Friday, May 10, 2013

So... I've Been a Total SUCKISH Blogger of Late...

So, yeah... I do this about this time every year, and I guess this year was destined to be no different, now that I have a job on top of everything else...  I've been grossly neglectful, and I apologize, but if you hang with me, I promise, I have some great reviews coming and even maybe a giveaway or two.  I just have to get through the end of the school year (nine school days to go), and through a rather stressful time at work (the other two managers in my department are leaving me), and then we will be back on track.  In the meantime, I am reading, and drafting reviews, so stay tuned!  Another week, and I'll be golden!  Yay for summer!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

ARC Review: Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood by Abby McDonald

Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date:  April 23rd, 2013

Abby McDonald gives L.A. the Jane Austen treatment in this contemporary take on Sense and Sensibility.

Hallie and Grace Weston have never exactly seen life eye to eye. So when their father dies and leaves everything to his new wife, forcing the girls to pack up and leave San Francisco for a relative’s house in shiny Beverly Hills, the two sisters take to their changing lot in typically different styles. Shy, responsible Grace manages to make friends with an upbeat, enterprising girl named Palmer but still yearns for her old life — and the maybe-almost-crush she left behind. Meanwhile, drama queen Hallie is throwing herself headlong into life — and love — in L.A., spending every second with gorgeous musician Dakota and warding off the attention of brooding vet Brandon. But is Hallie blinded by the stars in her eyes? And is Grace doomed to forever hug the sidelines?
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

It's no secret.  I love a good retelling.  I love it when an author takes a beloved classic, and puts a modern spin on it.  I have only one requirement- they had better do the original work justice.  Sometimes I get nervous when an author reimagines an especially loved story, and that was the case here.  Sense and Sensibility is one of my favorite Jane Austen novels, and while I was looking forward to reading Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood, I was also a bit apprehensive...  Well, I'm not going to go out on a limb like I did when I reviewed The Trouble With Flirting by Claire LaZebnik, a modern retelling of Mansfield Park, and say that it is better than the original (read my review HERE), but it was cute and super-fun, and I was completely charmed by it.  I felt like Abby McDonald did a fine job modernizing the much loved classic, while keeping to the general themes of love, loss, and coming of age.

Hallie and Grace move to L.A. after their father dies and everything is left to his new wife, forcing them out of their home, and away from all they know.  While L.A. is not rural Devonshire, the setting of the original story, I feel like Grace and Hallie experienced the same kind of loneliness and isolation that Marianne and Elinor did because L.A. is such a superficial place, and in the end status trumped all else in both settings.  The ways they dealt with those feelings, as well as the romantic feelings each had toward their respective love interests, were very similar to the girls in Sense and Sensibility.  Hallie was as much the drama queen that Marianne was, and Grace and Elinor were similarly stoic and responsible.  As far as the other characters are concerned, I loved how Abby McDonald reworked them. The fact that Dakota was a musician was fantastic, and I thought it was great that Theo was the evil stepmother's kid brother.  I though Palmer was great, and my only complaint about her was that we didn't see enough of her.  Same goes for Amber, who ended up being one of my favorite characters.

As far as the plot is concerned, I thought it flowed really well.  It never got boring, and I really liked how everything turned out.  I especially liked that the author gave a little "where-are-they-now" page at the end, citing what happened to all of the characters down the road.  It gave me a sense of closure, while also making me laugh.  In the end, this book was light, funny, sweet, and just what I needed after the sob-fest that was the ending of Clockwork Princess, which I read right before this.  Honestly, my only real complaint about Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood was the cover.  I think the could have done a lot better... Still, if you are a fan of Jane Austen and enjoy a good retelling, I recommend you give this book a go.  I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This book is pretty clean.  There's some teen drinking, and sex is alluded to, but otherwise there's nothing that could be considered objectionable.  This book is perfect for grades 6 and up (ages 11 and up).

WWW (36) and Waiting on Wednesday (April 17th, 2013): CROWN OF MIDNIGHT by Sarah J. Maas and A DARKNESS STRANGE AND LOVELY by Susan Dennard

W. W. W. Wednesday is hosted by Should Be Reading a great blog that I subscribe to. Here's how it works... Each Wednesday I will answer the following questions:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you'll read next?

I've been a really slow reader lately, so I haven't had much to share.  With Spring upon us, I've had loads of work to do in my garden, softball season for my girls, and have had to go to wok on top of it.  Reading has, sadly, not been super-high on the priorities list.  That said, I've recently read some amazing books, so I had to take the time to do this week's WWW...

What are you currently reading?

The Rules by Stacey Kade~ So far, this one's pretty good.  It's intriguing, and there are enough questions that I'm turning the pages at a pretty good clip.  Stay tuned.  It releases next week, so my review will be up soon.

Dear Life, You Suck by Scott Blagden~ This one is shaping up to be quite funny.  I've just started it, so I can't give a solid opinion just yet, but I have a good feeling about it.

What did you recently finish reading?

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo~ OMG, ya'll!  This book is freaking amazing!  If you liked Shadow and Bone, you are in for a serious treat!  If you haven't read Shadow and Bone, well, I just feel sorry for you.

The Program by Suzanne Young~ As a fan of her other books, I was really eager to read this one.  It was good, but not as good as I had hoped it would be.  Look for my review this week or next.

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch~ Another win.  I was blown away by the range of emotions this book evoked.  If you are a fan of issue-driven Contemporary YA, this is a must-read.  Check out my review HERE.

Mind Games by Kiersten White~ Again, an author whose prior stuff I've loved.  This one, just okay for me.  It was good enough that I will read book number two, but I wasn't blown away like I had expected to be.  Read my full review HERE.

Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare~ All I can say is... TEARS!  What a beautiful, unexpected, and bittersweet ending.  As soon as I can think of it without tearing up, I will post my review.

Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood by Abby McDonald~ A cute, modern retelling of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. An easy, fast day and a half read that was perfect after the tears of Clockwork Princess.  Full review to come.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys~ Um.  This was a book club pick that I would have otherwise never read.  Can I just say?  Effing AMAZING!  Thank you to whomever chose this for April, because I adored it!  Review coming soon.

What do you think you'll read next?

Icons by Margaret Stohl~ I'm so excited to read this.  I can't wait to see what she can do without Beautiful Creatures writing partner, Kami Garcia.  Plus, she's so amazingly nice, and this book seems pretty dark, so I'm intrigued!  It releases May 7th, so look for a review next week or so.

Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy~ I've professed my adoration of Terra's writing before, so I'm, of course, excited to read this.  It' a stretch from her standard YA Contemporary fare though, so I'm doubly excited!  Stay tuned.  It also releases May 7th, and I will probably do a signed giveaway with my review.

"Waiting On" Wednesday is another fun blog event. Hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, this event gives us a chance to talk about the books we anxiously await the release of. Since there is ALWAYS a looooooong list of books I'm waiting on (I actually keep a spreadsheet), I figured this is one that I MUST do.

I'm giving you not one, but two WoW books today.  I will call it The BFFs Edition, since the authors of my two featured books are buds.  I had the opportunity to meet both this past summer at DBF, and they were both so great, and since I loved each of their debuts, I am SO waiting on their book number twos!  So without further ado...

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

An assassin’s loyalties are always in doubt.

But her heart never wavers. 

After a year of hard labor in the Salt Mines of Endovier, eighteen-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien has won the king's contest to become the new royal assassin. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown – a secret she hides from even her most intimate confidantes.

Keeping up the deadly charade—while pretending to do the king's bidding—will test her in frightening new ways, especially when she's given a task that could jeopardize everything she's come to care for. And there are far more dangerous forces gathering on the horizon -- forces that threaten to destroy her entire world, and will surely force Celaena to make a choice. 

Where do the assassin’s loyalties lie, and who is she most willing to fight for?
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: August 27th, 2013
My Expected Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

I adored the first installment of this series, Throne of Glass, and have eagerly been awaiting the next.  I will undoubtedly be begging someone for an advance copy of Crown of Midnight, because August is far too far away for me.  I need me some more Celaena NOW.  Read my review of Throne of Glass HERE.

Following an all-out battle with the walking Dead, the Spirit Hunters have fled Philadelphia, leaving Eleanor alone to cope with the devastating aftermath. But there’s more trouble ahead—the evil necromancer Marcus has returned, and his diabolical advances have Eleanor escaping to Paris to seek the help of Joseph, Jie, and the infuriatingly handsome Daniel once again. When she arrives, however, she finds a whole new darkness lurking in this City of Light. As harrowing events unfold, Eleanor is forced to make a deadly decision that will mean life or death for everyone.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Publisher:  HarperTeen
Publication Date:  July 23rd, 2013
My Expected Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

I really enjoyed book one in this series, Something Strange and Deadly, and expect I will enjoy book number two even more now that all the pesky set-up is done.  You just can't go wrong with steampunk, zombies, and mysterious hotties.  This one releases on my daughter's birthday so I will have to celebrate by buying myself a finished copy (because I fully intend to beg, borrow, or steal an advance copy), because that cover is absolutely to die for, and I need to have it on my shelf.  Read my review of Something Strange and Deadly HERE.

So that was my BFFs Edition of Waiting On Wednesday!  What are you Waiting On?  Leave your link, so I can check it out!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Recommend the Most

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new Top Ten list topic is posted and book bloggers fill in their own choices. I'm a list girl (as in, I don't function without them), so I thought this would be a good choice for me!  This week is a rewind week, which means we can pick any past topic.  Since this is my favorite meme, and since I've missed many, many weeks, I am really happy to go back and choose one!  For my rewind, I chose...

Top Ten Books I Recommend the Most

Because of my extremely short attention span, my list of books that I recommend is in a constant state of flux.  Much of it depends on what I've read recently that has stayed with me, and who I am talking to, but there are definitely a few stand-outs that are always on it!
*In no particular order.*

1.  Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell~  This is my all-time favorite book, and my most highly recommended classic.  Of course, it's not a book that everyone is going to enjoy, but if I'm asked what my favorite book is, this is always my answer.

2.  Every Day by David Levithan~  This was my favorite book of 2012, and my second favorite book of all time.  It's a book that has stayed with me because it was just THAT beautiful.  When I'm asked what the one book I think EVERYONE should read is, this is it.  It's perfection.  Read my review HERE.

3.  Graceling by Kristin Cashore~  Whenever I come across a lover of High Fantasy, I gush about this book.  I can't say enough.  I liked Fire and Bitterblue too, but Graceling is still my favorite.  Some other, more recent HF novels I love and recommend are Shadow and Bone (read my review HERE) and its upcoming sequel, Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (read my review HERE), and Touch of Power (read my review HERE) and Scent of Magic (read my review HERE) by Maria V. Snyder.

4.  Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin~  Another all-time favorite.  This is what I hope the afterlife is like.  I love the world and the story, and it's a quick enough read that I feel comfortable suggesting it to even t most reluctant reader.

5.  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews~  This is my favorite funny book to recommend.  I was so thrilled when it won the 2012 Cybil Award for Young-Adult Fiction!  It was well deserved!  Read my review HERE.

6.  Shine by Lauren Myracle~  This was my favorite book of 2011, and for very good reason. As far as books that deal with the tough stuff go, there is no shortage of great ones.  There are so many great authors who write about the issues facing today's teens; You have Ellen Hopkins, who in my opinion, is the reigning Queen of Issues Your Parents Don't Want To Acknowledge, John Green, Laurie Halse Anderson, Amy Reed, and Jennifer Brown, to name a few.  Shine stood out to me because Lauren Myracle is not an author who typically writes the heavy stuff.  She's usually witty and funny and light, so Shine took me by surprise, and really stayed with me like few other books have.  Read my review HERE.

7.  If I Stay and Where She Went by Gayle Forman~ I read each of these books in one sitting, and they both made me cry for different reasons.  These two books are my go-to books for girls who are looking for Contemporary Romance with an edge.  Read my review of Where She Went HERE.

8.  The Fault In Our Stars by John Green~ This is my most recommended tearjearker.  I, along with a few other people on our committee, fought to keep this on my daughter's middle school's 2013 summer reading list for rising 7th and 8th graders, because it belongs in the hands of kids that age.  It is such a beautifully written story, but at the same time full of humor that today's kids can relate to.  Another book I think everyone should read.  Read my review HERE.

9.  Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys~ I just finished this one the other day, but I've already been spreading the word.  I immediately handed it to my (almost) 12 year old daughter when I finished it, and then sent an email to her middle school media specialist to see if it was too late to get it put on the summer reading list.  The funny thing is, I had no intention of reading it because I generally dislike Historical Fiction, but my book club was reading it, so I reluctantly did too.  I. LOVED. IT.  It was fabulous.  If you haven't read it, do it now!

10.  The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare~ I just finished the final installment, Clockwork Princess, and the tears!  If someone wants to dig into a series, this is the one I'm going to suggest.  I've enjoyed The Mortal Instruments, so far, but The Infernal Devices is head and shoulders above it.  If you are a Paranormal fan, a Historical Fiction fan, a Steampunk Fan, or a fan of epic love stories, these books are must-reads!  Read my review of Clockwork Prince HERE, and look for my review of Clockwork Princess in the upcoming days.

So- there are my Top Ten Books I Recommend the Most.  It could change tomorrow (although based on what I'm reading right now, that is unlikely), but for now...  Do we share any recommendations?  Do you have anything to add? What topic did you rewind to?  Leave your link with your comment so I can check your Top Ten out!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Operation Teen Book Drop (#rockthedrop) Is Almost Here!!

Ya'll!  It's almost time for my favorite bookish event of the year!  This coming Thursday, April 18th, is Operation Teen Book Drop (also known as Rock the Drop), in honor of Support Teen Literature Day!  It's super-easy to be a part of it!  All you do is print out some of the above book-plates, paste them in YA books, and drop them in places you think teens will pick them up.  You can take pics of your dropped books and post them on twitter (@readergirlz #rockthedrop) and Facebook, spreading the word!  Trust me, if you do this, you will feel super warm and fuzzy for days to come, knowing that you helped promote teen literacy.  

If you want more info, go to the readergirlz website, where you will find everything you need!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

ARC Review: Mind Games by Kiersten White

Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date:  February 19th, 2013

Fia was born with flawless instincts. Her first impulse, her gut feeling, is always exactly right. Her sister, Annie, is blind to the world around her—except when her mind is gripped by strange visions of the future. 

Trapped in a school that uses girls with extraordinary powers as tools for corporate espionage, Annie and Fia are forced to choose over and over between using their abilities in twisted, unthinkable ways…or risking each other’s lives by refusing to obey.

In a stunning departure from her New York Times bestselling Paranormalcy trilogy, Kiersten White delivers a slick, edgy, heartstoppingly intense psychological thriller about two sisters determined to protect each other—no matter the cost.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I will start this review by saying that I loved Kiersten White's Paranormalcy series, and Mind Games was nothing like it.  It is almost like a different author wrote Mind Games.  That's not to say that I didn't like it.  I did.  Just not even close to as much as I did the former.  Now, with that out of the way, I can get down to my reasons why I liked Mind Games, but also why I didn't LOVE it...  I'm a bad-news-first type of person, so I will start with the things I didn't like.

First off, I really wasn't into the format.  There were two points of view, Fia's and Annie's, and the chapters alternate between the two of them.  That is something I can deal with, and even like in most cases.  What I didn't like was that along with the alternating POVs, the story also jumped between past and present.  I found it very confusing. I found it too hard to keep track of both whose POV I was reading and when it was taking place, at the same time.  Another thing that bothered me was the fact that it took a good bit of time get into this book.  That said, I suspect that had something to do with my getting used to the format.  I will say that once the story picked up, it was quite riveting.  Finally, I have to say that I thought the ending wasn't great.  I felt like there were too many question left unanswered and not enough closure.  I know this is the first book in a series, but there were some questions that I felt needed to be answered in this book.  Hopefully, book number two proves me wrong, and that there is good reason for my lack of closure, but right now I see it as a flaw. (I will totally retract this statement if I'm given good reason to in book number two!)  Now, on to the "likes"...

First and foremost, I LOVED the cover.  I always rave about HarperTeen's covers, and this one is no exception.  Absolutely stunning.  So what about what's between those pretty pieces of cardboard?  Well... I loved the premise of this book.  A private school for girls with special abilities- seeing the future, reading minds, feeling the emotions of others- to name a few.  I loved the secrecy behind who the man funding the school was, and what happens to the girls upon "graduating".  I loved that no one could see him, and I loved that no one knew what his motives were.  Those questions kept me turning pages.  I also liked the characters.  I really liked James a lot, right from the beginning, but I especially liked him when we learned more about him toward the end of the book.  I think I like Fia, although to be honest, I still have too many questions about who she is to say for sure.  We never really find out exactly why she is so important, and that bothered me.  Annie was alright.  I didn't dislike her, I just thought she was maybe a bit bland.  I liked her enough, but she wasn't very exciting.  We didn't get to know Adam very well, but I have a good feeling about him.  I feel like there is still loads of development left to go on all of the characters, but so far, so good.  The pacing went both ways.  I mentioned earlier in my review that the story was slow to start, but it really did pick up abut 1/3 of the way through, and when it did, it really did.  The action was really well done, and I was on the edge of my seat for most of the 2nd half of the book.  Of course, writing action is one of Kiersten's strengths, as evidenced by the Paranormalcy books, so I wasn't expecting anything less.

Overall, I would say that although Mind Games didn't hold a candle to Paranormalcy, I still really enjoyed it.  It was a short, quick read that left me wanting more (both in a good way and in a bad way). I will definitely pick up the second book of the series next year because there is no way I am going through life without knowing the answers to all of my questions!

Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  This book was pretty clean.  There were a few make-out scenes, and a good bit of violence, but it was pretty benign otherwise.  Appropriate for 6th grade and up (ages 11 and up).

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

ARC Review: If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

Publisher:  St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: March 26th, 2013

There are some things you can’t leave behind…A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen-year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.

Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.

(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Lately I've been in a weird pattern when it comes to books; It seems that almost every book I've picked up recently has been really slow to start.  I can't tell you how many books I have on my nightstand that are set aside 1/3 of the way in because I wasn't feeling the pull that I like to feel. (Actually, I can... That number is eight.)  Although the slow starters that I have been able to finish have ended up being very good, I think I will always prefer the early hook.  I am attentionally challenged, and if there isn't something to grab me early on, I lose patience.  I'm sure I miss out on a great number of amazing books because of this, but I also think that gives me an advantage when reviewing books that target the teen audience, because teens are very instant-gratification oriented.  But we can save all that for another post.  My point here is that I think If You Find Me has gotten me out of that slow-to-start funk.  I was drawn into this book from the very first chapter, and it did not let me go until the final page.  In fact, If You Find Me still hasn't let me go.  It is a story that is as happy as it is heartbreaking, and I found myself experiencing a broader range of emotions in 256 pages than I ever thought possible.  Fear, joy, anger, excitement, heartbreak, love, loss, happiness, grief, inspiration, disgust, optimism, melancholy.  And that list doesn't even come close to covering them all...

The story begins with Carey and Nessa fending for themselves, living in a camper, deep in the Obed Wild & Scenic River National Park, waiting for their meth-addicted mother to return from a trip to the  nearest town to get supplies.  Carey is full of worry because it has been over a month since she left, and they are running low on food.  It's not their mother who comes to their rescue, though.  It's a social worker and Carey's father, the man their mother kidnapped Carey from, ten years prior.  Carey has only vague memories of life before the woods, and Nessa knows nothing else.  The girls are taken from the only life they know, harsh as it had was, to a modern world, overnight.  They go to live with their father, his wife, and her daughter, and although these changes are all for the better, Carey is as fragile as she's ever been.  She has deep, painful secrets, physical and emotional scars, and a great deal of internal conflict.  She knows the changes she and her sister are going through are best, especially for six year-old Nessa, but she doesn't know how to trust that it isn't all a dream- a rug ready to be pulled out from under them.  Her story is an intense emotional rollercoaster, as debut author Emily Murdoch deftly alternates her present situation with her memories of life in the woods- the good ones and the horrifying- in a voice that made Carey seem so real and vulnerable;  This book read more like a memoir than it did fiction.  If You Find Me touched me deeply, as I felt every one of Carey's emotions to my core.

This was very much Carey's story, but she wasn't the only phenomenally drawn character.  Nessa was amazing as well.  She was a picture of the resiliency of small children, and it brought me a tremendous amount of joy to see her grow as a result of the love that surrounded her, after having such a harrowing start to her life.  It was wonderful to see that growth through Carey's eyes, because in reality, Carey was the the mother that Joelle, their biological mother, never was.  I adored Melissa, their stepmother, who went well above and beyond, and as a side note, I thought it was great to see a stepmother portrayed in a positive light.  Carey's father was a character that took me some time to warm to.  I had a great amount of admiration for him because of the fact that he never treated Nessa any differently than he did Carey, despite the fact that she wasn't his, but otherwise, I was unsure of him because I was viewing him through Carey's eyes, and she only had the lies her mother had told her of him to go on.  Initially he was rather closed off, but as he opened himself up, it became clear that he was the way he was was because of the uncertainty he endured for so many years.  As a parent, I can't even imagine being in his shoes.  What I liked best about his portrayal was that much of what we learned about him came from the snipes and jabs that seemingly self-absorbed stepdaughter Delaney threw out from time to time.  And speaking of Delaney...  She was such an important character, and although she was so unlikeable much of the time, I thought Emily Murdoch did a flawless job making sure that the reader understood why she was the way she was. In the end, I was almost as sympathetic toward her as I was toward Carey and Nessa, because although her life was a cake-walk compared to theirs, she had to endure her own feelings of inadequacy in the shadow of the kidnapped (and then found) daughter, and that could not have been easy.  Finally, there was Ryan.  I don't want to spoil, so I won't say much about him, but his character was great, and a perfect addition to Carey's story.

If You Find Me is hands-down, one of the best books of this nature that I have ever read.  It is a heartbreaking story that ends with a message of hope.  Although I would love to know more about what Carey's future holds, I feel like I got proper closure to this chapter of her life.  One thing I know for sure is that I will be on the lookout for more of Emily Murdoch's writing, because she has talent I have a good feeling will endure.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This is a tough one.  First I want to say that I think there is great crossover appeal to the adult market, as I know many adults (non-YA readers) who would like this book.  There are somewhat graphic descriptions of the sexual abuse, prostitution, and sexual assault of children.  Carey endured horrible things, much of the time with the knowledge that if she didn't do them, Nessa would have to.  That said, I think that this book has a very positive message of hope and the possibility of overcoming any obstacle.  If I had to make a blanket statement, based on content, I would say this book is for ages 15 and older (grades 10 and up), but I would also encourage the evaluation of each reader as an individual, because I feel like many younger students would have the maturity to handle the graphic parts of the story.  I am able to say this; This book is not appropriate for anyone younger than 8th or 9th grade.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

ARC Review: Spellcaster by Claudia Gray

Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date; March 5th, 2013

When Nadia’s family moves to Captive’s Sound, she instantly realizes there’s more to it than meets the eye. Descended from witches, Nadia senses a dark and powerful magic at work in her new town. Mateo has lived in Captive’s Sound his entire life, trying to dodge the local legend that his family is cursed - and that curse will cause him to believe he’s seeing the future … until it drives him mad. When the strange dreams Mateo has been having of rescuing a beautiful girl—Nadia—from a car accident come true, he knows he’s doomed. 

Despite the forces pulling them apart, Nadia and Mateo must work together to break the chains of his family’s terrible curse, and to prevent a disaster that threatens the lives of everyone around them. Shimmering with magic and mystery, New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray’s new novel is sure to draw fans of the Hex Hall and Caster Chronicles series, and fans of the hit CW TV show The Secret Circle.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I will start this review by saying that although I had Spellcaster on my TBR, I wasn't eagerly awaiting it  like a lot of bloggers I know.  That's not to say I wasn't excited when it came in a random, unexpected package from HarperTeen one day.  You see, although I'm not quite a fangirl of Claudia Gray's (yet), I am slightly familiar with her work, having read her werewolves-on-the-Titanic stand-alone, Fateful, which was very good.  I've never read her wildly popular Evernight series, but I have to say that after reading Spellcaster and Fateful, I'm inclined to pick it up (if I ever get caught up on my review reading).  That statement alone should tell you that I enjoyed Spellcaster; It did have a few problems for me, but overall, I thought it was a great read.  So, without further ado...

I guess I will start with the things I didn't like, which are few.  First off, I feel like HarperTeen let me down with that cover.  I mean, it's okay and it's pretty, but I expect a lot more from them.  The first thing I think of when I think of HarperTeen as a publishing house is that they consistently have the best, most eye-catching covers.  I have more HarperTeen titles on my shelves for the covers alone, than any other publisher, and I've DEFINITELY read a huge number of their titles that I might not have otherwise read, because of the covers.  (Yes.  My name is Karis, and I am a cover whore.)  The next thing on my list of "things that bothered me" was that I felt like the first third of the book was a bit on the predictable side.  There were several things I saw coming a mile away.  That said, after the first wildly unpredictable revelation, they really just kept coming, right up until the end.  And that leads me to my final gripe, which is the ending.  It's a doozie of a cliffhanger, and while I usually enjoy a well-done cliffhanger, I felt like this one was just cruel.  I was left with so many unanswered questions, and really, no answers to speak of.  So there are my "things I needed to bitch about".  Now for the good stuff...

I really enjoyed Claudia's writing style.  She writes in a kind of poetic way.  I usually don't write down quotes, but I found myself doing just that while reading Spellcaster.  My favorite?  "Something else looked through the crow's stolen eyes and recorded it all.  The crow flew on, unknowing, enslaved, and blind."  That line made my skin crawl, and was definitely the one that hooked me. Also, Claudia doesn't dumb things down.  She uses big words and in doing so, makes me feel like she believes her readers to be intelligent.  That makes me happy.  So much YA is written with content for teens and up, but at a 4th grade reading level.  I love it when an author gives her readers some credit.  They DO read books for FUN, for Heaven's sake.  They must be smarter than average, right?  I also loved the way this story flowed.  For the most part, it moved at a pretty even pace that kept me turning pages well into the night. There were a few slow points, but in hindsight, they were necessary.  The buildup really made the big moments stand out.

The characters and the story itself were the highlights of this book for me.  The story was equally character driven and plot driven, so I'll start with the characters.  I really liked Nadia and Mateo, and I loved Verlaine and Elizabeth.  Nadia was interesting because she was so insecure, but so strong-willed at the same time.  It was like she was in constant conflict with herself.  As for Mateo, I found him a bit whiny at first.  "Oh, the curse.  Oh, I'm doomed to go crazy."  Blah, blah.  But it was like, once he found out that the curse was actually a real thing, he manned up, and then I liked him.  Verlaine was headstrong and she made things happen, and I love characters like her.  That girl had a tough life, but she never let her circumstances undermine her.  Elizabeth was just...  Well, read the book, and you'll see.  The story?  Well, it is a witch story, which is my favorite kind of Paranormal. That said, it was very unique (I don't think it is anything like Hex Hall or The Caster Chronicles, both of which I adored, by the way.).  I was really intrigued by the idea of the Steadfast, and I thought it was brilliant that the ingredients for each spell were a series of personal memories.  Witches could only gain strength as they lived life; That was cool.  I also thought the rules of being a witch were interesting, and I am curious to see how they come into play in the next two books.  I'm also quite intrigued with the mystery surrounding Nadia's mother, who is also a witch, and who unexpectedly left her family in the middle of Nadia's training.  There was a lot of foreshadowing going on in reference to her, but no answers at the end.  I predict she will play a huge role in the continuation of this story.

Overall, I thought this was a solid beginning to a trilogy that I am really going to enjoy right up to the end.  I have a lot of unanswered questions right now, and although I find that somewhat bothersome, given my impatient nature, it guarantees that I will read book number two, Steadfast (March, 2014).

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This book was pretty clean.  There was some teen drinking, but other than that, it was pretty mild.  There was very innocent romance, no sex (although it was alluded to at one point), and no language.  I would say this book is fine for grades 6 and up (ages 11+).