Saturday, November 9, 2013

Bite-sized Reviews

Yes, this is a new blog post!  I hope no one has a heart attack when they see it!

I’m trying desperately to catch up with my reviews, so I’m going to group together some books that I enjoyed, but I’m just not fangirling over.  I would rate all of these books as a solid B.  They were good reads, but they didn’t make me want to run around telling random strangers in the bookstore to read them.

Book:  Undercurrent
Author:  Paul Blackwell
Publisher:  Harper Teen
Date:  Available now
Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss

In this suspenseful teen thriller with a touch of the otherworldly, a boy goes over a waterfall and wakes up to find himself in a twisted version of the life he knew. Why did his best friend try to kill him? Why are his parents acting like he’s a sports star all of a sudden? Worst of all, what happened to his older brother? Filled with mind-bending suspense and unsettling thrills, Undercurrent is a grippingly paced teen debut that will pull you under and never let go. In this suspenseful teen thriller with a touch of the otherworldly, a boy goes over a waterfall and wakes up to find himself in a twisted version of the life he knew. Why did his best friend try to kill him? Why are his parents acting like he’s a sports star all of a sudden? Worst of all, what happened to his older brother? Filled with mind-bending suspense and unsettling thrills, Undercurrent is a grippingly paced teen debut that will pull you under and never let go.

This book started out very strong with the whole parallel universe theme, but after a while, it started to wear on me that Callum couldn’t figure out that he was in a parallel universe.  The ending made me want to throw the book across the room because NOTHING got explained or sorted out.  Rumor has it that there is a sequel, so if that is the case, the ending is forgivable, but if this is a stand alone, that ending made me furious.

This book had lots of good ideas, but sometimes the execution seemed poor.  Ok, really, it was the fact that Callum was so damn clueless that made this novel lose momentum in places.  This is the 3rd parallel universe book that I’ve read this year and this one falls right in the middle.  The Theory of Everything was by far the worst, but I think Parallel did a better job.  Still, this was a decent read, just not a spectacular one.

Book: VIII
Author:  H.M. Castor
Publisher:  Templar
Date:  Now available
Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss

Destined for greatness... tormented by demons.

VIII is the story of Hal: a young, handsome, gifted warrior, who believes he has been chosen to lead his people. But he is plagued by the ghosts of his family's violent past and once he rises to power, he turns to murder and rapacious cruelty. He is Henry VIII.

I don’t normally like historical fiction that much and this book didn’t really change my mind about it.  I think that this book would probably be well received by historical fiction fans, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.  I found myself being angry with Henry for most of the novel.  I liked  him at first, but then he just turned into a big jerk, which is what happened in real life as well, right?

Still, it was sort of interesting to see how everything could have played out in the court of Henry VIII, so that was fun.  I think the real problem here is that the second half of the book was rushed.  I felt that I started to understand young Henry, but then the second half of the book crammed in 7 of his wives.  Whoa! 

I think this book started out solid, but in the end, it just didn’t do a lot for me.  But on a side note, it does have a cool cover!

Book:  False Sight
Author:  Dan Krokos
Publisher:  Hyperion
Date:  Available now
Source:  Publisher via Netgalley

All Miranda wants is a normal life. She's determined to move past the horrible truth of her origin as a clone so she can enjoy time with her boyfriend, Peter, and the rest of her friends at school. But Miranda quickly learns that there's no such thing as normal - not for a girl who was raised to be a weapon. When one of her teammates turns rogue, it begins a war that puts the world in jeopardy. Now Miranda must follow her instincts - not her heart - in order to save everything she's fought so hard to keep. with the image of a terrible future seared into her mind, what will she have to sacrifice to protect the people she loves?

Dan Krokos's sequel to the tour de force False Memory is a mind-blowing thriller with high-octane action that will leave readers begging for the final book in this bold and powerful trilogy.

I really enjoyed the first book and I really enjoyed this sequel as well.  This whole idea of the kids being clones who are trained warriors is pretty cool and it’s pretty unique as far as what I read goes.  The book was fairly action-packed and there were some really interesting elements added into this one that I never saw coming.  I’m looking forward to the next installment.

The reason that this book remains a B for me and not an A is that I am having a hard time really caring about the characters.  This book is more like one of those big action films that everyone likes.  There’s a lot of stuff going on and people shooting at each other and things blowing up, but there’s not a lot of depth to the characters.  Still, it’s an entertaining book to read and who doesn’t like blowing stuff up?

Book:  Second Impact
Author:  David Klass and Perri Klass
Publisher:  Farrar, Strauss & Giroux
Date:  Available now
Source:  Publisher via Netgalley

About a boy who sustains serious head injuries while playing football, told in alternating voices by a brother-sister writing team.

There are parts of this book that I liked and parts that I didn’t.  Actually, that’s not true.  I pretty much enjoyed this book until the very end. 

Here’s what I liked:  1.  The alternating points of view from a boy and a girl  2.  The blog style of telling the story.  It felt fresh and different.  3.  The issue, head injuries in football, was very timely and very serious.

I think the book did a good job of addressing the read difficulties of the issues surrounding high school football.  I liked the voices of both of the characters and I think the story felt real.  So what did I not like?

The ending.  I can’t tell you, obviously, but the ending was so anti-climactic that when I shut the book, I wondered what the point of the book even was.  It pretty much deflated the whole read for me.

** Well, that's it for my bite-sized reviews.  I will be back soon with a full review complete with soundtrack, because I've read a few that DESERVE soundtracks.  Hope you enjoyed these short and sweet reviews.  I'd love to hear from some of you.  **

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Spooktacular Giveaway Hop!

Welcome to my stop on the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop!  I am giving away a copy of 2 scary books to the winner!  You can win a copy of The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson and a copy of Crossing Over by Anna Kendall.  Just enter the rafflecopter below and then go check out the other blogs on the hop!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I smiled and I cried at The Beginning of Everything

Author:  Robyn Schneider
Publisher:  Katherine Tegan
Date:  Now available
Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss
My grade:  A+

Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: in one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: if one’s singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?

Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything is a lyrical, witty, and heart-wrenching novel about how difficult it is to play the part that people expect, and how new beginnings can stem from abrupt and tragic endings.

Initial Reaction
::wipes eyes::  Remember the very first time you ever fell in love?  Like, real love???  And how it broke your heart?

Cover Story
Thank God they changed the title and cover on this one.  When I first got this review copy it was called “Severed Heads and Broken Hearts” and had the most butt-ugly cover ever!  Who came up with that title?  I hope they got fired!  But “The Beginning of Everything” is a GORGEOUS title and I like the cover.  It’s bright and eye-catching without being cheesy or too teen girl.  I would proudly read this book in the doctor’s office with no fear of judgement.

What’s the Story?
Ezra was the popular jock boy on campus.  Then he did something dumb.  Really dumb.  He drove drunk one night and had a wreck.  One girl was hurt pretty badly and he completely smashed his knee.  Now, he can’t walk without a cane and his sports career is over.  He basically spends all summer in his house along, ignoring all the phone calls and only leaving to go to physical therapy.

Fast forward to the first day of school.  Ezra arrives late and is offered a seat by the kid he used to be friends with in middle school, but who is not really his friend now.  So he and Toby reconnect and Ezra finds himself avoiding the jock table at lunch in favor of the Misfit table.  And he discovers that he actually “speaks geek” really well and he completely fits in with this little group of high school misfits.

Enter Cassidy, the free spirit girl who seems to be the antithesis of the popular girls that Ezra has dated.  She’s mysterious, she’s philosophical and she seems to get Ezra.  He is totally taken by her and she becomes part of the group.

One of the things that made this novel so remarkable is the really likeable cast of characters.  I really liked Ezra, even though at times he was a total, well, dumbass.  He was such a typical teenaged boy and I think that Robyn Schneider did a fabulous job of capturing the teen boy voice.  I never once found myself thinking that a man would have written his voice differently, so bravo Robyn!  I also found myself wanting to sit down at the lunch table with the rest of the characters and just hang out with them.  Toby was especially fun!

This is such a beautiful coming-of-age story.  I loved watching Ezra trying to find himself.  He struggled in many ways and he sometimes made the wrong choices, but I feel like he had such a strong character by the end of the novel.  And even though it wasn’t exactly a happy ending, I closed the book knowing that Ezra would grow up to be a wonderful man.  He really did find his true voice, or at least he began the process very well.

This story didn’t really have a lot of action.  It was much more character driven than plot-driven, but it totally worked.  The plot was Ezra’s search for who he is and where he fits in and how he decides what sort of man he wants to be.  I laughed with him and cried with him and in the end, I was just so damn proud of him.

I loved this book.  I loved Ezra.  I loved Toby.  I can’t wait to recommend this book and see how many of my students love it too.

The Soundtrack

Keep Breathing by Ingrid Michaelson

Life Is Beautiful by The Icarus Project

A Beautiful Mess by Jason Mraz

We Belong Together by Gavin DeGraw

Skinny Love by Bon Iver

Can’t Make You Love Me by Bon Iver

The Final Grade
My final grade for this book is an A+.  This is a poignant, bittersweet coming-of-age novel that will both break your heart and make you smile.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  I was given no compensation, financial or otherwise, for this review, especially not a hot geeky guy.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The book may be Of Beast and Beauty, but the story is beauty through and through!

Author:  Stacey Jay
Publisher:  Delacorte
Date:  Now available
Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss
My grade:  A+

In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret...

In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city’s vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to both their worlds.

Isra wants to help the city’s Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan’s enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe.

As secrets are revealed and Isra’s sight, which vanished during her childhood, returned, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.

Initial Reaction

Cover story
Love, love, love….::hums the Beatles::  This cover is stupendous.  In one picture, it completely captures the juxtaposition of the traditional with the alternate/sci fi universe of the novel setting.  It is pure brilliance.

What’s the Story?
At first, I was skeptical.  I mean, a fairy tale re-telling taking place on another planet that is sort of futuristic/dystopian but not really?  And are these people human or what?  If you find yourself shying away from this book because these things don’t seem to appeal to you or make sense to you, STOP THINKING ABOUT THEM AND READ THE BOOK ALREADY!

This book took what I thought was a far-fetched premise and made it beautiful.  I read Stacey Jay’s Romeo and Juliet books, but this book so surpasses those 2 that I can hardly believe it’s written by the same author.  It is easy to see that Stacey Jay has grown into her own as an author.

This book’s writing lends an almost dreamlike and poetic quality to the entire novel.  It feels like an ancient myth and if I had to draw it as a picture, it would be surrounded by a cover of mist.  And that world just sucked me right into the story.  I grew to love and to hate so many of these characters.  It truly was a story of Beauty and a Beast, although at times, I wondered just who was supposed to be the beauty and who was the beast.

One of the most magnificent things about this book was the way that Stacey Jay managed to take so many of the elements from the original tale but twist them into something that was so entirely new.  It’s like she created her own mythology with this tale.  She didn’t shy away from the very dark elements of fairy tales, either.  This is not your Disney version, for sure.  But it is achingly beautiful.  It made me weep in places and often it was not because of the sadness of the tale but because it reached inside me and touched my very soul.

This is a standalone novel, but I have to say that I would not object to another book in this world because I was simply loath to leave it.

If you are a person who only likes traditional re-tellings, this one may not work for you, but if you love to read beautifully told tales full of magic and have them touch your heart, then this is definitely a book for you.


A Sorta Fairytale by Tori Amos

I’m on Fire by Bat for Lashes

Collide by Howie Day

Distance by Christina Perry with Jason Mraz

Always You by Ingrid Michaelson

The Final Grade

My final grade for this book is an A+.  I cannot fully express how beautiful this story was and just how much I loved it, so just go read it.

I received this copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  I did not receive any compensation, financial or otherwise, for this review, and especially not my own loveable beast.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Yes, I'm Back!

::hangs head in shame::

Yes, I've been gone from my blog for a bit.  School started back on August 25th and I had the school opening from hell, basically.  Then I sort of hit a reviewing slump.  Not a reading slump, mind you.  I've been reading and I've read some really AWESOME books, but I just couldn't make myself sit down and write reviews after long, long days at work that were exhausting.  But I'm catching up now, so I'm going to try to get back on track with the blog.  If you're still reading this blog, I humbly thank you for your patience. : )

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Authors Are Rock Stars Tour with Kelly Keaton

I'm sure that many of you can hear my fangirling wherever you may be.  Why?  Because today, I have KELLY KEATON, yes, KELLY KEATON stopping by my blog!!

First, let me explain why Kelly is a rock star.  You guys, here heroine in the Gods and Monsters series is totally kick-ass!  She is not one of those whiny girl characters who has to wait for a boy to come save her.  And she fights Greeks goddesses!  And she's a Gorgon!!

Second, her books are ah-mazing!  They have tons of supernatural creatures, lots of action, interesting characters and a plot that doesn't stop.  I can't put them down.

Third, she can write a totally swoon-worthy love interest.  I mean, I am totally in love with Sebastian even though that makes me the world's worst cougar, but he's just so HOT!

Finally, Kelly is a fellow North Carolinian.  It's like we're neighbors!  Now, if I could only convince her that we need to have a sleepover and be BFFs!

I probably can't convince her of that, but I did convince her to give us a playlist to go along with The Wicked Within!  So keep reading to hear from Kelly Keaton herself.

Random Ten Playlist for THE WICKED WITHIN:

Hey guys! Very glad to be here for the Authors Are Rock Stars Tour.  One thing you might not know about me is that I cannot listen to music when I write. Absolutely cannot. I have tried many times—after all, music is so inspiring; it brings out so much emotion and can set the mood like nothing else. Yet, when I try to write the words in my head while an entirely different set of words (lyrics) are playing, my brain seems to short circuit. I end up focusing on lyrics and my fingers freeze over the keyboard.
That being said, I use music to set the mood before I write, as I plot, and to help me work out any issues when I feel stuck. THE WICKED WITHIN was written in a very short amount of time—actually, the story simmered in my head way longer than it took to write the first draft, and during this time I had some terrific go-to songs for the story itself and just to get me in the writing mood:

1. F*CKIN’ PERFECT by P!NK -- the queen of kickass anthems. Love her, and the way her lyrics combine grit and truth and vulnerability. Several of her songs are always on my playlist.

2. STAY by RIHANNA and MIKKY EKKO – This was my ‘go to’ song for Ari and Sebastian’s relationship. In THE WICKED WITHIN, they’re dealing with the aftermath of events in A BEAUTIFUL EVIL and they have a lot of obstacles to overcome. But there is something between them, despite all the issues… 

3. UNTITLED by SIMPLE PLAN – from the very beginning of the series, this song put me right in the middle of all the angst and hurt that shaped Ari before we meet her in DARKNESS BECOMES HER.

4. RADIOACTIVE by IMAGINE DRAGONS – Sebastian’s bad ass song. Makes me see him, how he feels about the changes that happened to him, and how pissed off he is... He’s waking up, people. Welcome to the new age. 

5. DON’T TAKE AWAY MY HEAVEN by AARON NEVILLE – just one of his songs I listen to that always puts me in a New Orleans frame of mind.

6. GIRL ON FIRE by ALICIA KEYS – Every time I listen to this, I can see Ari walking down the battle-scarred French Quarter streets with a bloody blade in her hand. Retribution, baby. This girl is on fire. :D

7. SO WHAT by P!NK – Perfect for when Ari is feeling like she wants to start a fight.. ;-)

8. BABYLON by DAVID GRAY – Always reminds me of New Orleans because I listened to his album, White Ladder, during one of my long driving trip to and from the city.

9. LASERS by LUPE FIASCO – gets me in the mood to start work and get the writing show on the road… :)

10. MY SONGS KNOW WHAT YOU DID IN THE DARK by FALL OUT BOY – St. Louis Cathedral. Major show down. Ari and crew light ‘em up in a big, big way. :D 

Thank you so much, Kelly, for stopping by and sharing your playlist with my readers!  If you haven't read Darkness Becomes Her or A Beautiful Evil yet, what are you waiting for?  You can find my reviews of them below:

You can also check out The Wicked Within on Goodreads and go buy it on September 17.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

45 Pounds (More or Less) but with a message worth its weight in gold!

Book:  45 Pounds (More or Less)
Author:  K.A. Barson
Publisher:  Viking Juvenile
Date:  Available now
Source:  Publisher via Netgalley
My grade:  A+

Here are the numbers of Ann Galardi’s life:

She is 16.
And a size 17.
Her perfect mother is a size 6.
Her Aunt Jackie is getting married in 10 weeks, and wants Ann to be her bridesmaid.
So Ann makes up her mind: Time to lose 45 pounds (more or less) in 2 1/2 months.

Welcome to the world of infomercial diet plans, wedding dance lessons, embarrassing run-ins with the cutest guy Ann’s ever seen—-and some surprises about her NOT-so-perfect mother. 

And there’s one more thing. It’s all about feeling comfortable in your own skin-—no matter how you add it up!

"Deliciously relatable with a lot of laughter on the side." -- Rita Williams-Garcia, New York Times best-selling author  (cover and description from
Initial Reaction
What a delightful book!!!

Cover Story
Love this cover!  It pretty much nails it.  And the title does too.  Why aren’t there more book covers like this one???

What’s the Story?
What a refreshing book!  This book looked at body and self-image issues without taking itself too seriously.  But it still delivered a fantastic message in the end.  How did you do that, K.A. Barson??  You are a freaking genius!

First, let me start by saying that the real success of this book lies with Ann, the main character.  She is just so…..likeable!  Yes, she sometimes falls into the “Woe is me!” routine, but seriously, what girl doesn’t from time to time?  I know I still do!  But she pretty much keeps right on plowing through.  She’s not a popular girl, but she’s not the school pariah either.  She seems to be pretty well-liked by most everyone, even though she’s not really close to anyone.

I think this book really nails it when it comes to weight struggles and body image issues.  What made this book great though, is that it managed to look at weight issues in society while still maintaining a good sense of humor.  It was an uplifting story, even though Ann never did lose that full 45 pounds.  And I was more than ok with that!

I think this book did a great job of addressing America’s unhealthy obsession with weight.  From the whole diet infomercial fiasco, to the revelation of an eating disorder to Ann’s epiphany about how weight obsession is affecting her little sister, this novel cuts to the quick of pretty much every weight issue in modern day America.  And it was inspiring to see how well it addressed all of those!

I loved watching Ann come to terms with her weight and her family and her friendship situation and find a balance that worked for HER.  Her growth emotionally mixed with her physical weight loss had me cheering for her the whole time!  Not to mention the cute boy who liked her no matter what size dress she was wearing.

I was so happy when Ann started to realize that she didn’t have to take scraps of love and friendship from people any longer and that she could start to assert herself and make people treat her the way she wanted to be treated.  This book was such a wonderful statement of standing up for yourself and demanding respect.  It was also a wonderful look at the problems of body image and how our obsession with thinness is hurting girls in our society.

I loved this book and I can’t wait to start recommending it to my students!  If you are looking for a book that deals with some pretty heavy issues (no pun intended!) but manages to leave you laughing and feeling good, pick this book up as soon as possible!

The Soundtrack

Big Girl (You Are Beautiful) by Mika

So Beautiful by Superchick

Video by India Arie

Unpretty by TLC

Beautiful by Christina Aguilera

Born This Way by Lady Gaga

The Final Grade
My final grade for this book is an A+.  This is a very timely book that approaches a serious issue in a way that makes you think but doesn’t leave you completely depressed and despairing.  A fun book about a serious issue might sound like an oxymoron, but this book delivers on both counts!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

It may be The Theory of Everything, but it just doesn't explain this book....

Book:  The Theory of Everything
Author:  Kari Luna
Publisher:  Philomel
Date:  Now Available
Source:  Publisher via Negalley
My grade:  C-???

One part Libba Bray's GOING BOVINE, two parts String Theory, and three parts love story equals a whimsical novel that will change the way you think about the world.

Sophie Sophia is obsessed with music from the late eighties. She also has an eccentric physicist father who sometimes vanishes for days and sees things other people don’t see. But when he disappears for good and Sophie’s mom moves them from Brooklyn, New York, to Havencrest, Illinois, for a fresh start, things take a turn for the weird. Sophie starts seeing things, like marching band pandas, just like her dad.

Guided by Walt, her shaman panda, and her new (human) friend named Finny, Sophie is determined to find her father and figure out her visions, once and for all. So she travels back to where it began—New York City and NYU’s physics department. As she discovers more about her dad’s research on M-theory and her father himself, Sophie opens her eyes to the world’s infinite possibilities—and her heart to love.

Perfect for fans of Going Bovine, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and The Probability of Miracles.  (Description and cover from

Initial reaction
This is the most bizarre book I can remember reading.

Cover Story
Rather like the book, this is a bizarre cover, but it definitely fits what’s inside.  So, I’m going to say that this one works.

What’s the Story?
To be honest, I’m still not sure what the story is on this one.  I mean, I read the whole thing, and I understood all the words, but I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND!!!!

This is what I think the deal is.  Sophie Sophia is the daughter of a brilliant physicist.  Who has disappeared.  Her mom thought that he was crazy, but he believed in string theory, which apparently is a theory in physics that would allow for parallel universes that at times intersect with our own.

Here is where I had problems with this theory.  I’m ok with the idea of a parallel universe.  However, why would that parallel universe have pandas that could talk, walk and participate in marching band???  Shouldn’t a parallel universe have to follow all of the rules of our own universe?

Another problem I had was that the novel never explained why only certain people were allowed to travel into this parallel universe.  What made Sophie and her dad so special that they could suddenly find themselves in the midst of one of these parallel realities but the rest of us plain joe schmoes can’t do that???

For that reason, I had a hard time buying the whole storyline.  It felt like the end was going to be some big reveal about mental illness instead.  And what happened to bring everything to an end was even more bizarre and unbelievable than the rest of the book.  I don’t know.  I was left totally confused and in complete denial of any of the explanations. 

To me, this felt like one of those paranormal books that doesn’t allow for the suspension of disbelief.  It felt as if the author wasn’t following her own rules, you know?

The writing was great and I enjoyed the characters to a certain extent, I just never was able to buy into the explanations for the dancing pandas.  Honestly, I think that Parallel by Lauren Miller is a better novel exploring string theory.  (Read my review here.)  The explanation for why only one person was experiencing the parallel universe made more sense in that one because there actually WAS an explanation.

The Soundtrack

She’s Lost Control by Joy Division

Brain Damage/Eclipse by Pink Floyd

Day Dream by Smashing Pumpkins

A Quiet Mind by Blue October

Parallel Universe by Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Final Grade
My final grade for this book is C-.  This book just didn’t work for me.  There are a lot of people who like it on Goodreads, so you might want to read some more reviews of it, but it just fell flat for me.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  I received no compensation, financial or otherwise, for this review.  And certainly not a talking panda.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

They may be Still Star-crossed, but at least they're still alive.

Book:  Still Star-Crossed
Author:  Melinda Taub
Publisher:  Delacorte Press
Date:  Now available
Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss
My grade:  A+

Romeo and Juliet are gone. Will love live on? Despite the glooming peace that's settled on Verona after the recent tragedy, Montagues and Capulets are brawling in the streets. Faced with more bloody battles, Prince Escalus concludes that the only way to truly marry the fortunes of these two families is to literally marry them together. Everyone is skeptical, but none more so than the pair selected, for the most eligible Montague bachelor is Benvolio, Romeo's best friend, still anguished by the loss of his companions, and the chosen Capulet maid is Juliet's older cousin Rosaline, the girl Romeo first loved and whose refusal of Romeo's affection paved the way for bloodshed. Contrary to their late cousins, there's no love lost between Benvolio and Rosaline, yet they forge a bond to end the renewed feud not only to escape their forced betrothal, but to save their lives and the city of Verona itself.

Initial Reaction
I will never look at Rosaline the same way again.

Cover Story
Yes, it has the clichéd girl in the dress, but this is a book that continues the Romeo and Juliet story, so I’m pretty sure the dress is time period appropriate.  The title, of course, is a nod to the bard and ties in to the whole Romeo and Juliet continuing saga.  So, it’s good!

What’s the Story?
This is like a sequel to Romeo and Juliet.  Now, I have read some pretty bad sequels to Pride and Prejudice, but since I’m a sucker for anything that has to do with Shakespeare, I had to get my hands on this one.  This book was no cheesy novel that was just an excuse to write hot sex scenes involving Mr. Darcy!  Oh no!  This book was fabulous!

I really felt like Melinda Taub stayed true to the spirit of Shakespeare in this book.  Not only did she write main characters that were reminiscent of some of Shakespeare’s own, but she showed off her Shakespearean knowledge base by including many nods to characters in other plays.  In fact, this book is probably better suited to fans of Much Ado About Nothing rather than fans of Romeo and Juliet, because Rosaline and Benvolio reminded me very much of Beatrice and Benedick.  Which was just fine by me because I love those 2 way better than I love stupid and whiny Romeo and Juliet.  She also included nods to Don Pedro and even to the grave digger from Hamlet.  There were probably more than that but I’ve either forgotten them or was too ignorant to know that they existed!

The language of this book is quite lovely.  Taub chose to continue dialogue in Shakespeare’s style, but with the rest of the prose in the book, I think this makes Shakespeare’s language a little more accessible to teens.  In fact, I think this would be an excellent book to use as a follow-up to Romeo and Juliet in an English class.  It would be fun to speculate on the after math of the tragedy and would help students who struggled with Shakespeare’s language.

The characters in this book were so much fun!!  The bad ones were really bad and most of them were very multi-dimensional.  It was fun to get to know some of the characters better that showed up in Romeo and Juliet but never made it to the forefront.  It was interesting to see just which characters Taub chose to make good or evil or simply complacent.  In fact, I’d love to sit down with her over a cup of tea and discuss why she made those choices.

The action in this novel was non-stop!  It was very fast-paced and there was enough intrigue going on that I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.  I raced through this book and honestly, if I had the time, I would probably go right back to the beginning and read it again. 

I was very pleased with everything about this book.  I’m so excited to get a copy for my own library and I can’t wait to share it with my English department.  It’s even inspired me to create a book display of Shakespearean related novels!  It shall be as merry as the day is long!

The Soundtrack

I Hate Everything About You by Three Days Grace

I Hate Myself for Loving You by Joan Jett

Wash It All Away by Evanescence

Half of My Heart by John Mayer

The Space Between by Dave Matthews Band

King and Lionheart by Of Monsters and Men

Live to Tell by Madonna

A Thousand Years by Christina Perri

The Final Grade
My final grade for this book is an A+.  It was a Shakespeare related novel that was worthy of the Bard…..and luckily had a much happier ending than the work that inspired it!  I can’t wait to start dealing this one out at school in the fall!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  I received no compensation, financial or otherwise, for this review.  Not even a hot Montague.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Summer Road Trip Giveaway Hop!

Welcome to my stop on the Summer Road Trip Giveaway Hop!

I LOVE road trips.  Possibly they are my favorite thing in the world to do.  The excitement of going somewhere new but also the discoveries you make while on the road.  ::sighs:: I'm ready to go on one now.....

But, since that can't happen, I'm going to give a copy of my favorite road trip book to one lucky winner! As long as The Book Depository will ship to your country, you can even be international.  So here are your choices:

This was my very first road trip novel.  I read it my junior year of high school and it literally changed my life.  A classic!

Not sure if trips by disapparation count, but I'm going to go for it.  A magical road trip is a road trip nonetheless, and what other book has part of the journey take place on a dragon???

I read this one a couple of summers ago and I loved it.  It even has a playlist at the beginning of each chapter and you guys know how I love book soundtracks!

I'm not sure if Witness Protection Plan counts as a road trip per se, but how about a road trip to try and discover why you are in said WPP to begin with?  And it has car chases and hotel nights with a hot boy!

A road trip during the zombie apocalypse is still a road trip, right?

What do you get when you put one Jersey girl with ex-boyfriend issues in a car with 3 other boys and send them on the road to Colorado?  You get this book!  But beware--hilariousness ensues!

Right of Way by Lauren Barnholdt (my review)
Running away from home with a dog and a cute boy is still a road trip, right?

So, enter away!  And make sure you check out the other blogs on the hop as well!  It will be like a virtual road trip!  You can find the links under my Rafflecopter.  Good luck and happy traveling!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, August 4, 2013

I'll Give You the Right of Way, But Can I Just Smack You First?

Book:  Right of Way
Author:  Lauren Barnholdt
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Date:  Now Available
Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss
My grade:  B+

Can a road trip repair a romance gone wrong? Find out in this standalone companion to Lauren Barnholdt’s Two-way Street.

Here are Peyton and Jace, meeting on vacation. Click! It’s awesome, it’s easy, it’s romantic. This is the real deal.

Unless it isn’t. Because when you’re in love, you don’t just stop calling one day. And you don’t keep secrets. Or lie. And when your life starts falling apart, you’re supposed to have the other person to lean on.

Here are Peyton and Jace again, broken up but thrown together on a road trip. One of them is lying about the destination. One of them is pretending not to be leaving something behind. And neither of them is prepared for what’s coming on the road ahead…

Initial Reaction
Is it possible to love characters and still want to slap them silly???

Cover Story
Why the hell is there a truck on this cover?  There’s no truck in this book.  There’s a sedan.  And no one goes to the beach.  I get that they’re trying to portray the road trip, but don’t these cover designers even read the freaking books????  I like the title though.

What’s the Story?
Apparently this is a companion novel to another one written by Lauren Barnholdt called Two-Way Street.  There are two characters that make quite a few appearances in this novel, Jordan and Courtney, and the first novel is about them.  It’s not necessary to read this first novel, though.  I enjoyed this one and understood it, although now I’m curious about the first one.

This book would have been an A book for me except for 2 things:  1.  The angst factor just killed me.  I am a happily ever after kind of girl and the angst of never knowing if I would get there just about did me in.  2.  These characters were at times so immature and non-communicative that I just wanted to shake some sense into both of them.

Now, having said that, I realize that the reason I could see that they were overreacting to stuff is because I’m 43 instead of 16.  However, I do inhabit space with a 15 year old girl, and let me tell you that Lauren Barnholdt has hit the nail on the head with the teen stupid.  God, these kids do some really stupid things.  Like running away from home.  Like not talking to each other.  Like not talking to anyone about problems.  Like leaving home with no money and no real plan.  Yes, some of us know that these are stupid things, but when you’re 16 and hurt and upset, they don’t seem like such bad options.

The structure of this book was very interesting, although I could see how it might not work well for some readers.  It moves back and forward in time and from Peyton’s to Jace’s points of view.  I had no trouble following it and honestly, I’m pretty impressed that Lauren Barnholdt could pull that off without missing some major plot point.  I have no doubt that I would have missed something major and messed the whole thing up.  But she pulled it off beautifully.

I liked the 2 characters.  Now, it took me a while to get there, mind you, but that was part of the fun.  I had to unravel all the circumstances that led these 2 exes to be riding together in a car from Florida to either Connecticut or North Carolina.  And why one of them was leaving home and the other was willing to miss his high school graduation to do this.  Seeing everything slowly revealed was both a treat and a torture.  Of course, once I got to the end, all the angst was worth it but boy, did it ever hurt so good while I was reading it!

In the end, I loved both the story and the characters and I was glad to see both Peyton and Jace grow more mature as the story progressed.  And thank goodness there was a real sort of ending.  I’m so tired of these books that almost drop off in mid-sentence!  This one wrapped up nicely without making everything too tidy, but wrapping up just well enough to give me a sense of closure.

The Soundtrack

She by Elvis Costello

Say Anything by Tristan Prettyman

A Beautiful Mess by Jason Mraz

The Reason by Hoobastank

Runaway by 3 Doors Down

She’s Leaving Home by The Beatles

The Final Grade

My final grade for this book is a B+.  If you can wade through the angst and control your urge to murder the two main characters, this book really pays off in the end.

I received a copy of this book fro the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  I received no compensation, financial or otherwise, for this review. Not even a great road trip dog.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I'm hoping to find The Lost Sun......under Thor's breastplate!

Book:  The Lost Sun (The United States of Asgard #1)
Author:  Tessa Gratton
Publisher:  Random House Books for Young Readers
Date:  Available now
Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss
My grade: B

Fans of Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Holly Black's The Curse Workers will embrace this richly drawn, Norse-mythology-infused alternate world: the United States of Asgard.

Seventeen-year-old Soren Bearskin is trying to escape the past. His father, a famed warrior, lost himself to the battle-frenzy and killed thirteen innocent people. Soren cannot deny that berserking is in his blood--the fevers, insomnia, and occasional feelings of uncontrollable rage haunt him. So he tries to remain calm and detached from everyone at Sanctus Sigurd's Academy. But that's hard to do when a popular, beautiful girl like Astrid Glyn tells Soren she dreams of him. That's not all Astrid dreams of--the daughter of a renowned prophetess, Astrid is coming into her own inherited abilities.

When Baldur, son of Odin and one of the most popular gods in the country, goes missing, Astrid sees where he is and convinces Soren to join her on a road trip that will take them to find not only a lost god, but also who they are beyond the legacy of their parents and everything they've been told they have to be.

Initial Reaction
Hmmmm.  That was different.  Not bad different, just different.

Cover Story
I don’t like it.  No, I take that back.  I don’t like the giant face on it.  It makes the cover ugly.  And the title was ok until I saw what the original title was.  New Songs of Asgard?  Hello, awesome title.  Oh well…..::sighs::

What’s the Story?
So, this book has given me work to do.  In the form of research.  About Norse mythology.  I mean, I know a smidgen about it, but now I want to know a LOT about it.  I’m seriously going to get some books on it.  I’m inspired!

At first, I wasn’t sure that I would like this book.  I mean, the description was awesome and a book about a teen berserker?  Yes, please!  But when I started reading, it felt….disjointed at first.  The names seemed weird and out of place and it didn’t feel organic.  And then, suddenly, it did.  I guess I needed some time to get used to the new names and references in the book, because after a while, it all felt natural.

The premise for this book is that the U.S. is modern, but it’s part of the ancient Viking culture.  The Norse gods are real and they live in the U.S. and people sort of interact with them.  Soren Bearskin is the main character and narrator.  Is that a great name or what??  He is a berserker, like his dad, but he doesn’t want to be one.  His dad went crazy and berserked in the middle of a shopping mall, causing the SWAT team to come gun him down, all in front of Soren. 

A berserker, if you are not familiar with the term, is a Viking warrior who worked himself into a complete frenzy and rage to go into battle, so it seemed as if they were going crazy and leaping into the fight.  Because of their rage, they were difficult to defeat.  They are often described in the Germanic epics and sagas.  Now, in modern times, if you start displaying the signs of a berserker, you have to get this thing tattooed on your face so that people will know to steer clear of you.  For this reason, Soren is a bit of a loner and people really don’t want to have anything to do with him.

Until he meets the girl, of course.  Astrid shows no fear of Soren, and suddenly he finds himself on this quest with her across the country in search of the god, Baldur.  It’s a pretty typical adventure/quest, but all the elements of Norse mythology are what really gave it that extra something.  In spite of the bad case of insta-love between Soren and Astrid, I found myself rooting for them.  I mean, who doesn’t like a couple named Soren and Astrid??

I enjoyed all the references to Norse gods and to the ideas of Valhalla and the threat of the start of Ragnarok.  (Just go look that crap up on Wikipedia if you don’t know what it is!)  Of course, the image of Soren as a young Chris Helmsworth (Thor!!) seriously helped my enjoyment of this book, but by the end of the book, I found that I really wanted to see what would happen next.  So, in spite of a slow beginning and some jarring use of anachronistic vocabulary, this book gave me enough cool Norse references and interesting adventure to keep me reading into the second book.

The Soundtrack

Ok, I had a lot of fun with this soundtrack and did something completely different.  So, here for your listening pleasure is a mix of Nordic music, both ancient and modern.  Yeah, I don’t understand any of the words either, but it sounds awesome, right?

The Dreaming ‘Ere the World Ends by Helene Bøksle

Trøllabundin by Eivør

Ólafur Liljurós  an Icelandic Folk Song

I Riden Så by Gjallarhorn

The Secret Path by The Moon and the Nightspirit

Sólstafir by Fjara

Ólavar Riddararós by Valravn

The Final Grade
My final grade for this book is a B.  It started out a little rocky, but eventually smoothed out into a fun and interesting adventure…..with visions of Thor in my head!  I’m interested to see what will happen next.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  I received no compensation, financial or otherwise, for this review.  Not even a giant poster of  Chris Helmsworth. ::sobs::

Monday, July 29, 2013

fml, and Simon's life too

Book:  fml
Author:  Shaun David Hutchinson
Publisher:  Simon Pulse
Date:  Available now
Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss
My grade:  A-

There’s more than one way to get the girl in this fun and fast-paced novel about one epic party and a kiss that could change everything.Tonight’s the night: Simon’s big chance to finally get with Cassie. Cassie, who he’s loved for ages. Cassie, who is newly boyfriend-free. Cassie, who just happens to be throwing the biggest party of the year. Simon’s plan is simple: He’ll go to the party, she’ll fall in love with him, they’ll make out like crazy, and the night will be a complete success.

But things don’t ever go as planned…especially when it comes to Cassie.

In two alternating plotlines, Simon goes after the girl of his dreams and stumbles toward his destiny. It’s one night, one party, and a thousand ways for things to go wrong…but a million ways for them to go right.

Initial Reaction
This book was like a Jedi mind trick!!!

Cover Story
I really like this cover, with the exception of one thing.  I think it’s completely white-washed.  Why would you do this, Simon Pulse?  Here you have a fantastic cover design with all the little bits of pieces of a party night and then you don’t even put a girl of color on the cover when a girl of color is the main crux of the plot??  Really?  Am I missing something here??

What’s the Story?
This book is about choices.  And how one choice can change everything.  Or maybe not.  Actually, I’m not sure if this book is trying to make a statement about anything like that.  But it is a story about a boy learning to grow up and move on, so I suppose both story lines are really about Simon sort of coming into his own.  Or not.  Oh hell, I don’t really know but I do know that I enjoyed the book and I liked seeing the two different storylines separate and interconnect and I liked watching Simon step out of the shadow and take that first real step into becoming a man.

Now, at first, I didn’t think that I would like this book.  It sort of snuck up on me.  I was a little befuddled to begin with since the story kept changing back and forth based on the one decision.  I was sort of ho-hum and then suddenly, I found that I really liked Simon and cared about what was going to happen to him.  In that “I would like to slap some sense into the main character” sort of way.  Because I could see Simon’s potential if he would only get his head out of his ass, or Cassie’s, as it were, long enough to see what was right in front of him.

Honestly, at the end of the book, I can’t really remember which decision led to which part of the night, but it really doesn’t matter because they all led to sort of the same conclusion.  And I loved that conclusion.  So the details are really unimportant.
But the details!  Ah, the details!  This book was full of fun details.  It all takes place in one long night at a high school party.  Remember those?  I do, which is probably why I want to lock my 15 year old in the dog kennel and not let her out except to go to school.  This was one of those parties.  Imagine Jake Ryan’s house at the end of the party in Sixteen Candles and that is what Cassie’s house will look like.  And it was crazy!  The party was full of moments that were funny, absurd, cringe-worthy, endearing, horrifying and much, much more.

The characters were good, too.  I eventually came to love Simon.  I never really cared for Cassie too much and I didn’t see what the big deal was with her, but who am I to judge?  The best friends were good and the whole high school cast of characters was there.  I have to say that I liked the storyline with Stella showing up earlier in it because I loved Stella!  She rocked!

I’m glad I stuck with this one.  I was just coasting along when suddenly, the roller coaster ride of the book took off and I couldn’t let go until it stopped.  And even in the moments where I wanted to hide my face, I couldn’t help but watch and enjoy all the thrills when I reached the end.

The Soundtrack

(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party) by The Beastie Boys

Popular by Nada Surf

Last Friday Night by Katy Perry

Girl Is on My Mind by The Black Keys

Almost by Bowling for Soup

Straitjacket Feeling by All-American Rejects

The Final Grade
The final grade for this one is an A-.  It lost some points for a slow start and for leaving me a little confused at the beginning, but by the end, I just loved Simon.  No matter how much I wanted to smack him.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  I received no compensation, financial or otherwise, for my review.  Not even an invitation to an all-night kegger.