.

Cougar Town finally had its season 3 premiere this week! It's been way too long since I've been able to spend any time with the cul de sac crew! Don't watch yet? Read this post to find out why you should be watching!

Twirl by Kate Spade. Pop Culture Junkie recommended this perfume a few weeks ago and when I tried it at Kohls last weekend I fell in love. I love the scent!

Shoes, perfume and TV. Yep, it's like my perfect week! Add in some of the fun books I've been reading and my three day President's Day weekend and I am one happy camper this Friday.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Follow me to the Hub!

 
I'm over at YALSA's Hub blog talking about books, movies, and the Oscars! Follow me over and add your own thoughts.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review: Perception by Kim Harrington

Perception by Kim Harrington is one of my most highly anticipated reads of 2012 and I am happy to say, for me, it was a great follow-up to Clarity.

Synopsis: Everybody knows about Clarity "Clare" Fern. She's the psychic girl in school, the one who can place her hands on something and see hidden visions from the past.

Only Clare would rather not be a celebrity. She prefers hanging back, observing. Her gift is not a game to her.


But then someone starts playing with her head . . . and heart. Messages and gifts from a secret admirer crop up everywhere Clare turns. Could they be from Gabriel, the gorgeous boy who gets Clare's pulse racing? Or from Justin, Clare's hopeful ex-boyfriend who'd do anything to win her back?


One thing is certain. Clare needs to solve this mystery, and soon. Because the messages are becoming sinister, and a girl in town has suddenly disappeared.
(Goodreads.com)


Once again, Clare Fern drew me in. She is just a really great character and I really was happy to be able to read another Clare Fern adventure. So what did I like about this book? A lot! I really liked the voice. Clare is funny, kind, and not afraid to call you on your BS. She is also not afraid to apologize when she makes a mistake or inadvertently hurts someone's feelings. She is also close to her brother, Perry. This was a great brother-sisters relationship in Clarity, but in Perception, it is deeper because Perry is not quite the lighthearted guy he used to be. He was a murder suspect and it has changed him and I think Harrington deals with those changes really well. It affects Clare and Perry's relationship big time. It was nice to see that, like many sibling relationships, theirs was not always perfect.

I also liked seeing Clare try to be normal. When she solved the first murder at her school, she gained a certain celebrity at school, something she is not comfortable with at all. Girls who used to mock and bully her now want to be her "friends" and while Clare is very skeptical, she also yearns for some teenage normalcy: going to parties, crushing on boys, and NOT being able to get impressions when she touches objects. And of course, Clare already has boy issues of her own. She does not want to hurt either Justin, her ex-boyfriend, or Gabriel, the sheriff's son. And then, another murder case opens up unfortunately and Clare decides she wants to help. Her mother is not having any of it but Clare decides to investigate on her own.


Clare is still an amateur sleuth, that is for certain, but she is not silly or stupid and she tries her hardest to bring justice to her dead classmate. Unfortunately, she is dealing with something creepy on her own. The clues are laid out in this story in a way that allows you to figure out what is going on but also throws in a red herring or two. The mystery did not totally surprise me but it did have me second-guessing my assumptions.


But what drew me in more than anything is the characters. Readers gain a deeper connection to Clare. She is not just a teenager with a special talent. She is someone who has hopes and dreams, who really cares for her brother and who wants happiness for her mother. Perry likewise becomes more fully fleshed out and I found his story line, and how it intersected with Clare's, the most interesting and distressing part of the story. I felt awful for Perry but I'm glad Harrington took him down this road because it has made his character grow and change. Clare also befriends Mallory, a girl with some issues of her own but who is also seeking normalcy in school by standing out. She is tired of being the invisible student. Heck, even Clare makes a faux pas when she first "meets" Mallory.


Kim Harrington writes incredibly readable books. They are lively, engage me as a reader because I care about the characters and what happens to them, and they pop a bit too! Harrington's interest in TV comes through on the pages and I enjoyed the pop culture references (just enough for chuckles, not too many where you want to smack the book). Clare is very multi-faceted (yes, it does sound like I'm talking about Feria here, but fortunately Clare is MUCH more original than hair dye) and she is likeable. Even though she's a bit different, she also is someone any reader can relate to because her high school struggles ring true without being over dramatized or shallow.


Perception has only whet my appetite once again for this series. If you haven't read Clarity yet, now you have the opportunity to read both these great stories back to back soon! I can only hope I haven't seen the last of Clare Fern and her family. 


And once you're finished with these books, definitely check out Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday who features a heroine that I think Clare would like! 

Perception comes out in March 2012 from Scholastic. Haven't read Clarity yet? It's available now!


Read from ARC edition.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It's a Pinkalicious Valentine's Party!

If you're a youth librarian or a parent/grandparent or fan of kidlit, you're probably well aware of the Pinkalicious series by Victoria Kann. This book is very popular with girls because well, it's so much pink! It's girly and pink and filled with cupcakes, unicorns, and other girly things. This book is hardly ever checked in at my library and I'm sure that is the case for many libraries across the country. I've always wanted to do a party based on a book for kids and when Abby the Librarian posted at the ALSC blog about her pinkalicious party, well, I had to go for it! She gave me so much inspiration.

I wanted to make my party a Valentine's day party also but really, the theme was definitely pink, pink and more pink. When registration opened on the first day and there were already a dozen children signed up, I knew this was a good idea. Registration filled up VERY quickly and once 40 kids were signed up, I had to close registration. My library's big meeting room, while big, is not huge by any means and I also could afford to purchase only so many supplies. The calls kept coming in however. I know I'll have to do another party of this nature at some point just to include those who were not able to sign-up for this party.

My party had various stations that each child could go to. I borrowed several of Abby's ideas including making a tic tac toe game, having a "pin the horn on the unicorn" game, and a guess how many pink marshmallows are in this jar game. I was able to give a prize for this game too which was nice. One of the Pinkalicious books I had purchased recently came with a poster so I decided to give it away to the closest guess. In addition, there were several craft tables.


I had a "Make a Valentine" table, a knot scrunchie table (Abby's idea, thanks!! it was a hit), a macaroni and pink bead craft (I had all kinds of random beads in my storage room), a color the Valentine's bag craft (this was also a leftover craft), and a Pinkalicious coloring "contest" where I laid out all kinds of pink/red crayons and had the kids make themselves "pink" however they wanted too. There were faces, random pink scribbles, and butterflies. Then we hung them up on the wall as they finished and each child was awarded a pink ribbon. There was also plenty of pink food! Pink lemonade, little Pink Valentine's Little Debbie cakes, and of course, some green spearmint slices! (Green is the only known cure for pinkititis!).

It was a bit chaotic I will be fully honest but I had asked some teens to help man the stations and provide a little assistance since I couldn't be at every table every second of the program. I opened the program by reading Pinkalicious and from there, I just let people move about the stations and do things at their own pace. It worked really well and wow, so much pink! I had encouraged the kids to come dressed in pink. I had a few younger girls who actually owned Pinkalicious t-shirts, I had one girl come in a pink princess costume and tiara, and mostly the other girls just wore a lot of pink. It was definitely VERY Pinkalicious!

I also had a table of "pink" books which wow, checked out very quickly! There was no real mess involved in this program fortunately and I had done so much of the prep during the week that I was well prepared during the day of the program. I held it in the afternoon which worried me initially, if enough kids would be able to attend (I had it open for kids ages 3-10) but one little girl told me her mom even got her out of school early to attend. I didn't want to do it during the day because that would only leave it open to those kids who weren't in school and whose parents don't work. Fortunately, my timing seemed to work out well and plus, with having stations, even if some families came in late, they were still able to jump right in. And guess, what, there were boys! Not many I grant you but some of the younger brothers who had to tag along with their sisters and they seemed to be having just as much fun. Coloring and gluing, playing games, these are all universal children's things they enjoy so even if there was a coating of pink on everything, the boys still had fun. I did have one little boy who cried because he just wanted to eat the marshmallows.

There was one other breakdown, a little girl who comes to my story time sessions really cried during the reading of Pinkalicious. She was really scared when the character turned pink, then red. I went up to grandma after because I was concerned but grandma assured me that the little girl has read the story before, with her mom in fact, and it happens every time. But that was something I hadn't thought about before and I can see how it would be a little scary for kids who don't quite understand that you can't really turn that pink or red.

All in all, it was a great event! Just about every participant asked when/if I was going to have the program again. I, along with my volunteers, got many hugs from little girls as they left the party. It was a really fun event, really rewarding, and I got to use some of the things left over in my storage closet.

I bought most of my pink supplies at the Dollar Store and while it was somewhat costly, it wasn't all that expensive. I already had crayons and many of the other craft supplies so those weren't needed. I just had to buy some pink items to decorate the room and to get some tablecloths for the scrunchie ties. It was well worth it to see the happiness and smiles on the various families that attended the program and it gave me a great opportunity to get to know more of the school age kids who maybe only come in on weekends or evenings when I'm not working.

If you have questions, let me know! This was a really fun program, really perfect for ANY time of the year, but with so much pink and red available at stores during February for Valentine's Day, this was a great time of year to hold the program.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Review: Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

This book. Oh this book, it made me irrationally angry while reading it and I have come to the full conclusion that this author's books just do not work for me at all. I was very "meh" on Kirsten Hubbard's debut book, Like Mandarin, but for Wanderlove, I ended up being very angry and annoyed. The characters! The frustration I felt from them! Oh it was painful.

Synopsis: 18-year-old Bria Sandoval wants to be. In a quest for independence, her neglected art, and no-strings-attached hookups, she signs up for a guided tour of Central America—the wrong one. Middle-aged tourists with fanny packs are hardly the key to self-rediscovery. When Bria meets Rowan, devoted backpacker and dive instructor, and his outspokenly humanitarian sister Starling, she seizes the chance to ditch her group and join them off the beaten path.

Bria's a good girl trying to go bad. Rowan's a bad boy trying to stay good. As they travel across a panorama of Mayan villages, remote Belizean islands, and hostels plagued with jungle beasties, they discover what they've got in common: both seek to leave behind the old versions of themselves. And the secret to escaping the past, Rowan’s found, is to keep moving forward.


But Bria comes to realize she can't run forever, no matter what Rowan says. If she ever wants the courage to fall for someone worthwhile, she has to start looking back. (Goodreads.com)


I will start by saying that there is one thing I truly, truly loved in this book and that is the diverse settings of Central America. The buses with chicken on them, the markets, the islands, the boat rides across beautiful lakes, all of it came alive. Hubbard's bio said she is a travel writer and does a lot of traveling herself and it shows! I absolutely fell in love with the various settings. I was easily able to paint a picture of the country, its vivid colors, it's many sounds, and it's various citizenry. This was the best part of the book for me and I loved when Bria walked around the markets, explored Laughingbird Caye, and just tried new things, whether it was the food or travel. This was a fabulous element of the book and I think this book can be book talked alone on the amazing global travels.

Unfortunately, it all fell to pieces at that point. I found the characters utterly annoying, frustrating, pretentious and did I mention annoying? First, the names. Bria. Rowan. Starling. I could handle having ONE of those names in the book but not all three. It was like building up just how pretentious and unlikeable these characters would be. It was like when I was reading Hannah Moskowitz's Invincible Summer, where all the teens were endlessly quoting Camus. It felt fake and that is how Bria, Rowan and Starling came off to me. I think, if Rowan and Starling, had not been in this novel, or had disappeared soon after initiating Bria into backpacking travel regime, I would have grown to like Bria more. But instead, I end up getting fed up with all of them.


I will say, I slowly started to respect Bria a bit more as she finally grew a spine about 60% through the book (I was reading on my Kindle). She was standing up to Rowan and all his preconceived notions about her but then, she caved again and I was back to wanting her to get away from Rowan. He describes himself perfectly when he says "I'd flat out rather you didn't know. Really, it's all kind of cliche. Precocious youth with messed-up past finds refuge in immorality. Abroad. Boring, right?" (48% of eARC). That is Rowan exactly and he never grows past this cliche to me. He remains closed off and silent, this guy who wants Bria to dive, to swim but will not offer anything of himself in return.


Bria offers this observation: "You do come off as feeling awfully superior." "I don't think I'm superior." "No offense, because I think you're the most insightful person I've ever met... but you seem to have a lot of pent-up disappointment in travelers who aren't you or Starling." (67% of the eARC). He acts superior throughout the entirety of the text but yet forces Bria to humble herself to him, to make apologies when she shows she cares for him, and to only back down after she tries to assuage his feelings. I found Bria put way, way too much of herself into Rowan rather than into herself. Bria would have been a much stronger character if she had relied on herself and avoided the possibility of a romance at this juncture in her life. It did not work for me at all and to me, it read as yet another story where the girl character only finds comfort and hope in herself after getting approval from a man.


I have come to the conclusion that I am not the reader for Kirsten Hubbard. I will not be reading any more of her books. However, I do think that this is a worthy library purchase because it showcases another teen taking the unusual road, the nontraditional route right after high school. Bria is taking a chance and while college is still in the equation she is also getting some interesting real life experiences under her belt. I also think the non-United States setting will be a draw for many readers and, given how vividly Central America is written, this aspect of the story will hold many readers. It's what held me even with the annoying characters. I also think this is a great story highlighting the arts. Bria is an artist and her sketches (or rather, Hubbard's I believe) add another dimension to Bria's travel experience. I think Hubbard does a good job of highlighting the importance of the arts, how art is a feeling of joy and happiness for many people and actually does have many career possibilities. I appreciated the positive arts message that infused this book.


Also, I appreciated the notion of understanding and taking the time to learn about the countries you're visiting. Rowan says:


"What everyone forgets--even me-is the people who actually live here. In places like Central America, I mean. Southeast Asia. India. Africa. Millions, even billions, of people, who live out their whole lives in these places--the places so many people like us fear. think about it: they ride chicken buses to work every day. Their clothes are always damp. Their whole lives, they never escape the dust and the heat. But they deal with all these discomforts. They have to. So why can't travelers? If we've got the means to get here, we owe it to the country we're visiting not to treat it like an amusement park, sanitized for our comfort. It's insulting to the people who live here. People just trying to have the best lives they can, with the hands they've been dealt." (66% of the eARC). 


This is one of the few times I agreed with Rowan and I think this is an important lesson, slyly worked into the story, that Hubbard highlights. We do want to be more sensitive to the people who live in the countries we find so fascinating.


This was a rather... painful reading experience for me, mostly when it came to the characters. While the book did read very quickly I was so frustrated by the characters that I often had to take breaks. I seriously considered just stopping altogether but I wanted to visit Laughingbird Caye and I'm so glad I did.


There are going to be so many positive reading experiences of Wanderlove that I know I'm going to be in the minority and that's okay. I've found a book that doesn't work for me but I know how I can sell this book to my teen readers and that is perhaps the most important lesson I took out of this reading experience.


Wanderlove comes out on March 13, 2012, from Delacorte.


Other reviews:
Chick Loves Lit reviews Wanderlove
Anna Reads reviews Wanderlove
Nice Girls Read Books reviews Wanderlove


eARC provided by Netgalley.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Things I Like! (03)

So, if you follow me on Twitter (particularly on Thursday nights!) you know of my teensy, little, GARGANTUAN obsession with the TV show, The Vampire Diaries. Well, the trio has become the latest cover for Entertainment Weekly and I've been staring at these cover images all week!




I do think they are a tad... racy for a show that features "teenagers" and is aimed at, from all I know, at actual teenagers but don't Paul and Ian look yum???

Do you have a favorite cover?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Romance Round-up: February 2012

 
Here are the romance books I've reviewed lately! I hope you'll decide to take a chance on one of them.


Bodywork by Marie Harte
Feral by Sheri Whitefeather
Nice Girls Don't Bite Their Neighbors by Molly Harper
Miss Hillary Schools a Scoundrel by Samantha Grace
Rainshadow Road by Lisa Kleypas

Have you read any romance books lately? Feel free to share what you liked or didn't like!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Review: The Ivy: Rivals by Lauren Kunze with Rina Onur

The Ivy: Rivals by Lauren Kunze and Rina Onur is the third book in the Ivy series. It picks up right where Secrets left off and if you remember how Secrets left off, you'll be very anxious to see how Rivals opens! But lo and behold (and I'm sure you aren't surprised) the drama is not over for Callie, Gregory and company.

Synopsis: Callie will face some of the toughest choices imaginable: in friendships, in loyalties, and in love. The pressure to pick a side—and a suitor—has never been higher. But will she and her friends choose well? (Goodreads.com)


Yet again, the drama and prestige factor of these books draw me in. Yes, you heard it right. I enjoy the trials and tribulations of the filthy rich, those who have a pedigree reaching back to Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims. Callie may not have all the wealth or pedigree but she does have an inside look into the world of the ivy league college. 

This is not a book series that relies on deep characterization. These characters are pretty much what you see is what you get. Alexis Thorndike is the bitch with no layers of anything nice or kind about her. Gregory is the vulnerable rich boy who is madly in love with Callie (come on now, you all know it!), Callie is the "good girl" who keeps making bad decisions but somehow, things work out for her. I like this about this series though. It's the same reason I've watched a lot of bad television. There's something fun about being able to put your foot into this world without making any of these bad decisions yourself.


As I've said in my previous reviews of these books, either you will love them or you will hate them. For me, these are the fun, frothy gateway books into something deeper in the YA world. It's like a Gossip Girls or Clique series only set in college where I can feel somewhat better about crushing on Gregory. This is a great series for reluctant readers since the language is easy and very readable. There is a gossipy, salacious tone to the book that lends itself well to real life teenage antics also.


Rivals is an easy and fun story. It does rely a bit on the actions from the previous stories but honestly, it would not be too difficult to jump into the series at this point. At points, the book was a bit slow and there was a lot less Gregory than I would have liked (like I said, yep, I have a crush!) and Callie is still oblivious to the fact of how much he likes her but there were other things that drew me in. I liked seeing Callie, Mimi, Vanessa, and even Dana slowly bonding. I don't think they'll ever be great friends with Dana who is a bit less enthused with the party scene but it was nice to see them include her. Also, I liked seeing Callie becoming a bit more of a writer, of taking journalism a bit more seriously. 

There are some new, clearly duplicitous characters in the story who add more gossip and subterfuge to the story. All in all, Lauren Kunze and Rina Onur still have me hooked on The Ivy series. I can only hope that certain characters will finally get their comeuppance in future books! There is something deliciously decadent about the goings-on of these college students! It's like my addiction to Beverly Hills 90210 when I was a kid. It's not necessarily healthy reading but it's pure fun and that's exactly what I expect with this series. Fun and flirtation!

Rivals will be available on March 6, 2012 from Greenwillow Books.

ARC provided by publisher for review.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Review: Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday

Can I just say how much epic fun I had reading Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday?? The fabulous Gail told me I had to read it and while I don't always take her suggestions, I'm so glad I did with this book! If you're looking for a book with a main protagonist that is a cross between Veronica Mars and Tessa from Suburgatory (particularly with all her talk of just what the suburbs are), Hartley is your girl!

Synopsis: Hartley Grace Featherstone is having a very bad day. First she finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her with the president of the Herbert Hoover High School Chastity Club. Then he's pegged as the #1 suspect in a murder. And if that weren't enough, now he's depending on Hartley to clear his name. Seriously? Not cool. 


But as much as Hartley wouldn't mind seeing him squirm, she knows he's innocent, and she's the only one who can help him. Along with her best friend, Sam, and the school's resident Bad Boy, Chase, Hartley starts investigating on her own. But as the dead bodies begin to pile up, the mystery deepens, the suspects multiply, and Hartley begins to fear that she may be the killer's next victim. (Goodreads.com)


I loved Hartley as a main character. She is a great combination of humorous mistakes, sarcasm, and genuine concern. She is definitely an amateur detective and makes some decisions that I would normally categorize as just plain dumb but given the context of the book and the character I was getting to know, it worked. Yeah, she probably SHOULD NOT HAVE gone and met an informant at midnight on the football field but in the name of information, that's just what she had to do. There is something really likable about Hartley. You sympathize with her because her boyfriend cheated on her certainly, but she also stands out as just a fun character, someone you'd really meet in high school I think. She has a good relationship with her best friend, she is a friendly teen, and she's not body perfect.

I'm not a passionate mystery reader but I did manage to figure out the killer before the end. That in no way ruined any enjoyment I had in the story. While this is about a murder investigation, it's also about finding something (even unwittingly) that you are passionate about, it's about taking care of your friends, and yep, helping others. Even Veronica Mars had to help classmates she did not quite like.

The writing is very appealing and snaps with a lot of great dialogue and introspection from Hartley. She has sarcasm down to an art! The writing is witty and it has great reluctant reader appeal. I don't think it will date itself too quickly, even with some of the label dropping. Some of my favorite lines include:

"Well, I think we kinda proved it wasn't the Batcave." (p. 48)

Upon describing some of the library customers utilizing the internet stations:

"I settled down at a station next to a white-haired woman looking at pictures of her gradnkids on Photbucket (letting out the occasional coo at how cute they were) and a guy wearing three coats, two pairs of socks, and a week-old beard. I made sure to sit upwind from the overdressed guy..." (p.75) (These are totally normal library users by the way!)

"I just think you can handle this one on your own. Go, young grasshopper, show me what you've got." (p. 171)

And so many more! There were just so many great lines in this book that gave me a good laugh.

And oh yes, did I mention the bad boy? Chase isn't quite as full-bodied of a character as Hartley. Since we only seem him through her eyes, there is a distance there and he does not develop quite as much as Hartley or even Sam. But yes, he is intriguing!

Mostly I just liked all the snappy comebacks, the laughs I got from the story, and seeing Hartley bumble and stumble her way through the investigation. Hartley is smart and yes, she does make some rookie mistakes but she also tries to honestly investigate, to think like a detective and to find alibis and reasonable motivation for the people she finds suspicious. I cannot wait to read Hartley's next adventure, Social Suicide, coming out in April 2012.

You can hand this to reluctant teen readers who like sarcasm and humor and who don't mind a bit of murder in their high school reading! It does have sexual content (more like someone see's someone having sex) and it's not necessarily a "clean" read but it has high appeal value, despite the cover which just isn't my favorite. But, consider this, it's in paperback which makes it a relatively inexpensive purchase for most libraries!

Deadly Cool was one of my top reads for January 2012. I hope you'll consider giving it a try! Deadly Cool is available now.

Other reviews:
Ticket to Anywhere reviews Deadly Cool
Mindful Musings reviews Deadly Cool
Book Blather reviews Deadly Cool

Monday, February 6, 2012

Meet Me in St. Louis!

I'm heading to St. Louis this November for YALSA's YA Literature Symposium! This is an utterly fantastic conference. I had the chance to attend in 2010 and it's really, really worth it if you are a reader, supporter, and fan of young adult literature. It's basically where all the cool kids are going to be. :)

And hey, while you're there, you can see me, along with my cool friend Scott, present! Our topic? Make it Pop! How to Use Pop Culture in Your Library. We are both big fans of all things tv, books, movies, and anything pop culture really so we are both very excited to be presenting on a topic that we both enjoy talking about. I hope you'll consider attending our session!

You can find out about the full array of presentations by visiting the symposium website. Truly, this is a fabulous conference, close to my very favorite because the focus is not about books, those tangible things we dearly love, so much as it is about great ideas, predicting what's next (hence the theme, Hit Me With The Next Big Thing), conversing about the issues that surround young adult literature and spending time with so many people who are devoted to these wonderful authors and books, characters and stories. Basically it's the best thing ever!

So here's hoping I'll be seeing YOU in St. Louis!

Review: Radiate by Marley Gibson

Radiate by Marley Gibson has a really powerful message about a teen overcoming cancer (yes, it's another one of those stories) but there was so much about this book, in terms of its characterization and dialog that I have a difficult time in fully embracing this story.

Synopsis: Hayley Matthews is determined to be the best cheerleader she can. She works hard and pushes herself 110% all the time.Then Hayley finds a lump on her leg. The diagnosis is cancer. The prognosis is unclear. She could lose her leg. Or maybe her life.At first Haley is scared, terrified. In an instant, everything she’s worked for seems out of reach. But Haley is strong. She’s going to fight this disease. She will not let it take her life or her dreams. (Goodreads.com)


Hayley is a cheerleader and believe me, she reads like one. Not in a vacuous or shallow way just that she is very cheerful. Even in the face of all her adversity, she is incredibly cheerful and doesn't stay down for too long. This is not a bad thing because I do believe hope and optimism have healing powers when it comes to cancer. But all that being said, I became tired of the cheerleading and how it was used. I know this totally makes me sound like a grumpy person but after awhile it just became rather tiresome. The message of inspiration became rather uninspiring as the book progressed. I think I could have handled it better if other elements of the story worked better for me.


Much of the problem for me was this read like a book of how adults THINK teenagers act and what they say, rather than what teenagers ACTUALLY think and say. I did not find Hayley and her friends were all that believable of teenagers. Phrases like "what's your glitch?" "I am on him like white on rice," and other rather clean, oddly used phrases that teens (at least the teens I know) would never use. Interspersed with all these odd phrases are swear words. A lot of them frankly. It was just a very odd combination of phrases that read from like the 1950s to me and then hardcore swearing, as if to prove the teens were contemporary characters. Hayley and her friends just felt very un-teenager-like.


The relationship Hayley gets into with the cool, popular guy is of course doomed to failure and it is obvious from the very first few pages of when they meet. The "perfect" guy is waiting for her and it is no surprise how their relationship progresses. Everything on this book was so on the surface that there just was not much character development or even story development beyond the main plot lines.


This was not a book that really engaged my emotions and in a story that is about a girl suffering from cancer, that seems impossible to say but it is true. I tend to cry easily but I was so disengaged from Hayley's struggle that it was very difficult for me to empathize with her. Yes, I felt bad for her and I was impressed with how she persevered in spite of all the hardships life was throwing at her but it just did not work for me, at all. There are stronger stories of teen cancer survivors out there in the publishing market right now (in fact, there seems to be a gluttony of them) that this book is merely passable.


There is a note at the end of the book from the author that talks about her own daughter's struggle with cancer and how cheerleading helped and I think that is part of the reason I was actually turned-off by this book, as odd as it is to say that. The author did not seem removed enough from her story. I feel like I'm going to be definitely in the minority on this book since, given the topic, I think it will make many people uncomfortable to criticize the book but the fact is, this book just did not work for me. From the characters to the dialog, much of this book felt forced and unrealistic. 


There is one thing that I can say in this book's favor and that is that in YA books, too often the cheerleaders are seen as rude, mean and cliquish. In this book, even if it was a rather "through rose colored glasses" look at cheerleading, the group truly did band together to help Hayley and she did her best to help them. There was one rather stereotypical mean-girl teenage cheerleader, but on the whole, I felt like this was a positive representation of the cheerleading experience.

Radiate comes out on April 3, 2012 from Graphia.


Other reviews:
Marjolein Book Blog reviews Radiate
Debra's Book Cafe reviews Radiate


Book reviewed from Netgalley.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Month in review: January 2012

Well, can you believe January 2012 is over and done with?? It went by SO QUICK! I don't think I accomplished all that much in January but I certainly had a good reading month. Here's what I read in January 2012:


1. The Summer I Learned to Fly by Dana Reinhardt (1/3/12) (Audio)
2. Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (1/3/12)
3. The Silence of Murder by Dandi Daley Mackall (1/6/12)
4. Ditched: A Love Story by Robin Mellom (1/7/12) (Debut)
5. Scrumptious by Amanda Usen (1/7/12)
6. Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi (1/8/12)
7. The One That I Want by Jennifer Echols (1/9/12)
8. You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon (1/14/12)
9. Cinder by Marissa Meyer (1/14/12)
10. Bodywork by Marie Hart (1/15/12)
11. Angelfall by Susan Ee (1/15/12)
12. Feral by Sheri Whitefeather (1/17/12)
13. Miss Hillary Schools a Scoundrel by Samantha Grace (1/17/12)
14. I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella (1/19/12)
15. The Bro-Magnet by Lauen Baratz-Logsted (1/20/12)
16. Freshmen Year & Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin (1/21/12)
17. With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo (1/21/12)
18. Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King (1/22/12)
19. The Bride by Julie Garwood (1/24/12)**
20. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (1/25/12)
21. Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (1/27/12)
22. The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas (1/28/12)
23. May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (1/28/12)
24. Nice Girls Don't Bite Their Neighbors by Molly Harper (1/29/12)
25. Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday (1/30/12)

Favorite book read: Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi and Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday
Most Disappointing book read: Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King
Book outside my comfort zone: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (that was much more fantasy based than I usual read).

In January 2011, I only read 19 books so I'm on a roll already for the year! I hope I can sustain this momentum for the rest of the year to reach my 200 books goal.

Did you reach your reading goals in January? Did you have a favorite book read? Please share in the comments!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Review: The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas

The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas is one of those tear-jerker books that you can rank up there with Lurlene McDaniel in terms of wanting to cry. At least, for me the comparison is apt because I definitely shed some tears in this book.

Synopsis: When Rose’s mom dies, she leaves behind a brown paper bag labeled Rose’s Survival Kit. Inside the bag, Rose finds an iPod, with a to-be-determined playlist; a picture of peonies, for growing; a crystal heart, for loving; a paper star, for making a wish; and a  paper kite, for letting go. As Rose ponders the meaning of each item, she finds herself returning again and again to an unexpected source of comfort. Will is her family’s gardener, the school hockey star, and the only person who really understands what she’s going through. Can loss lead to love?  (Goodreads.com)

I really like the idea of the Survival Kit. I'd actually love to be able to do this for a fun programming opportunity if I could find a way without making it too depressing for anyone. It's a nice way to dig into a project with positive results at the end, a way to make someone smile. Rose's Survival Kit is a definite mystery to her at first. She is locked in a well of grief and it is hard to see her way out, particularly when her dad is drinking hard and when her brother is away at college. She faces a certain solitude in the grief experience that everyone has to go through but her experience seems particularly lonely at points.

I really liked Rose. She is definitely sad but I didn't feel like she was wallowing in her grief or letting it ruin her life or take over. She had her moments of course (and who wouldn't after losing a parent?) but she also was trying find a way to cope. She also didn't totally cut out all her friends from her life. She had a great friend, Krupa, who was a highlight of the story. At times, I will admit their friendship felt a bit one-sided, like Rose was getting all the benefits from having Krupa as a friend but then when I least expected it, Rose did a good job of showing Krupa how thankful she was for her friendship in the aftermath of her mom's death. This was a really nice friendship that was marked by laughter and tears but it felt so honest and real. There was no unnecessary drama in their friendship and it just felt like a relationship that would survive high school and beyond which is kind of nice.


There is a romance in this book. In fact, there is the ending of a romantic relationship and the beginning of a new relationship. I was very torn on Will, Rose's new relationship guy. He had some great shining moments when he really helped her through her pain but there was such a pivotal time when he let her down that I had a hard time finding it in me to forgive him, as the reader. No matter what his excuses were, I just was not going to buy it as easily as Rose does. Also, at times I felt like their evolving relationship was overshadowing Rose's character growth as her own person, as her own young woman. I was a little alarmed at how much she came to rely on him to help her forget her grief, to try to heal. While I don't think she should have gone it alone by any means, sometimes the healing process became less somehow when it was in conjunction with her relationship with Will. And I did like Will, I did. But I wanted more for Rose.


That being said, I loved the hockey portion of the book. I'm an avid hockey fan. It's one of the few sports I can handle watching and I liked the excitement that Rose and her friends felt while attending hockey games. This dates me sadly but I loved attending my high school hockey games as a teen too and it was a great bonding experience, much like Rose and her friends were doing together.


This is a very girl-centric story. Rose's emotional arc is engaging and it represents an experience that hopefully not many teen readers will ever have to go through. Readers who like sad stories (with hope!) will enjoy The Survival Kit. Donna Freitas has a great way of digging into the grief process and Rose is a character readers will identify with. Rose's character arc is not without it's problems but there is so much to like about this story that most readers will find that a minor quibble.


Other reviews:
Steph Su Reads reviews The Survival Kit
The Reclusive Bibliophile reviews The Survival Kit
The Allure of Books reviews The Survival Kit


Reviewed from public library copy.

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