Tuesday, December 18, 2012

ARC Review: Scent of Magic by Maria V. Snyder

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Publication Date:  December 18th, 2012

Hunted, Killed—Survived?

As the last Healer in the Fifteen Realms, Avry of Kazan is in a unique position: in the minds of her friends and foes alike, she no longer exists. Despite her need to prevent the megalomanical King Tohon from winning control of the Realms, Avry is also determined to find her sister and repair their estrangement. And she must do it alone, as Kerrick, her partner and sole confident, returns to Alga to summon his country into battle.

Though she should be in hiding, Avry will do whatever she can to support Tohon’s opponents. Including infiltrating a holy army, evading magic sniffers, teaching forest skills to soldiers and figuring out how to stop Tohon’s most horrible creations yet; an army of the walking dead—human and animal alike and nearly impossible to defeat.

War is coming and Avry is alone. Unless she figures out how to do the impossible ... again.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I gave the first book in this series, Touch of Power, a rave review (read it HERE), and I have been eagerly awaiting the release of this book, Scent of Magic, ever since.  I thought Touch of Power was brilliant; it had fantastic world building, a flawless storyline, and awesome characters.  I truly didn't think Maria V. Snyder could outdo herself, but she has.  Scent of Magic was even better than its predecessor.

As with my review of the first book, I can't delve deeply into the story and why I loved it so much without giving up major spoilers (especially if you haven't read Touch of Power yet)...  I will say that Scent of Magic picks up right where Touch of Power left off, and the story unfolds in beautifully unexpected ways.  Avry, Kerrick, and his men are set on taking down the evil (and VERY sexy) King Tohon and his army of dead (Hi. Zombies in a High Fantasy? Yes, please!).  They align themselves with some rather unexpected people and action, adventure, magic, romance, and intrigue ensue.  

Where the world building and lush descriptions played such a major role in the first book, characterization and emotion play the central roles here.  The settings are still described in Maria's brilliant way, but I got so much more from the characters this time, particularly Avry.  The relationships are tangled and messy, and things are never what they seem.  Lots of questions are answered, and many more arise.  The plot and pacing were spot-on, and I had a very difficult time putting this book down to satisfy even my basic needs.

There is nothing remotely predictable in this book, and I flew through it, never even realizing it was 400 pages until the end.  This book has it all, and I cannot wait until the third book in the Healer series, Taste of Death, comes out in 2014.  I will be begging the publicists at Harlequin MIRA for a copy, for sure!

If you have not picked up Touch of Power yet, I have to ask you... What the hell are you waiting for?  If you have read it, know that Scent of Magic is even better, so you should run right out to get it.  Today.  That is all.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  There are a few hot and heavy scenes in this book, and there is some mention of sex.  There is also a good bit of violence.  I would say this is most appropriate for MS readers and up.  Grades 6 and up (ages 11+).

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Review: Bad Hair Day by Carrie Harris

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date:  November 13th, 2012

Senior year is positively hair-raising.

Kate Grable is geeked out to shadow the county medical examiner as part of her school’s pre-med program. Except when he’s arrested for murder, she’s left with the bodies. And when Kate’s brother Jonah stumbles upon a dead gamer girl, she realizes that the zombie epidemic she cured last fall was only the beginning of the weirdness taking over her town. Someone’s murdering kids—something really hairy. And strong. Possibly with claws.

Is it werewolf awesomeness like Jonah and his dorktastic friends think? Kate’s supposed to be a butt-kicking zombie killing genius...but if she can’t figure out who’s behind the freakish attacks, the victims—or what’s left of them—are going to keep piling up.

It’s scary. It’s twisted. It’s sick. It’s high school.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

This book is the second in Carrie Harris's Kate Grable series, and since I really loved the first book, Bad Taste In Boys (read my review HERE), it was a no-brainer that I would want to read this one.  I love that Carrie's heroine, Kate, is a total brainiac nerd, and yet still manages to be kind of hot, even if it is in an awkward sort of way.  (SO much hope for the cute nerds of the world!)  Not only is she not afraid to be smart, she is proud of her intelligence, and that is just awesome.  Also, Kate has a sharp, sarcastic wit that reminds me so much of me that I have no choice but to love her!  Anyway, I think ya'll get that I think brains are sexy and that I think the main character in this book series rocks, so...  Moving on.

Bad Hair Day starts off right where Bad Taste In Boys ends.  Kate has discovered a cure for the zombie sickness, now dubbed Grable's Disease, got her hot guy, and is pretty famous.  Now she is getting ready to embark on an exciting adventure as an intern at the hospital as part of a future doctors program at her high school.  She is assigned to work in the morgue with the medical examiner, which is something she is not crazy about until minutes in, he is arrested as the primary suspect in a gruesome murder.  Interest piqued, Kate decides to investigate and finds things do not add up at all.  Add to that the fact that murders and attacks are continuing, and Kate just can't resist.  There might be some genetic modification conspiracies and werewolves involved, and there might be a hysterical little brother showing up once again, but I don't want to spoil...  Of course, that's not all...  There's a love triangle of sorts, and ya'll, it DOESN'T suck!  It's funny, and I found myself laughing out loud more than a few times at Kate's observations of and reactions toward the girl trying to get between Kate and her man.  The story had a few issues, but I can't even bother with them because it just had so much awesomeness.  If you like humor and science and nerds and sarcasm and werewolves and mockery then you should really read this one, just maybe wear Depends when you do it because you might find yourself laughing hard enough to pee.  (Just sayin'!)

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This book is pretty clean.  No sex, just a few make-out scenes.  Bad Hair Day was even more tame than its predecessor as far as content is concerned.  Perfectly fine for ages 10 and up (5th grade+).

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Review: The Lost Prince by Julie Kagawa

Publisher: HarlequinTeen
Publication Date: October 23rd, 2012

Don’t look at Them. Never let Them know you can see Them.

That is Ethan Chase’s unbreakable rule. Until the fey he avoids at all costs—including his reputation—begin to disappear, and Ethan is attacked. Now he must change the rules to protect his family. To save a girl he never thought he’d dare to fall for.

Ethan thought he had protected himself from his older sister’s world—the land of Faery. His previous time in the Iron Realm left him with nothing but fear and disgust for the world Meghan Chase has made her home, a land of myth and talking cats, of magic and seductive enemies. But when destiny comes for Ethan, there is no escape from a danger long, long forgotten.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I really enjoy Julie Kagawa's writing; particularly her world building.  The NeverNever- the world most of her The Iron Fey series takes place in- is one of my favorite fantastical worlds to date.  When I heard she was writing a spin-off series centered around Iron Queen Meghan's younger, human brother, I was intrigued.  I thought it wold be interesting to see Meghan, the fey, and their world through Ethan's eyes, and I was not wrong.  Ethan has FEELINGS about the fey and his sister's role in their word, and people, they are NOT positive ones.

Plagued by the fey since returning to the human realm, after his abduction to the NeverNever, many years prior, Ethan has had more than his share of problems.  Of course, no one is going to believe him when he says "invisible" gremlins are causing mischief, playing pranks on him, so he is very often blamed for the things they do.  Needless to say, he hates the fey, which kind of causes some really complicated feelings toward his sister.  He is angry.  Angry at Meghan foe abandoning him.  Angry at his parents for failing to understand.  Angry at the fey for existing.  Angry at the world for the hand he was dealt.  He pushes people away, and refuses to connect with anyone for fear that they will become targets.  After an unfortunate event involving some Redcaps and a fire in his former school library, Ethan is, once again, starting at a new school.  On his first day, much to his chagrin, he meets Todd, a half-breed, and Kenzie, a cute, persistent girl, intent on knowing him.  He wants nothing to do with either, but ends up knee-deep in a mystery involving exiles and half-breeds, including Todd,  and some very strange fey-like creatures. This mystery ends up being the catalyst that takes him back to NeverNever with Kenzie in tow.  Here we once again meet Grimalkin, one of my favorite characters from The Iron Fey.  He leads Ethan and Kenzie through NeverNever to the Iron Realm, and his sister, who he has not seen in many years.  This is where he meets Kierran, a half-breed, who has a few dynamite secrets of his own.  From there Ethan, Kenzie, and Kierran set out to find out what these creatures are, and how to stop them, and I have to tell you, it is one hell of an adventure!  Along the way we met up with other well-loved characters like Puck and Ash, and meet oodles of new ones as well.

I thought this book was a fantastic start to what promises to be a great new series!  I'm so pleased to know that, in no way, is Julie finished with this world.  As I mentioned before, I think Julie's greatest strength as a writer is her world building.  I can't get enough.  Fortunately, that is not her only strength.  I love her characters as well.  They are all complex bundles of emotion, strength  and weakness, and with almost all of them, it is impossible not to form a connection on some level.  Then there is the storytelling...  Rich with detail, expertly paced, and masterfully plotted, Julie makes nearly 400 pages seem like 50.  There were some great plot twists that I never saw coming, and there was always fantastic groundwork laid ahead of time, making what could very well have been unbelievable, extremely plausible.  I think The Iron Fey: Call of the Forgotten has the potential to be even better than its sister series.  I, for one, cannot wait for the second book, The Traitor Son, which is expected sometime in September of next year (especially because of who I suspect the "traitor son" is).

Overall, I have to say that if you are a fan of The Iron Fey, this is an absolute MUST-READ, but even if you haven't read the first series, I think Julie does a good enough job with the background information, that you don't need to have read it in order to enjoy this.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation: As far as romance is concerned, this book is pretty clean.  Language is minimal, violence is of the fantastical variety.  I would happily give this book to 4th grade an up (ages 9 and up).

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Woe Is Me...

Just kidding!  Things could be worse...  

I know I haven't posted in a couple of weeks, and I apologize for that.  Things have been crazy around here.  On a nice note, I started a new job two weeks ago.  It's been 11 YEARS since I've had a job, so it's a bit of a learning curve as far as time management goes!  Working moms, I salute you!  It is not easy!  Anyway, it's not book related, but it's some extra dinero (more money for books, so I guess to some degree it IS book related), and it's pretty fun.  I'm working at Bass Pro Shops, and with me being the outdoorsy type, their rockin' discount is a real bonus.  Anyway, I do have less time for reading, and even less time for blogging (reading is my 1st love, after all) since it's the holiday season and we all know what that means in the retail world, but I've just made a schedule, and that should help me manage my time better...  I had actually planned on using the past two days that I had of to write a bunch of posts, but here is the woe-is-me part...  My eight year old daughter had LICE!  Ugh!  Not wanting to put toxic insecticides on her scalp, I opted for the all-natural route, and let me tell you, it was not fun.   Tea Tree Oil coating her hair and scalp for 18 hours, seven hours of combing through her very thick, very fine. long, curly hair with the nit comb, and the another seven plus hours the following day picking through every hair on her head,pulling the ones with eggs attached.  Also, tons and tons and tons of laundry and vacuuming to make sure nobody else gets it.  Painful does not even begin to describe it.  She was so good about it, so like I said, I could have been A LOT worse.  This has been our first experience with the nasty little buggers, and I pray to all that's holy, that it will be our last!  My sanity was definitely tested!

So- I do have to work today and tomorrow, but I am off Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, so look for lots of posts next week! I have reviews of The Lost Prince by Julie Kagawa, Bad Hair Day by Carrie Harris, and Middle Ground by Katie Kacvinsky coming up.  Also, a review and GIVEAWAY of the audio version of Gabrielle Zevin's Because It Is My Blood, the sequel to All These Things I've Done, is coming soon.  Stay tuned!

One more thing... I am sending a couple of my ARCs on tour with Southern ARC Tours, so if you are a  blogger in the Southeast, and have any interest in reading Shadowlands by Kate Brian or The Archived by Victoria Schwab, make sure to click HERE to sign up.  Both books were fabulous, and The Archived will, without a doubt, be making my "Best of 2013" list (which is a HUGE testament to how good it is, given that it is November of 2012)!

Anyway, I'm off to slave away to feed my bookish addictions!  See you on the other side!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dear Teen Me Blog Tour: Dear Teen Karis..., Plus a Giveaway!

So, I'm pretty excited to take part in the Dear Teen Me Blog Tour.  When the publisher, Zest Books, asked me to participate, I wasn't really sure I was up for it.  I mean, I loved the book; I thought it was a brilliant idea on E. Kristin Anderson's and Miranda Kenneally's (the editors) to put it together, and was already planning to review it (read my review HERE), but if I was going to be a tour participant, I wanted to do more.  I was thinking that I might write a letter to my teen self, publish a few pictures of "teen me", but well, that was a little scary to me.  Then I thought, "What the hell?", maybe someone could learn from my mistakes, and wasn't that kind of the whole point of the book?  I mean, I'm no Ellen Hopkins or Lauren Oliver (two of the awesome authors who contributed), but I was a teenager once, and I was pretty wild, and I made my share of mistakes, soooooo...

Dear Teen Karis,

     You're probably not going to heed any of the advice in this letter because it is from a 36 year old lady, and God knows, people THAT old do NOT know ANYTHING, but trust me, Karis, I know YOU, and I have the benefit of that 20/20 hindsight!  That being said, there are a few things you should know...
     First, be nice to your step-mother, Heidi.  I know she isn't even technically old enough to be your mother, and that sadly, things won't end up working out in the end for she and Dad, but she will have a huge, lasting impact on your life.  She is the mother of your brother, Jacob, and your sister, Hannah, both of whom you love dearly, and even more important, she is the person responsible for leading you to a relationship with Christ.  Be kind to her.  I can't be easy becoming the step-mother of two almost-teenage kids at age 24, and she did a great job helping raise you to be the person you will be be.
    Second, don't act like an airhead.  You are so smart!  Brilliant, in fact!  You have a ridiculous IQ, and you should never act more dumb than you actually are.  It's not cute.  Be proud of your intelligence.  The vast majority of people aren't blessed with as much of it as you are, so let it show.  On that note, work harder in school, and develop good study habits.  I know you are smart enough to skate by, and get good grades without working, but you will need the study habits in college, and it would be cool (and much cheaper) if you didn't need your first two years to figure that out.  Also, don't EVER be a cheerleader.  You will blow out your knees, and blow your chances of running track in college.
     Third, you don't need to get so wasted every weekend.  I know it's easier to talk to that one particular boy when you are, but you know what?  He likes you better when you're not a stumbling mess.   Also, it might save you several nights of hugging the toilet, and also some chick from Florida's convertible.  Boone's Farm and you?  Not a great combo!
     Finally, the friends you have?  They are great.  You did that right, so don't change a thing.  Well, maybe try not to be such a matchmaker, because fact is, you aren't very good at it, but that aside, know that Amy is still your bestie 25 years later, and though life has gotten in the way of you seeing much of each other, you still love her like a sister, and always will.
     In the end, Karis, things turned out pretty well for you.  You may have had an easier road to happiness had you been a little more true to yourself, but doing things the way you did them made you a mom who knows all the tricks in the book, so there's that...  Yes.  You, the girl who was never getting married, and NEVER having any spawn, are happily married to an awesome guy, and have three (mostly) fantastic kids.  Life hasn't always been easy, but you are happy, and that's what counts!

Much love,

Your Grown-up Self (Yes, you DO finally grow up!)

P.S.  You are beautiful and FAR from fat, so stop getting down on yourself for how you look.  Trust me.

So there it is folks! My letter to "Teen Karis".  And that girl is the pictures up there? That's me, once upon a time. (Oh yeah, Teen Karis, get all your photos from Dad's house before it burns down in 2009).   I hope you all will read Dear Teen Me, because it is really great.  If you're an adult, read it because it will take you back, if you're a teen, read it because it is packed with great wisdom!  I hope you enjoyed my letter to my teenage self!

NOW...  Go ahead and enter the Rafflecopter (be patient, sometimes it takes a minute) below for a chance to win your own copy of Dear Teen Me from Zest Books, then check out the other stops on the tour (click HERE)! Also, make sure to visit the Dear Teen Me BLOG for lots more content!  Best of luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Favorite Kick-Ass Heroines

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's topic is an awesome one for me, because I love nothing more than to read a book with a seriously kick-ass heroine.  That said, it was really hard for me to narrow it down to just ten (and actually, I didn't, as you will see), so my list comes from books I've read in only the past few years.  So, without further ado, here is YA Litwit's Top Ten Favorite Kick-Ass Heroines...

Top Ten Favorite Kick-Ass Heroines

1.  Katsa from Graceling by Kristin Cashore~ Hands down, the most kick-ass heroine EVER, and it's no coincidence that she hails from one of my favorite books ever.  If I has to pick one book heroine to be, it would be her.

2.  Celaena Sardothien from Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas~ Celaena is new on the kick-ass heroine scene, since Throne of Glass is a 2012 debut, but she really made an impression on me.  She rivals Katsa, which is HUGE.  Loved the book, and much of that love had to do with her.
3.  Saba from Blood Red Road by Moira Young~  Blood Red Road wasn't my favorite book.  It was really excellent, but I had a few issues with it.  That said, the protagonist, Saba, is one of the toughest, most kick-ass chicks to grace the pages of YA.  The girl is brutal.
4.  Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins~ What kick-ass heroine list would be complete without her.  Duh.  She is one of the most kick-ass characters of all time, male or female!

5.  Hermoine Granger from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling~ Another duh.  She kicks ass with her brains, which I love!  A kick-ass role model for young girls!  No one can deny Hermione!
6.  Tris from Divergent by Veronica Roth~ Tris is so kick-ass that there were times I wondered if she even had any emotions.  She is such a guy when it comes to kicking ass, which in my mind, is a good thing. 
7.  Kali from Every Other Day by Jenny Lynn Barnes~  Kali's fought off and eradicated all kinds of ridiculously scary paranormal creatures.  She is a predator of such dangerous things, and she rocks.  I think Every Other Day was one of the most underrated books of 2011.  I'm so bummed it was a stand-alone, because I could totally do with more kick-ass Kali.

8 and 9.  Clary and Izzy from The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare~ These girls kick-ass in very different ways.  They are both great Shadowhunters, and are able to fight, but their methods differ quite a bit.  Even so, these girls rock!
10.  Sophie Mercer from the Hex Hall trilogy by Rachel Hawkins~ Sophie is a total reluctant kick-ass heroine, but through the series, as she becomes more and more comfortable with her kick-assedness, she really comes into her own.  Also, she is really funny while she's kicking ass.
11.  Scarlett from Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce~ The girl is amazing.  The way she takes down those nasty fenris with a HATCHET?  The girl rules!  Her sister Rosie is pretty kick-ass too, but she doesn't hold a candle to Scarlett...
12.  Calla from the Nightshade trilogy by Andrea Cremer~  Wolfgirl can fight!  I was very pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this series, and Calla was one of the most influential characters in forming my positive opinion.  Smart, principled, and kick-ass!  Love her!
13.  Anna from Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake~ She is one of the only villain/heroines I can think of, and I just loved her.  In fact,I  couldn't love the sequel, Girl of Nightmares, as much because there just wasn't enough Anna!

So, as you can see, even when going back only the past couple of years, I couldn't narrow it down to just ten, but I came close.  Do you agree?  Did I miss anyone?  Let me know, and don't forget to leave a link to your Top Ten!

** Don't miss my GIVEAWAY of THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray as part of the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop! Click HERE for details! International. Ends 11/01/2012 **

Monday, October 29, 2012

ARC Review: Crewel by Gennifer Albin

Publisher:  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux BYR
Publication Date:  October 16th, 2012

Incapable. Awkward. Artless.

That’s what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret: she wants to fail.

Gifted with the ability to weave time with matter, she’s exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen as a Spinster is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to embroider the very fabric of life. But if controlling what people eat, where they live and how many children they have is the price of having it all, Adelice isn’t interested.

Not that her feelings matter, because she slipped and wove a moment at testing, and they’re coming for her—tonight.

Now she has one hour to eat her mom’s overcooked pot roast. One hour to listen to her sister’s academy gossip and laugh at her Dad’s stupid jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.
Because once you become a Spinster, there’s no turning back.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I have a tendency to judge books by their covers, or rather, to judge whether I want to read them by their covers.  I often don't read the synopsis until I've made my judgement, and sometimes, I don't even read it then.  That was how things went with Crewel.  It has a stunning, eye-catching cover, so I wanted to read it.  When I started reading it, I hadn't the foggiest idea what it was about, so all my expectations were based on the positive advance buzz I've heard about it.  Lots of people have really loved this book, so I figured I would too, and I was mostly right.  I really liked Crewel.  It wasn't mind-blowingly amazing like some of the books I've read this year (it was rather unfortunate for it that I read it on the heels of The Diviners by Libba Bray), but it was definitely an impressive debut that deserves many accolades.

Crewel takes place at some point in the future, after Earth as we know it, has been wiped out by war.  The world as the characters in this book know it, Arras, is made up entirely of threads woven from time and matter on great looms. Each person's very existence is manipulated by the Spinsters, the women who are able to "see" the "weave", and operate the looms.  The Spinsters are under the control of the Guild, the oppressive, male-dominated governing body of Arras, and are essentially slaves to it. Even so, it is the dream of most girls to become a Spinster, because from the outside, it looks like the most luxurious life imaginable.  The protagonist, Adelice, has always known she has the ability to become a Spinster, but her parents don't want that life for her, and train her from a young age to fail the test that all girls are given at age 16.  Adelice accidentally passes, and her abilities are revealed. She is taken to the Coventry to become a Spinster, against her will, and she finds out a great deal about the world she lives in, the secrets the Guild holds, and the remarkable ability she possesses, that goes far beyond that of an average, or even an above-average Spinster.  

I liked Adelice, even if she was a bit immature.  She never seemed to know when it was in her best interest to keep her mouth shut.  That said, her wit was refreshing.  She was a strong-minded, sharp character, and while she didn't "wow" me at first, she totally grew on me throughout the story.  I also liked the boys, Erik and Jost.  Both were, of course, swoon-worthy, but they were both smart and cunning as well.  I happen to think that they both fell for Adelice a bit too quickly, but what's a YA novel without a love triangle?  I thought Maela and Cormac were perfect villains, and I think Pryana has a lot of potential to be so in future books.  I loved Enora as well.  The only character I had a time forming an opinion of was Loricel, the head Creweler, the woman who essentially held the existence of  Arras in her hands; I felt like she had way to much power to be as submissive as she was... 

As for the plot and pacing, I thought it was very good.  The story moved along well, and I never felt that been-there-read-this feeling that I've been struggling with when reading a lot of post-Hunger Games Dystopia.  There were some well-done big reveals, but a couple fell flat for me because I saw them coming a mile away.  At times, I thought the world building lacked depth, but I think the whole concept of weaving time with matter is just a difficult one to define without giving away later plot twists.  I believe that will improve in later installments.  

Crewel is, no doubt, a unique story.  A Dystopia with a fresh perspective.  I really enjoyed reading it, and although it wasn't perfect, it is definitely a great beginning to what promises to be a fantastic series.  

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  There were a couple of hot make-out scenes, but given that Spinsters had to maintain "purity standards", there was no sex (although there were several mentions of it).  The violence was minimal, and there was no inappropriate language.  I would say that this book is appropriate for 5th grade and up (ages 10+).

** Don't miss my GIVEAWAY of THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray as part of the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop! Click HERE for details! International. Ends 11/01/2012 **

Thursday, October 25, 2012

ARC Review: Dear Teen Me edited by E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally

Publisher:  Zest Books
Publication Date:  October 30th, 2012

Dear Teen Me includes advice from over 70 YA authors (including Lauren Oliver, Ellen Hopkins, and Nancy Holder, to name a few) to their teenage selves. The letters cover a wide range of topics, including physical abuse, body issues, bullying, friendship, love, and enough insecurities to fill an auditorium. So pick a page, and find out which of your favorite authors had a really bad first kiss? Who found true love at 18? Who wishes he’d had more fun in high school instead of studying so hard? Some authors write diary entries, some write letters, and a few graphic novelists turn their stories into visual art. And whether you hang out with the theater kids, the band geeks, the bad boys, the loners, the class presidents, the delinquents, the jocks, or the nerds, you’ll find friends--and a lot of familiar faces--in the course of Dear Teen Me.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

First things first...  I am participating in a blog tour for this book, and my scheduled stop date is October 31st, so stop back then, and read MY letter to my teen self, and enter my GIVEAWAY for a copy of this book!

This is a book that ALL teenagers should read!  What a fantastic idea for a book!  Dear Teen Me is a compilation of letters, written by popular YA and MG authors, to their teenage selves, and it is great!  Really, all you have to do is look at the roster to know this.  I am not familiar with every author on this list, but I will say that I could name at least one book from almost everybody...

E. Kristin Anderson (editor), Jessica Lee Anderson (Border Crossing), Tom Angleberger (The Strange Case of Origami Yoda), Sean Beaudoin (The Infects, which I recently reviewed HERE), Charles Benoit (Fall From Grace), Robin Benway (The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June), Ilsa A. Bick (Ashes), Marke Bieschke, Joseph Bruchac (Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of WWII), Jessica Burkhart (Canterwood Crest), Josh A. Cagan, Riley Carney, Tera Lynn Childs (Forgive My Fins), Jessica Corra, Heather David (Wherever You Go), Daniel Ehrenhaft (Friend Is Not a Verb),  Laura Ellen (Blind Spot), Beth Fantaskey (Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side), Caridad Ferrer, Michael Griffo, Janet Gurtler (If I Tell), Kersten Hamilton (Goblin Wars), Bethany Hegedus, Geoff Herbach (Stupid Fast), Faith Erin Hicks, Nancy Holder (Unleashed), K.A. Holt, P.J. Hoover, Ellen Hopkins (Crank), Stacey Jay (Juliet Immortal), Carrie Jones (Need), Mike Jung (Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities), Stasia Ward Kehoe (Audition), Tara Kelly (Amplified), Miranda Kenneally (Catching Jordan), Stephanie Kuehnert, Mary Lindsey (Shattered Souls), Nikk Loftin (The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy), Katherine Longshore (Gilt), Ken Lowery, Kekla Magoon (37 Things I Love...), Mari Mancusi (Sk8ter Boy), Gretchen McNeil (Ten), Jodi Meadows (Incarnate), Saundra Mitchell (The Vespertine), Hannah Moskowitz (Gone, Gone, Gone), Jenny Moss, Sarah Ockler (Twenty Boy Summer), Lauren Oliver (Delirium), Elizabeth Miles (Fury), Stephanie Pellegrin, Mitali Perkins, Cheryl Rainfield (Scars), Dave Roman, Jess Rothenberg (The Catastrophic History of You and Me), Jennifer Rush (Altered), Amy Kathleen Ryan (Glow), Tom Ryan, Leila Sales (Past Perfect), Cynthia Leitich-Smith (Tantalize), Jessica Spotswood (Born Wicked), Erika Stalder, Rhonda Stapleton, Mariko Tamaki, Don Tate, Melissa Walker (Unbreak My Heart), Tracy White, Jo Whittemore, Sara Zarr (How to Save a Life), Jennifer Ziegler (How Not to Be Popular)

If that list doesn't convince you to read this book, and then pass it to every tween and teen you know, maybe my gushing review will!

Dear Teen Me was a great read.  As an adult, it really brought me back, and made me consider how my life may have turned out if I had done things differently as a teenager.  Some of the letters were really funny, others full of great advice about being who you are, and others, quite heartbreaking (Ilsa J. Bick's letter kind of haunts me).  The common thread that they all share?  They are all real.  The authors dig up long forgotten (or, in some cases, long held) moments and memories, some of which are painful and/or embarrassing,  in order to help the reader be a stronger, smarter, more confident teen.  I found myself relating to a lot of the letters written by female authors, in particular, because I remember doing a lot of the same things (Nikki Loftin's letter really hit home, because I was a bit of a loudmouth too!).  I imagine the same would hold true for boys, with male authors.  One of my favorites was the letters that Lauren Oliver and Elizabeth Miles wrote to each other's teen selves (they were BFFs in high school).  I don't think I would want to publish a letter written to my teen self by my (still) BFF, and I bet she feels the same...  Anyway, there is not much else I can say, other than what I said at the beginning; Every teen MUST read this book, and then take the wisdom of these great, brave authors to heart!  They aren't kidding when they say that hindsight is 20/20!  My daughter will be getting a (signed by as many of the authors as possible) copy of this book for her 13th birthday, and I hope she is smart enough to really pay attention!

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This is a GREAT book for middle school and up!  Ages 11 and up (6th grade+).

** Don't miss my GIVEAWAY of THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray as part of the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop!  Click HERE for details!  International.  Ends 11/01/2012 **

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

Publisher:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date:  September 18th, 2012

Evie O'Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City--and she is pos-i-tute-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult--also known as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies."

When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer--if he doesn't catch her first.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Libba Bray has done it again!  I cannot say enough good things about this book!  It's not a huge secret or anything- I adore her!  She has only written one book that I didn't LOVE, and even with that one, I liked it.  (In case you're wondering which book that is, it's Going Bovine, which funny-enough, is the one that won awards...)  I loved her Gemma Doyle trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing), and Beauty Queens was my 2nd favorite book of 2011.  When I heard Libba had a new Historical/Paranormal series coming out, I was thrilled, but also a bit nervous about whether or not she could top the Gemma Doyle books (they are also Historical/Paranormal).  Well, let me tell you, she has WELL outdone herself, because The Diviners was AMAZING!

First off, the timing of the release of this book was fantastic.  It is such a creepy, nail-biter of a story, that reading it around Halloween is just perfect!  I found myself reading late into the night, jumping at every little noise, and sleeping with the lights on.  I wasn't expecting the creep-factor to be as high as it was, but it did so much for the story.  And the story!  It was so well executed, and so expertly paced, that it never seemed like it was the 592 page monstrosity that it was.  It read as quickly as a book half its length.  The plot was amazing, very original, and one that kept me guessing the entire time.  I still have loads of questions, which ensures that I will be reading the second installment the moment I can get my hands on it.  Honestly, though, the plot wasn't even the best part of this book...

Libba Bray is a very, VERY gifted writer, and her two biggest strengths are world building and character development.  The Diviners was written from more than ten different points of view, and every single one was done extremely well.  Developing that many different characters is hard enough, but to actually manage to write their POVs, without confusing the reader?  Before I read this book, I would have said that it was impossible, but not only did Libba do it, she did it so that I really felt a connection to every one.  There were characters I loved (Evie, Theta, Sam, Memphis), and then here were characters I loved to hate (Naughty John, Bill, The House), but there was not a single character that I didn't have an opinion of, and that is rare for me.  The other thing Libba masterfully accomplished in this book was her depiction of the era and setting.  Just WOW!  She really did her research, capturing the essence of the Harlem Renaissance, the Prohibition Era, and NYC as a living, breathing thing.  I think one of the reasons I as able to read this book so quickly was that I felt like I was dropped into the story; I didn't feel like the reader of a story, but rather a participant, and that feeling had everything to do with Libba's world building.

Overall, I have to say that this is one of my favorite books this year; Libba takes the number two spot again! (Sorry, Libba, but nothing is going to touch David Levithan's beautiful, Every Day. Read my review HERE.)  If you haven't already decided that you need to read The Diviners, let me be the one to tell you that you must! It is pos-i-tute-ly amazing!

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This book is pretty scary, and there are some intensely graphic murders.  Also, there is loads of drinking, as several scenes take place in speakeasies.  No sex to speak of, and really not much language.  I would say this is appropriate for 5th grade and up, as long as the reader isn't too easily spooked, and isn't intimidated by the length of the book. (ages 10+)

** Don't miss my GIVEAWAY of this book as part of the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop!  Click HERE for details!  International.  Ends 11/01/2012 **

Spooktacular Giveaway Hop: Win a Copy of THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray

Thanks for stopping by YA Litwit on the 2012 Spooktacular Giveaway Hop, hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and The Diary of a Bookworm.  This year I am giving away Libba Bray's newest book, the creepily awesome The Diviners (read my review HERE), and this is an INTERNATIONAL giveaway!  Go ahead and fill out the Rafflecopter to enter, and don't forget to check out the rest of the goodies my fellow bloggers are giving away on the hop!  Best of luck and Happy Halloween!

Oh, and while you here, check out my OTHER awesome GIVEAWAY!  Click this LINK for your chance to win a copy of Dear Teen Me, where 70+ MG and YA authors write letters to their teenage selves!  It's not to be missed!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

ARC Review: Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch

Publisher:  Scholastic Press
Publication Date:  October 1st, 2012

On one side of the Rift is a technological paradise without famine or want. On the other side is a mystery.

Sixteen-year-old Glenn Morgan has lived next to the Rift her entire life and has no idea of what might be on the other side of it. Glenn's only friend, Kevin, insists the fence holds back a world of monsters and witchcraft, but magic isn't for Glenn. She has enough problems with reality: Glenn's mother disappeared when she was six, and soon after, she lost her scientist father to his all-consuming work on the mysterious Project. Glenn buries herself in her studies and dreams about the day she can escape. But when her father's work leads to his arrest, he gives Glenn a simple metal bracelet that will send Glenn and Kevin on the run---with only one place to go.
With MAGISTERIUM, Jeff Hirsch brings us the story of a complex, captivating world that will leave readers breathless until the very last page.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I haven't read Jeff Hirsch's acclaimed debut, The Eleventh Plague, yet, but it is up there on my list of already-published books to read.  When I got an advance copy of this, his second book, I was really excited.  Because I had heard so many fabulous things about The Eleventh Plague, I went into Magisterium with pretty high expectations, and I was not disappointed!

My first impression of this book was great!  It has one of the most fabulous covers I've seen this year.  The art is beautiful in a kind of dark, foreboding way, and it has a gorgeous combination of colors.  I'm not usually overly impressed with Scholastic's covers, but they really delivered with this one.  Honestly, I was a tiny bit afraid that what was between the covers would have a difficult time measuring up to what was on the outside (kind of like people sometimes, you know?)...

Fortunately, the story was good too.  It's extremely original; very different from everything else out in the YA book world right now.  First off, I'm having hard time classifying it.  It kind of fits within several different genres, while not really fitting into any single one completely.  It has dystopian elements for sure, or rather, utopian-unless-you-step-out-of-line elements.  It also has elements of sci-fi, with the protagonist's life ambition being space travel and her father being a mad scientist type.  The genre I most closely identified it to was Fantasy, though.  On one side of the "Rift" you have your technological utopia/dystopia, while on the other side, the side most of the novel takes place on, it is pure fantasy.  It too lived under an oppressive leadership, but this one was fashioned from magic, rather than technology.  Those with the most "Affinty" ruled, and those with less were forbidden to use it, or risk death as traitors to the Magistra.  Each side of the Rift had its advantages, technology on one side, magic on the other, but what was cool was that each side's strength only existed its own side of the border, and became useless the moment one crossed it.  This made for a peaceful, if tense, arrangement between the two governing entities; the people just accepted the lies they were told about what existed on the other side of the border.  Everything changed when the protagonist's scientist father created a device to make the wearer able to cross the border, and still be able to retain his/her strengths from the other side.  Both sides get word of this device, and want it, and that is when the adventure really begins.  Unstable alliances are made, betrayal lurks around every corner, and all out war ensues...

The plot was really good.  I liked how the story played out, and there weren't any questions left unanswered in the end, but at the same time, it was written in an open-ended sort of way, leaving room for a possible sequel.   I also really liked the characters.  The protagonist, Glenn, was great.  She was strong, smart, and principled, but also very human.  She had a couple of really selfish moments, and in a way, those were what made me connect with her.  I also really liked Kevin, her BFF and sort-of love interest.  There were a few times I questioned his intelligence and mental stability, but in the end I got him.  The old witch, Opal, was another character I thought highly of.  She was tough and cunning, and I liked that she helped Kevin and Glenn, even though she knew who they were and what it could cost her.  My favorite character, however, was Aamon.  Not only was he a fantastic creature, a feast for the imagination, but he was a kick-ass warrior, and kept me guessing as to what his motivations were right up until the very end.

This book did have a few issues, but they ended up not being all that major.  The pacing of the story wasn't very even.  There were times when it felt very disjointed, making me feel like I was reading a different book.  The same fantastical descriptions that really brought this book to life at some times, dragged it down at others.  There were times when I felt like some of the elaborate constructs of the setting and plot and were unnecessary, slowing the story down, while at others, I was absolutely enthralled and couldn't stop reading.  Then there were times when I was confused because I felt there wasn't enough description.  I also sometimes felt like some things were rather predictable, especially Glenn's strange connection to the Magisterium.  That said, there were a few reveals that took me by surprise, even if the timing was a bit convenient.

Overall, despite my minor misgivings, I really liked Magisterium.  It was unique and packed with adventure.  I can't give it five stars because of the aforementioned problems with execution, but I still feel like it is well worth a read by anyone who is a fan of Dystopia and/or Fantasy.  If a second book is ever written, I will definitely read it.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  Violent, but otherwise squeaky clean.  This is appropriate for readers grades 4 and up (ages 9+).

**Don't forget to enter my GIVEAWAY for a SIGNED copy of Lauren Oliver's fabulous new book, THE SPINDLERS! Click HERE to enter! US/CAN. Ends 10/20/2012.**