Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams

Title:  The Space Between Trees 
Author:  Katie Williams
Publisher:  Chronicle Books
Publication date:  2010
Source:  Purchased for my YA lit class
My grade:  F

Not your everyday coming-of-age novel 

This story was supposed to be about Evie how she hasn't made a friend in years, how she tends to stretch the truth (especially about her so-called relationship with college drop-out Jonah Luks), and how she finally comes into her own once she learns to just be herself but it isn't. Because when her classmate Elizabeth "Zabet" McCabe's murdered body is found in the woods, everything changes and Evie's life is never the same again.

I don’t even know how to begin this review, so I’m just going to lay it out there.  This book was the biggest waste of my time ever.  I kept reading and reading, hoping that something would just HAPPEN, and nothing ever did.  I can’t figure out what the author wanted to even accomplish with is book.

The only good thing about this book was the cover.  Which was really awesome!  And it proves that you absolutely cannot ever judge a book by its cover.  The cover was this actual cutout of trees with the purple paper of the first page showing through it.  It gave the book this sort of spooky feeling that I was hoping I would find in the book.  Too bad it never came to pass.  ::sighs::

This is book 3 of the summer of 25 and it is one that the whole class had to read.  Maybe other people liked it better than I did, but honestly, I want to read a book that’s about something.

Now, some of you may be going, “But, Tammy, you loved ‘Anna and the French Kiss’, and that novel is not about anything”.  And you would be right, there was not some big, huge supernatural adventure or plot, no murder mystery or anything giant.  But it was about something… was about growing up, finding yourself and taking that first step out into the world on your own.  The same thing that ‘Part-Time Indian’ was about.  I kept hoping that the ending to this book would hold that “great moment of self-awareness” also.  After all, that’s what makes YA lit wonderful, in my humble opinion.

Erik Erikson was an adolescent psychologist who wrote about the adolescent quest for self.  He claimed that the teen years were all about learning to define oneself.  The best YA lit captures the struggles and growth in this quest.  Unfortunately, in “The Space Between Trees”, I couldn’t see any growth or change or realization. 

I HATED the main character, Evie.  She had zero personality, she was weak, whiny and a huge liar!!  She trod behind stronger characters throughout the book and then, when they all left, she went right back to being the same weak and whiny girl that she was at the beginning.  The other characters just sort of wandered off into the great yonder, never to be heard from again.  Even the revelation of the murderer was anti-climactic, at best.  The only person who experienced any sort of fundamental change was the poor murder victim.  Yes, I’m serious.

I cannot actually recommend this book to anyone.  I’m really sorry that I had to waste my time reading it.  Watching paint dry would have been more productive.  I rarely hand these out in my class, but if it is deserved, I don’t hold back.  Yes, I’m afraid that this book has earned my first ever F.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

 Book:  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author:  Sherman Alexie
Publisher:  Little, Brown Young Readers
Publication Year:  2007
Genre:  YA Contemporary
Source:  My high school library
My Grade:  A+

With his first foray into teen literature, acclaimed author Sherman Alexie packs a punch in this absorbing novel about a Native American boy searching for a brighter future. At once humorous and stirring, Alexie's novel follows Junior, a resident of the Spokane reservation who transfers out of the reservation's school -- and into a nearby rich, all-white farm school -- in order to nurture his desire to become a cartoonist. Junior encounters resistance there, a backlash at home, and numerous family problems -- all the while relaying his thoughts and feelings via amusing descriptions and drawings. Having already garnered a National Book Award for Young Adult Literature, this moving look at race and growing up is definitely one to pick up.

My Review

This is book #2 out of 25 for my YA lit class!  I chose this book for several reasons.  1)  I need to read books in different genres and 2) It was on the list of required reading for the other section of YA lit being offered this summer.  I also remember Stephenie Meyer recommending it (and I’m a nut for anything Twilight related!) and it was also on the YALSA list for 2007 or 2008.  So, it sort of seemed like a no-brainer.

I am a no-brainer for not reading this book sooner!  This book was fabulous!  It was hilarious!  Actually, it was funny, poignant, heartwarming and heartbreaking, all at once.  And any book that manages to pull off all of that has to be epic!

I read up on Sherman Alexie after I finished the book and I discovered, as I had suspected, that this book was autobiographical.  Now, I don’t know if that means that everything in the book is exactly like it happened, but the protagonist is apparently a lot like Mr. Alexie.  This just added icing to the cake for me, to think that someone had actually lived this story.

The book is about a young man from the Spokane Indian Reservation who is starting his freshman year in high school.  He has lots of physical disabilities because he was born with encephalitis.  However, he is very intelligent.  He is horrified when, on the first day of school, he is handed a geometry book with his mother’s name in it!  He decides that he deserves better and he opts to leave the reservation school and attend the white school in the neighboring town instead.

Of course, he experiences a multitude of problems and challenges due to this decision.  He is not accepted by the white kids ( “I was the only Indian in the school except for the mascot!”) and he is viewed as a traitor by the kids on the reservation.  Despite all the difficulties, he succeeds and overcomes them while maintaining a giant sense of humor throughout.

Besides having a wicked sense of humor and a fabulous storyline, this book was very enlightening.  In a very light-hearted manner, Alexie manages to address the problems of alcoholism, racism and poverty.  He sheds light on what it really is like to live on the reservation and the cycle of poverty and alcoholism that are almost impossible to escape.  Yet, he also celebrates the strength and tenacity of people in the face of overwhelming odds and tragedy.  Honestly, this book is a celebration of the human spirit and the ability of human beings to rise above what they are dealt in life.

One of the best parts of this book is the author’s voice.  Arnold Spirit Jr. is hysterical!  His self-deprecating humor manages to give balance to what would otherwise be a horribly tragic story.  It is this sense of humor that allows him to persevere and turn this story into one with a happy ending.  I closed the book with satisfaction, knowing that everything would be alright for Junior in the end. 

The illustrations in this book are also a nice touch.  In many ways, it was similar to “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” (which was published in the same year), but it was far superior, in my opinion.  I really did not like Diary because the main character had no redeeming qualities.  Junior, however, is just a big bundle of redeeming qualities!  He faces his difficulties with honesty and integrity. 

Honestly, there is not one bad thing that I can say about this book.  After reading it, I understand why it has won the awards that it has and I hope that Mr. Alexie will write more YA books in the future. 

If you are easily offended by discussion of boners and masturbation, then you should not read this book (or spend any time around high school boys, for that matter!).  There is also a good amount of language in this one, but again, it’s about normal for the average adolescent boy in my experience. 

I loved this book and I plan to start recommending to lots of people.  My grade for this book is an A+.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Book:  Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Authors:  John Green and David Levithan
Publisher:  Dutton Books
Genre:  YA Contemporary
Source:  purchased for my YA lit class this summer
Grade:  B

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.

Hilarious, poignant, and deeply insightful, John Green and David Levithan’s collaborative novel is brimming with a double helping of the heart and humor that have won both them legions of faithful fans. (description and book cover from
My Review

This is book number 1 of 25 that I have to read for my YA lit class this summer.  This book is actually 1 of 8 selected by my professor and then I get to choose 17 more.  Hooray!

I was thrilled when I saw this book on my professor’s required reading list because I have wanted to read this book for a while.

The first half of the book, I must admit, was a total disappointment to me.  The setup of the book is really fun, with alternating chapters told from each Will Grayson’s point of view.  However, I found that I didn’t really like either one of the Will Grayson’s very much.  They both were boring and honestly, gay Will Grayson was just downright mean.  I had to keep pushing myself to read because, well, it’s for class and I had to.

Of course, like many books, I reached that point where the story started to make more sense and the characters were redeemed!  Hooray!  I’m glad I stuck with this one, because when I finally got to the end of the book, what I thought was going to be a D had turned into a B!  I still didn’t love it like I wanted, but I really, really liked it.

As I said, the alternating chapters were a neat way to show the 2 Will Graysons.  I really liked this structure.  It helped me to understand each character and then it was really fun to see their meeting in both points of view.

The plot was good, I guess.  There was nothing horribly exciting about it, but it did manage to capture the day-to-day life of teenage boys pretty well.  At least, the nerdy, geeky shy teenage boys with no friends.  I sort of felt sorry for straight Will Grayson, but most of the time, I just wanted to kick his rear into action!!  And don’t even get me started on gay Will Grayson!  He really did need to have his rear kicked for being so……mean and hateful!

Of course, things start to liven up once the Will Graysons meet.  This book may be named after the Will Graysons, but the character that saved this book is Tiny Cooper!  Once Tiny starts interacting with both Will Graysons, things get more exciting.

Of course, this is a coming-of-age story, so each of the Will Grayson’s must learn something and grow.  They do that and by the end of the story, I liked each of them better.  The ending was very heartwarming and filled with hope.  In another book, it probably would have been too cheesy, but it fit this book and especially Tiny Cooper’s larger than life personality.

The book does address some important issues, like homophobia and apathy and finding your own way in life.  The Will Graysons both learn a lot about love and life.  In fact there were several passages that I loved so much that I marked them so that I could go back and re-read them.

I suppose that I should include a few warnings about this book.  There is a lot of foul language in this book.  Now, I teach high school and I know that this is really how high school kids talk because I have to correct them about 400 gazillion times a day.  But if you are easily offended by bad language, you need to be aware that these authors are not scared to drop the f-bomb!

Also, there is open discussion of masturbation and homosexuality and heterosexuality and sex in general.  I actually found that to be refreshing.  After all, there is a statistic floating around somewhere that the average 17 year old boy thinks about sex every 3-5 seconds or something.  I found this to be very true-to-life as well, since I also have to remind all the 17 year old boys that I teach that everything is NOT about sex!

The openness of this book was very refreshing for me.  I liked it that the authors were not afraid to tackle difficult topics and situations.  I liked it that each of the characters grew and became better people during the course of the book.  That’s what we hope happens to teenagers as they struggle in their search for self-identity.

My grade for this book is a B.  I didn’t love it, but I really, really liked it.  I think that this book is a great, thought-provoking read.  Although slow to start, the ending was phenomenal.  If you are looking for a book to make you think and to possibly challenge your own beliefs, this is the book for you.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

Book:  City of Fallen Angels
Author:  Cassandra Clare
Publisher:  Simon and Schuster
Publication date:  April 5, 2011
My grade:  A+
City of Fallen Angels takes place two months after the events of City of Glass. In it, a mysterious someone’s killing the Shadowhunters who used to be in Valentine’s Circle and displaying their bodies around New York City in a manner designed to provoke hostility between Downworlders and Shadowhunters, leaving tensions running high in the city and disrupting Clary’s plan to lead as normal a life as she can — training to be a Shadowhunter, and pursuing her relationship with Jace. As Jace and Clary delve into the issue of the murdered Shadowhunters, they discover a mystery that has deeply personal consequences for them — consequences that may strengthen their relationship, or rip it apart forever.

Meanwhile, internecine warfare among vampires is tearing the Downworld community apart, and only Simon — the Daylighter who everyone wants on their side — can decide the outcome; too bad he wants nothing to do with Downworld politics. Love, blood, betrayal and revenge: the stakes are higher than ever in City of Fallen Angels.
(picture and summary from

Sublime.  That is exactly what this book was for me.  You know those books whose plot is so riveting that you can’t put it down?  The books where the characters feel like your own friends?  The books where the world has been so carefully crafted by the author that everything, I mean everything, falls into place and feels real?

That is City of Fallen Angels.

I am enthralled with the Shadowhunter world that Cassandra Clare has created.  I loved the first 3 books of this series and then fell in love with Clockwork Angel as well.  I wasn’t sure how she was going to continue this series, but wow!  Is it ever going to be good!

One thing that Cassandra is getting really good at doing is foreshadowing.  JK Rowling is the queen of that sort of thing, as far as I am concerned.  She would mention something in passing that would later become key to the story.  Well, it seems that Cassandra Clare is next in line for the throne on that one!  I also loved how the characters from the two different series are mixing together in this book.  That was just cool!

The story was action-packed.  There were mysteries and bad guys everywhere and lots of intrigue and plot twists and turns.  I have to say though, I could have used a little more Shadowhunter leather fighting gear.  No, scratch that.  Just Jace in leather fighting gear.

And Jace……::sighs dreamily::.  I think Jace just took Edward Cullen’s place as my fictional boyfriend.  I have two questions:  1)  How does she make Jace so swoon-worthy and 2) Who is he based on from real life and where can I find him?  But seriously, Jace is as dreamy as ever.  I think his appeal (and Edward’s) is that he is the ultimate bad boy who isn’t really a bad boy at all.

It was nice to see more of Simon in this book.  I have never really been a huge fan of Simon’s, but now I like him a lot more, especially since he’s not trying to get between Clary and Jace.  Another character that I really, really like after reading this book is Isabelle.  She rocked this book!

Just be forewarned:  this is one of those books that is going to grab you after the first few chapters and not let you go.  I found myself getting really aggravated that my 3 year old wanted to eat when I was trying to read about Jace and Clary visiting the Silent City and Simon killing bad guys with the Mark of Cain.  How dare toddlers want to eat!  (ok, I’m just kidding about that.  It is possible to read while making macaroni and cheese.  I should know.)

This book has everything you could ever want in a book:  a great plot, lots of action, fantastic characters, sword fights, romance, sexy leading men, strong women and tons of mystery and intrigue.  If you haven’t read the first 3 books, you need to read those first, but if you have read them, do yourself a favor and rush out to get this book.

And as a bonus, my Barnes and Noble copy had an extra letter included from Jace to Clary.  That was fun!  Not sure if that is still available, but it’s worth checking out.

This book is definitely an A+.  Of course, Cassandra Clare is sort of like the teacher’s pet.  I wouldn’t expect anything less from her.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini

Book:  Starcrossed
Author:  Josephine Angelini
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Publication date:  May 31, 2011
My grade:  A+

Helen Hamilton has always tried to hide how different she is—no easy feat on an island as small as Nantucket, and only getting harder as she finds herself haunted by hallucinations and vivid nightmares.
It's not until she crosses paths with Lucas Delos at school that Helen's true heritage is finally revealed. Yet even as Lucas helps her awaken to her startling powers, they can never be together—not unless they can break free from the tragic destiny the Three Fates have in store.  (description from

Oh My Gods of Mt. Olympus!  I cannot believe how freaking incredible this book was!  I feel like I’ve been saying that a lot, but this book was insanely good.  I did not want to put it down and I have not been able to stop thinking about it.  I felt so immersed in the book and the story--everything just pulled me right in.  I also have an insane desire to visit Greece now. : )

First, I have to say that I am so happy to see a revived interest in Greek mythology.  As a teacher, I have noticed an appalling lack of knowledge in this area among the students that I teach.  I always loved Greek mythology as a kid and used to spend hours reading my copy of D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Mythology.  In fact, I think that I could spend hours going back through this book as well, so that brought back some really nice memories and feelings.

This book was a nice twist on Greek mythology.  I really wondered how on earth the author was going to pull off a modern re-telling of Helen of Troy, but let me just say that she wove this story flawlessly.  I could not get enough of it.  I read while I was cooking dinner for my kids, while giving my toddler a bath and even snuck in reading time when my students were busy working!  That is how engaging the story and plotline were.  In fact, this story hooked me from the first chapter.

The characters were magnificent.  I loved Helen and Lucas was a wonderful leading man, although I have to say that by the end of the book, I found myself really liking Hector.  Actually, there wasn’t a character that I really disliked, except for the bad guy, of course.

I thought the plot was very well-balanced.  There was a good mixture of romance, suspense, action and magic.  It was nice to get things from different points of view throughout the novel as well.  There were also some nice plot surprises, although I suspected parts of what eventually happened, the author was still able to surprise me with details.  Of course, nothing wrapped up in the end, which had me scrambling to my computer to make certain that there was a sequel.  And yes, there is one.  Thank the gods!

This is a book that I would highly recommend, especially to older teens and adults who liked Percy Jackson.  This one is a little like Percy Jackson for an older audience.  It’s much more sophisticated, but still holds the same appeal.

I have to give out another A+.  This book is fabulous.  Do yourself a favor and go buy a copy as soon as it is released on May 31, 2011.

Thanks to Harper Collins and for allowing me to read and review this novel.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Die for Me by Amy Plum

Die for Me
Amy Plum
Harper Teen
Young Adult Paranormal
Grade:  A+

My life had always been blissfully, wonderfully normal. But it only took one moment to change everything.
Suddenly, my sister, Georgia, and I were orphans. We put our lives into storage and moved to Paris to live with my grandparents. And I knew my shattered heart, my shattered life, would never feel normal again. Then I met Vincent.
Mysterious, sexy, and unnervingly charming, Vincent Delacroix appeared out of nowhere and swept me off my feet. Just like that, I was in danger of losing my heart all over again. But I was ready to let it happen.
Of course, nothing is ever that easy. Because Vincent is no normal human. He has a Whaterrifying destiny, one that puts his life at risk every day. He also has enemies . . . immortal, murderous enemies who are determined to destroy him and all of his kind.
While I'm fighting to piece together the remnants of my life, can I risk putting my heart—as well as my life and my family's—in jeopardy for a chance at love?  (description from

My Review
Wow!  Just, wow!  I hate to sound like a 13 year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert, but this book definitely brought out my fangirl!  I LOVED it!  So now, I just need to figure out how to explain what is great about it without reliving my adolescence.

First, I know that there will be comparisons to Twilight.  And the similarities are there.  But I think that this novel does the whole supernatural romance better.  Or at least differently.  What I like about his novel is that the female protagonist is stronger and more believable than Bella ever was.

Kate is a fabulous lead character.  She is going through a really rough time dealing with the death of her parents and I think that all of her reactions with Vincent and discovering what he is are spot on.  She is so real.  She is hesitant, she questions whether or not she can accept what is going on and perhaps most importantly, she is SCARED!  After all, who wouldn’t be a little scared of dating a supernatural creature?

Vincent Delacroix was totally swoon worthy.  He was suave, well-mannered and totally hot!  He would make these romantic comments or gestures that make every girl’s heart flutter.  By the end of the novel, I was totally in love with him.  In fact, he ranks up there with Edward Cullen and Jace Wayland in my book.

Now that I’m done gushing about Vincent, let me gush about the story.  The story was FABULOUS!  It was a perfect balance of romance, fun, mystery and action.  There were parts where I was on the edge of my seat and parts where I wanted to cry with the characters.  What I did not want to do is put the book down.  Ever.  When I was reading it, I was totally immersed in the world and when I had to put it down, I could not get it out of my head.  I loved all the action scenes, especially the sword-fighting.

I also loved the author’s take on the zombie theme.  I was concerned about a “zombie love story” after the last book I read, but this author really nailed it.  In fact, after I write this review, my next stop is Wikipedia to see if any of her mythology came from real mythology or if she created the whole thing.

The first thing that I did when I finished this book was run to goodreads and see if there was a sequel.  Luckily for me, there is a sequel!  I have to say that this book actually wrapped up quite nicely.  There were no horrid cliffhangers to contend with, but I know that Kate and Vincent’s story is not finished and I am not quite ready to let it go.  Much like in Twilight, I am curious to see how the author will deal with the whole human/supernatural relationship and how she will solve the problems.  As long as there are no half-vampire mutant babies, I think I’ll be happy. : )

My grade for this book is definitely an A+.  This is a book that paranormal readers will not want to miss!
Thanks to HarperTeen and netgalley for the review copy.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Cellar by AJ Whitten

The Cellar
AJ Whitten
Houghton-Mifflin Publishers
YA Horror/Fantasy
Publication date:  May 2, 2011
Grade:  B-
Meredith Willis is suspicious of Adrien, the new guy next door. When she dares to sneak a look into the windows of his house, she sees something in the cellar that makes her believe that Adrien might be more than just a creep—he may be an actual monster.
But her sister, Heather, doesn’t share Meredith’s repulsion. Heather believes Adrien is the only guy who really understands her. In fact, she may be falling in love with him. When Adrien and Heather are cast as the leads in the school production of Romeo and Juliet, to Heather, it feels like fate. To Meredith, it feels like a bad omen. But if she tries to tear the couple apart, she could end up in the last place she’d ever want to be: the cellar. Can Meredith convince her sister that she’s dating the living dead before it’s too late for both of them?  (description from publisher via Netgalley)

My Review
I am having a difficult time reviewing this book.  Not because the book is bad, but because this is definitely not a book for everyone.  Who is this book for?  It is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach, that much is for certain!
I wasn’t sure that I was going to finish this book.  The story was actually rather engaging, in an unusual sort of way.  I had many moments of disbelief as I was reading.  However, what stopped me many times and made me question my ability to finish the book was the “gore factor”.  This book had some really creepy parts that were very gore-filled and truly horrible.  This is most definitely a horror book.  I would say that if you like scary books and you love slasher films, this book might appeal to you.
The story was quite original and I really enjoyed its development.  It was interesting to note the Romeo and Juliet parallels of the story.  I really felt sympathetic toward Heather and the whole issue with the father having been killed and the absentee mother.  At first, I was intrigued by Adrien and I really wanted to like him.  I actually thought more of him at the end of the book, but I had a hard time getting past the fact that he was truly a monster.
The character that stole the show for me was Sam.  I LOVED Sam!  I’m not sure how Heather ever gave him up, but I was happy for Meredith that she did.  I wish that I had been able to see more of Sam in the novel, but of course, the story wasn’t about him.
I suppose that in the end, I found that I had actually enjoyed the book, and I had a difficult time putting it down in the last part.  The story was good and the characters were likeable, but this is probably not a book for everyone.  This book doesn’t “pretty up” the monsters.  They are still monsters and there is killing and gore to prove it.  So, if you decide to give this book a try, be forewarned!  And don’t read on a full stomach!
I gave this book a B- because the story is interesting, the characters are engaging, but the book should probably come with a warning label:  “Caution:  Do not attempt to read this book if you are easily grossed out.  No food should be consumed while reading.”

Thank you to netgalley and Houghton Mifflin for the opportunity to read and review this book.


Yara and company over at Once Upon a Twilight are doing a massive book giveaway!  You can enter to win a box of 20 books....that's right!  20 books!  They have a box of YA and a box of adult!  And the YA list is to die for!  Go check it out here:  Once Upon a Twilight

Sunday, May 1, 2011

100 plus followers giveaway...

So, I recently looked for some new blogs to read, since I don't have nearly enough to do with reading books, writing my own blog, teaching full-time and working on my master's in library science. : ) One of the new blogs I subscribed to is The Awesome Magic Attic.  I'm enjoying the blog and I love the name. (wish I had thought of that one!)

Anywho, she is sponsoring a cool ebook giveaway and the first place winner gets to choose 4 books!  I'm all about winning a new book and more than one book of my choice seems incredible!  You can check it out here:  The Awesome Magic Attic