Friday, April 20, 2012

ARC Review: Whisper by Alyson Noel

Publisher: Square Fish
Publication Date: April 24th, 2012

This time, Riley might really have bitten off more than she’s ready for. After practically begging the Council for a more challenging Soul Catch, she is assigned an actual Roman gladiator—Theocoles, the Pillar of Doom. How is Riley, a skinny twelve-year-old, supposed to get through to him? Then she meets the beautiful Messalina, who convinces her that her only chance is to become part of this world. To accomplish this, Messalina helps Riley through a dramatic, mystical makeover, transforming her into the beautiful and mature teen she’s always wanted to be. Finally, Riley can experience her first boyfriend and her first kiss. With a dream this enchanting, will she ever want to leave? 
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I really adore this series.  I stumbled upon it a couple of years ago because *surprise* I liked the cover of the first book, Radiance.  I didn't much care for Ever, the star of Alyson's companion series, The Immortals, but I sure do love her little sister Riley (the star of this series).  Riley is a spunky, stubborn, 12 year old dead girl whose job in the afterlife is to lead lost souls to the other side.  She doesn't really listen very well to authority, but she has matured a little in each book, and it's been great to be along for the ride.

Whisper is the fourth book in the series, and it is my favorite book yet. (You can read my reviews of Radiance and Shimmer HERE and my review of Dreamland HERE.)  In the first three books, her job as a Soul Catcher have been difficult.  The powers that be have assigned her some of the toughest, most stubborn souls out there, but Riley is really good at her job, and has been pretty successful.  This time around, her job is more than difficult, it's downright dangerous.  She has been assigned a Roman gladiator named Theocoles, who has not only refused to cross for every Soul Catcher sent his way, but has managed to suck them all into his world.  Countless Soul Catchers have been lost over the centuries, and now it's Riley's job to cross him- alone.  She has always had her mentor, Bodhi, and her trusty dog, Buttercup, by her side, but this time she has been assigned the job solo...  When Riley meets Messalina, a girl near her age who can give her everything she's ever thought she's wanted, she starts to get sucked in herself, which, previously, was something her ego could never imagine possible.

The story was pretty well paced, with only one or two places where I felt like it was repetitive.  That said, there was definitely a purpose in the repetition, I just felt like it could have been accomplished with less of it.  As I touched on briefly before, the characters and the character growth and development were great; the best I've seen yet, in any of Alyson's books.  The story itself was exciting and I felt satisfied at the end. 

This book (and series, as a whole) is great for both MG and YA readers.  Riley's got a great voice that most kids and teens will relate to in one way or another.  This series is also great for reluctant readers.  Each book is short enough and paced so that the reader will not lose interest, and although the covers are pretty, boys and girls alike will enjoy these books.

My Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ½  

Grade Level Recommendation:  Riley experiences her first kiss in this book, but it is still perfectly fine for grades 3 and up (ages 8+).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

WWW (31) and Waiting On Wednesday (April 18th, 2012): The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver

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 had sick kids the past two weeks, and now I'm sick, so while I haven't gotten much else done, I have done a good amount to reading (silver lining, right?).  Let's see what we have here...

What are you currently reading?

Whisper by Alyson Noel~ I really enjoyed the first three books in the Riley Bloom series, and I am enjoying this one just as much.  If you want to read my reviews of the other three books, click HERE for Radiance and Shimmer, and HERE for Dreamland.
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder~ Plugging through this series with my seven year old daughter.  I think I love these books each time I read them, but this is my least favorite of the series.  Pa is such a dumbass...

Spell Bound by Rachel Hawkins~ I'm still buddy-reading this with my *almost* 11 year old daughter and I'm having a very difficult time keeping my promise to not read ahead.  Last week she went on a three night school trip and forbade me to read ahead.  Brutal!
The Sword Thief (The 39 Clues, Book #3) by Peter Lerangis~ I'm reading this series with my seven year old son.  We took a break to read Liesl & Po, but now we're back to The 39 Clues.  We just started this one last night, so I'm not really sure I have an opinion yet...

What did you recently finish reading?

The Selection by Kiera Cass~ This book was pretty good.  It had gotten such mixed reviews, so I wasn't sure what to expect.  I liked it and am looking forward to the 2nd book next year.  Read my full review HERE.

Dearly Departed by Lia Habel~ This book was really awesome, and not at all what I expected.  I was so pleasantly surprised with what I got.  I listened to the audio, and highly recommend it as it is done by an ensemble cast.  My full review will be up later this week.
Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver~ This was a re-read, but this time I read it to my son, Benjamin.  He got so into it, and loved it SO much.  He has spent lots of time on the website, and although it's unrelated, he is VERY eagerly awaiting Lauren's next MG novel, The Spindlers.
The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman~ This is not your typical YA book at all.  It definitely reads more like an adult novel.  It is The Da Vinci Code meets A Great and Terrible Beauty.  I love it when YA authors show respect to their readers by assuming they are intelligent enough to handle a book like this.  Bravo to Robin Wasserman. Full review HERE.

What do you think you'll read next?

Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf~ This is my next book for review.  I've been excited to read it for awhile, and although it's gotten some mixed reviews, I still have pretty high expectations.  Stay tuned!

The Fire (Witch & Wizard, Book #3) by James Patterson~ Yes, I think I'm finally going to get to read this.  It's been on my shelf for FAR too long!  I loved the first two books, so I hope this one measures up! 

The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa~ I've heard absolutely BRILLIANT things about this one.  I have a bunch of for-review book for next week, and this one is huge, but I think I need to fit it in, like, right now!  Stay tuned!

"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.

There are almost too many "Waiting On" books to choose from right now, but it must be done.  Since I mentioned this one above, and since my Benjamin is not the only one eagerly awaiting this book, I am going to highlight...

From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver comes a bewitching story about the reaches of loyalty, the meaning of love, and the enduring power of hope.

Looking across the breakfast table one morning, twelve-year-old Liza feels dread wash over her. Although her younger brother, Patrick, appears the same, Liza knows that he is actually quite different. She is certain that the spindlers-evil, spiderlike beings-came during the night and stole his soul. And Liza is also certain that she is the only one who can rescue him.

Armed with little more than her wits and a huge talking rat for a guide, Liza descends into the dark and ominous underground to save Patrick's soul. Her quest is far from easy, and the road to the spindlers' nests is riddled with danger. She must brave tree snakes, the Court of Stones, and shape-shifting serpents before facing her greatest challenge in the spindlers' lair, where more than just Patrick's soul is at stake.

Evocative of Alice in Wonderland as well as Neil Gaiman's modern classic, Coraline, this new middle-grade novel follows Liza as she embarks on a daring quest through the dark and fascinating world that exists beneath our own.
(Courtesy of HarperCollins)

I don't usually review Middle Grade fiction on this blog, but occasionally a book will come along that is so brilliantly done, that I have to mention it. I am a Lauren Oliver fangirl, and I loved her first foray into MG, Liesl & Po. Nothing brought me more joy than to share it with my son. Lauren gained a fan in him, and now we are on pins and needles together for her next book! :-)

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication Date: October 2nd, 2012
My Expected Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

What are YOU Waiting On this week?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

ARC Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass

Publisher:  HarperTeen
Publication Date:  April 24th, 2012

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself- and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Since the cover of this book is 90% of the reason I wanted to read it so badly, I would be remiss if I didn't comment on it first.  This is one of my favorite covers of 2012.  The dress is stunning- it looks like some kind of edible confection.  I give huge props to HarperTeen and their cover people, because, as always, they are leading the pack in eye-popping designs.  I've admitted this in the past, and I will reiterate; I am a cover whore.  I will read just about anything if the cover rocks, and sometimes I get burned.  If you would like to know if that was the case with this book, read on...

As you may or may not know, there has been some drama surrounding this book and a certain Goodreads reviewer, twitter, and the author.  I know a lot of bloggers and reviewers decided not to read this book because of the whole thing, but as they say in media, "There's no such thing as bad publicity!".  The drama made me want to read this even more.  I HAD to know whether or not I agreed with the negative review that sparked it.  Well, the verdict is in, and I have to say that I really liked this book.  I felt like it kind of loosely borrowed ideas from other well-known YA books, but really, what author hasn't done that to some degree?  I will admit that after reading the first four or five chapters, I was thinking I might not like this one.  I thought the characters were a little one-dimensional, and I thought the caste system was a bit cliche, but as the story progressed, it grew on me.  The story was pretty well paced, and I didn't feel it really dragged at any time.  I found merit in nearly every character (except Celeste- she's Satan in stilettos) and I actually grew to really like America, Maxon, and America's maids.  In the end, I thought this book to be a solid start to what will prove to be an action-packed series.  I can't wait to find out what the rebels have in store for Illea and what they are really looking for.  I also can't wait to see who America chooses (duh!).   I predict that this book will be a huge hit and that very soon after its release we will begin to see lots of "Team Maxon" and "Team Aspen" action (for the record, I'm firmly "Team Maxon").  The only gripe I have about this book is where it left off.  It was pretty anti-climactic, and while I get pissed off in the moment with huge cliffhangers, I much prefer them to how this one ended.  If the ending had been better, I would have given this book 4.5 stars...

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This book is squeaky clean.  No language, no violence, no sex.  The romance is very innocent and consists on no more than hand holding and innocent kissing.  This book is fine for 4th grade+ (ages 9 and up).

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Tips for New Book Bloggers

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!  I think this week's topic is actually a really great one, and I wish I had been able to stumble upon something like it when I first started.  I'm not a veteran book blogger, but I have been doing it for a little while now (over a year), so I hope my tips are useful...

YA Litwit's Top Ten Tips for New Book Bloggers

1.  Turn off the CAPTCHA feature on comments!~ There is nothing that I hate more than when I go to comment on another blogger's post and a CAPTCHA pops up!  (This is especially true when I'm using my phone because I usually lose the comment altogether, and typing on a touchscreen is no picnic to begin with!)  I find it particularly frustrating when I have to type a CAPTCHA and then find that comment moderation is enabled as well.  Overkill much?  We all hate spam, but you can use comment moderation (all by itself) as a way to avoid that.  If you want me as a follower, get rid of the CAPTCHA...

2.  Don't ever, EVER comment on another blogger's post with only a link to one of your posts!~ It's one thing to comment on a post and THEN say, "Hey, check out my blog *link*!"  In fact, I love it when my readers leave links to their own blogs, just not if that is the ONLY thing they are leaving.  When someone does that, they are essentially saying, "Hey, I didn't even bother to read your post, but here's a link to mine!".   If you're going to spend time commenting, say something useful, even if it's just, "Hey, great review!" or, "I totally disagree with you. You suck!"

3.  For Heaven's sake, use proper grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling!!~  Warning: Rant Alert!  You would think that this would go without saying, but sadly, it doesn't...  I've seen way too many blog posts with misspelled words (I've even seen title and author names spelled wrong!), poor grammar (learn the difference between their, they're, and there, people!), and lack of capitalization and/or punctuation.  It's assumed that you're well-read if you are blogging books; well-read people should have a basic understanding of the common rules of language, grammar, and writing.  Trust me.  Publishers will NOT be sending you books for review if they don't think you know the difference between your and you're, or if you spell their author's name wrong.  I know we're all human, and I've made mistakes, but there are mistakes, and there is stupidity.  Don't be an example of the latter.

4.  Keep your blog looking polished and easy to read.~  I think my blog is nice and streamlined.  It's not my design, but it was free and it's effective.  My posts are front and center, and there is very little clutter on the sidebar.  I don't grab every button I see, and I don't have more ads than I do content (actually, I don't have ads at all, but I don't have a problem with a limited number of them on other blogs).  If a blog is cluttered, I won't visit it again.  I just can't deal with mess.

5.  No music!~ Do you listen to music  while you read?  I don't, and I don't want to.  I find it distracting and borderline stressful.  Since it's assumed that I am visiting your blog to READ something, I want to be able to focus on that.  Also, I often read blogs at night and it really pisses my hubby off when he's asleep and there is a sudden blast of some lame song from my laptop because I happened upon your blog.  If you want to put a playlist that your readers can play by choice, great, but leave it up to them.

6.  Don't expect bound ARCs right away.~ I think I was blogging for 7-8 months before I even even REQUESTED a bound ARC and I was probably 9-10 months in before I actually received one.  At first, I reviewed books I already owned or library books.  After a couple of months, I started getting approved for digital books via NetGalley.  If you regularly post well-written content for several months, you will eventually catch the eye of publicists.  Be patient!

7.  When you do request ARCs, do it right!~  Never EXPECT anything!  When you request books, do it professionally.  Be polite, concise, and use proper grammar/punctuation/spelling.  Also, make sure to let the publisher know why they should send you one of their precious few ARCs over someone else (stats, link to your blog, etc.)  If you are sent a book, read and review it in a timely manner.

8.  NETWORK!~ Use Facebook, twitter, Goodreads, tumblr, etc.  Create accounts and use them.  Get to know the community you are a part of!  Authors, fellow bloggers, readers, editors, publicists...  All of these people share your interest in/obsessive passion for reading, and what's better than that?  Also, go to author and literary events in your area.  You know how many followers you will pick up by giving away a signed new release?  You won't keep them all, but if you gain even two or three that interact regularly, it's worth it.

9.  Expect this to be a nearly full-time job, so you better LOVE it!~  I spend 40-60 hours each week reading books, writing posts, networking, and reading and commenting on other blogs.  I enjoy it immensely, but it is not a "spare time" thing.  Any blogger will tell you that it's a labor of love.

10.  Participate in weekly memes like this one, but don't be a mooch!~ Weekly memes are fun and they are great way to "meet" other bloggers.  In addition to this meme, I participate in In My Mailbox, WWW, and Waiting On Wednesday (click the name to go to the host pages for each).  I don't do them every week because some weeks I don't have time to read other people's contributions, and I think it's pretty obnoxious to post your linky and never visit any of the other bloggers participating.  You don't have to visit them ALL (although I sometimes do if I have time), but you should at least visit/comment on 10-12.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication Date: April 10th , 2012

It was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up. When the night began, Nora had two best friends and an embarrassingly storybook one true love. When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands and an echoing scream that stopped only when the tranquilizers pierced her veins and left her in the merciful dark. 

But the next morning, it was all still true: Chris was dead. His girlfriend Adriane, Nora’s best friend, was catatonic. And Max, Nora’s sweet, smart, soft-spoken Prince Charming, was gone. He was also—according to the police, according to her parents, according to everyone—a murderer.

Desperate to prove his innocence, Nora follows the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. It ultimately brings her to the ancient streets of Prague, where she is drawn into a dark web of secret societies and shadowy conspirators, all driven by a mad desire to possess something that might not even exist. For buried in a centuries-old manuscript is the secret to ultimate knowledge and communion with the divine; it is said that he who controls the Lumen Dei controls the world. Unbeknownst to her, Nora now holds the crucial key to unlocking its secrets. Her night of blood is just one piece in a puzzle that spans continents and centuries. Solving it may be the only way she can save her own life.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Honestly, I've been trying to write this review for almost a week.  This is THAT book.  You know?  The one that is almost impossible to review without spoilers?  This book has so much going on, that every time I try to articulate my reasons for liking it, I give some important spoiler-y detail away.  I am going to do my best...

This book was very, very good.  I enjoyed it as an adult reader, and I have a feeling that although it is a YA book, it is going to require a certain type of YA reader.  Not every YA reader is going to want to invest in the intellectual side of this story, and that is a HUGE part of this book, but those readers who like to THINK, will love this book.  This is not Twilight, people.  It's more like The Da Vinci Code meets A Great and Terrible Beauty.  It is smart, with intelligent, driven characters.  It is full of mysterious twists and plot developments, jumping back and forth between the late 1500's and the present through letters being translated to English from Latin by the protagonist, Nora.  As she translates these letters, she begins to realize that they may be the missing piece to the puzzle; the one that is needed to break the code that will make sense of a 400+ year old book that supposedly holds the key to knowing the mind of God.  This is a secret that people would kill to know or protect, depending on which side they are on...  As Nora and her friends get mixed up in this centuries old dispute, truths come out that are both unbelievable and grotesque, and you never know who is to be trusted.

This book is one hell of a ride, and it will keep you guessing until the very end.  It had its slow parts, but they were well worth it every time the action kicked off again.  This book appears to have been meticulously researched, and it had me in awe of Robin Wasserman and her dedication to getting it right.  If you like a smart, action-packed mystery that will make you question right and wrong on many levels, pick this one up.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This is not a book for younger readers.  It's violent, but that isn't even the issue.  This book has too much detail and historical reference for even the most well-read, intelligent Middle School readers.  This book reads like adult lit, and I would recommend it for grades 10 and up (ages 15+).

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rock the Drop 2012!!!

Ya'll today is Support Teen Lit Day and in honor of it, readergirlz and Figment are once again hosting Operation Rock the Drop!  It's super easy to take part, and I really enjoyed doing it last year.  All you do is go to the readergirlz Rock the Drop page and print out some of the awesome bookplates, paste them in YA and MG books, and drop them in random public places throughout the day where teens might pick them up.  Take a photo of each "drop" and post it on the readergirlz Facebook page and tweet with the hashtag #rockthedrop.   For even more info, click HERE.

Last year I dropped 12 books, and all of them were snatched up before I left the area.  In fact, I ended up dropping 5 books at the softball park alone, and saw girls already reading them while in the dugout.  

ARC Review: Purity by Jackson Pearce

Publisher:  Little, Brown BFYR
Publication Date: April 24th, 2012

A novel about love, loss, and sex -- but not necessarily in that order.

Before her mother died, Shelby promised three things: to listen to her father, to love as much as possible, and to live without restraint. Those Promises become harder to keep when Shelby's father joins the planning committee for the Princess Ball, an annual dance that ends with a ceremonial vow to live pure lives -- in other words, no "bad behavior," no breaking the rules, and definitely no sex.

Torn between Promises One and Three, Shelby makes a decision -- to exploit a loophole and lose her virginity before taking the vow. But somewhere between failed hookup attempts and helping her dad plan the ball, Shelby starts to understand what her mother really meant, what her father really needs, and who really has the right to her purity.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

**Thanks to Kelsey, Amber, Shannon, and Lori over at Southern Book Bloggers/Southern ARC Tours for the opportunity to review this amazing book!**

I'm a big fan of Jackson Pearce.  I loved her first three books, As You Wish, Sisters Red (read my review HERE), and Sweetly (read my review HERE), and I eagerly await the third in her Fairy Tale Retellings series, Fathomless.  She does modern-day retellings so well (As You Wish is not a fairy tale retelling, but is is a modern take on an old story), so I was surprised last year when I heard about the soon-to-be-released Purity.  Purity falls within the Contemporary genre and is as far from the world of magic and fairy tales as you can get.  To be honest, I wasn't sure I would like it; I thought I would have pre-conceived expectations, based on Jackson's prior books, and that this would not be able to measure up (disclaimer: I'm usually not a big fan of Contemporary YA).  I should have given Jackson more credit...  Not only did she write a really great Contemporary that I enjoyed immensely, but I think it may be my favorite of her books so far.  Purity was funny, touching, and not at all what I expected.  Why?

If you've read anything by Jackson Pearce, you know that she does characters really well.  I always develop strong attachments to them right away, and the characters in this book were no different.  The protagonist, Shelby, was as real as a fictional teenager could be.  I read so many books about teens and they are most often portrayed as stereotypical angsty, rebellious, hormonal, know-it-all, brats.  Yes, they are stereotyped that way for a reason, and yes, Shelby definitely showed some of these traits from time to time, but she was SO much more than that, and not just because of her circumstances.  She was a good kid who was learning the ropes as she went, all while having this promise to her dead mother that she had to live up to.  I liked Shelby a lot.  I also liked her two best friends, Jonas and Ruby.  Jonas had the kind of wit that I love in a boy, and the whole time I was reading the book, I was thinking, "Why aren't you looking to him to be 'the ONE'?".  Then there's Ruby; without Ruby I think Shelby would have had a very difficult time having any fun.  Ruby was the crazy-maker, and her role in Shelby's life was absolutely vital.  As for the supporting characters, they were great as well.  Shelby's dad was spot on  I felt bad for him in so many ways.  I was raised by my dad after my parents divorced, and let me tell you, I feel for ANY dad raising a teenage girl alone; there is no way to relate to her on any level.  I also loved (and hated) Shelby's aunt.  What a character!  Saying she was merely colorful would be like saying Pucci print is colorful.  I could go on and on about the characters, but I think you get the idea...

Now for the story...  When I first read the synopsis, I was thinking, "What? Is cancer the new vampire?".  Not to sound insensitive, but there are a lot of YA books recently that involve people dying of cancer (like maybe there needs to be a new genre called "Cancer").  This book isn't a "Cancer" book though.  It's a book about a girl trying to honor her dying mother's last request under impossible circumstances.  Cancer plays a small role, but this is a coming-of-age book on every level, and it is wonderfully done.  It's also a coming-to-terms-with-God-and-religion book, and that is something I didn't expect, but I felt like Shelby asked the right questions, even if she didn't always get answers.  Jackson's trademark humor (she is one of the funniest YA authors out there) is everywhere in this book, but there is also a tender sensitivity there, providing a beautiful balance.  I laughed, cried, yelled at the characters, and before I knew it, the book was over, and I felt like I had just finished a great meal.  When a book makes he run the emotional gamut, ending in a deep sense of satisfaction, I know it was a great book.

Overall, I would say that if you are a YA Contemporary fan, this is an absolute MUST READ.  Run out on April 24th and buy this book!  That said, even if you aren't generally into the genre, read it anyway.  Quality-wise, it is up there with the likes of John Green and Stephanie Perkins.  It does not disappoint!

One more thing I have to mention for personal reasons...  Jackson is from Atlanta, and I always love her Southern shout-outs, but there was one in this book that was especially close to my heart.  Ruby worked at The Flying Biscuit!!!  The Flying Biscuit is very real and there is one across from the hospital where I delivered my first baby *many* years ago.  I spent a lot of time on bedrest there, and I ate their food, instead of hospital food, almost every day.  Yum.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it!  Memories!

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★    

Grade Level Recommendation:  So, obviously this book involves sex.  It's pretty much centered around a girl deciding to lose her virginity for none of the traditional reasons like love or lust or marriage.  That being true, I am going to place this firmly in the "High School and up" category.  Grades 9 and up.  Ages 14+.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Release Day Review: Lexapros and Cons by Aaron Karo

Publisher:  Farrar, Straus, & Giroux BYR
Publication Date:  April 10th, 2012

Chuck Taylor’s OCD has rendered him a high school outcast. His endless routines and habitual hand washing threaten to scare away both his closest friend and the amazing new girl in town. Sure he happens to share the name of the icon behind the coolest sneakers in the world, but even Chuck knows his bizarre system of wearing different color “Cons” depending on his mood is completely crazy.

In this hilariously candid debut novel from comedian Aaron Karo—who grew up with a few obsessions and compulsions of his own—very bad things are going to happen to Chuck. But maybe that’s a good thing. Because with graduation looming, Chuck finds himself with one last chance to face his inner demons, defend his best friend, and win over the girl of his dreams. No matter what happens, though, he’ll have to get his hands dirty.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

First off, I need to comment on the cover... It is awesome.  I love eye-catching covers on YA books, and although this one is ridiculously simple, it totally fits the story.  Also, I love my Chucks (although I am a fan of the low-tops, not the high-top like the protagonist in this book)- I have them in lots of bright colors and they are my staple when it's too cold for flip-flops, so obviously, I'm going to read a book that features my favorite footwear on the cover...  Now that I've commented on that, I can review the actual content between the covers.

If the 2012 debut authors were a baseball league, Team Humor would definitely be leading in the rankings.  They seem to be be hitting home run after home run.  First there was Jesse Andrews's brilliantly funny Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (review HERE), then Gina Damico's uniquely snarky Croak (review HERE), and now this book, Lexapros and Cons.  I have laughed to the point of peeing so many times in the first three months of 2012 that I am thinking I might need to buy a package of Depends...  Anyway, what I am getting at is that Aaron Karo has nailed it with his YA debut.

Lexapros and Cons is the hilarious account of a teenage boy with OCD.   Chuck Taylor has some very real compulsions, and while I found myself laughing at the behaviors, and Chuck's thoughts on them, I never felt like I was laughing at the actual disorder or poking fun at people with it.  This book was very balanced in that it showed respect for a very real and often debilitating condition, while finding humor in the character's behaviors and reactions to them.  Chuck finds out he has OCD through Wikipedia after he starts thinking that a certain compulsion of his is particularly strange.  When he realizes he has a "textbook" case of OCD, he tells his mom, who in turn, arranges for him to meet with a shrink.  During the same timeframe, Chuck meets the girl of his dreams AND has to come to grips with the fact that the Senior Weekend he had been looking forward to since 9th grade is going to a camping trip- with dirt and bugs and grass (gasp!).  He's got a lot going on, and during it all he begins to work on overcoming his compulsions...

I have to say, I loved Chuck!  I felt bad for him sometimes because he kind of talks himself into being a much bigger dork than I think he actually would be, and of course, his compulsions kind of suck, but I thought Chuck was a pretty cool guy in a very unconventional way.  He's smart, witty, and his internal dialogue cracked me up.  I also enjoyed his best friend Steve Sludgelacker, and his only other friend Kanha.  Steve is a bigger dork than Chuck, but with a  last name like Sludgelacker, did he ever stand a chance? (For the record, I would have changed my last name before I had children.)  Steve kind of provided balance for Chuck, mostly through distraction, and was just really an all-around good friend.  Kanha provided a lot of non-OCD centered comic relief.  The love interest, Amy, was sweet; the kind of hippie-dippy, positive type of person that everyone can't help but love.  My favorite character, after Chuck though, was Dr. Srinivasan.  Definitely an accurate caricature of an Indian psychiatrist, she made me laugh.  I found myself reading her dialogue in exactly the accent that Chuck describes, and it was perfect.

As for the story, it was very fun.  It did have a few crude moments, but if a book about a teenage boy and his compulsions didn't, it wouldn't be based in reality at all, so those are forgiven.  It felt very real to me and although I felt like the ending was a little too neat, I liked it.  It was sweet and left me feeling really good.  All in all, I think that this book well lived up to its great cover!  If you're looking for a feel-good story that will make you laugh, go ahead and pick up a copy of this one.  You won't be sorry you did.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  I should first say that this book will be most appealing to boys.  Some girls will enjoy it, but most will probably think it's too crude for their taste.  There is definitely some crudeness (one of Chuck's compulsions to to keep an annual tally of the number of times he masturbates), lots of talk about various girls and their boobs, and a mention or two of porn.  There are also some swears here and there, including a few f-bombs.  That said, every middle-school age boy masturbates, admires most of the boobs that pass by him, thinks about porn, and swears...  Still, most parents aren't going to want their "babies" reading about these things.  I'm going to say 8th grade and up (ages 13+) for that reason.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Review: The Marked by Inara Scott

Publisher:  Hyperion Children's Books
Publication Date:  April 3rd, 2012

In her second semester at a boarding school for teenagers with special powers, Dancia Lewis faces danger from both inside and outside of Delcroix Academy. 

All of her life, Dancia Lewis has wanted to use her powers for good. And now that she’s learned the truth about Delcroix Academy—and herself—she may just get the chance. But being part of Delcroix’s top secret Program isn’t anything like Dancia expected. She has to ask herself: what happens to the Talented kids who refuse to pledge their loyalty to the Program? And why did her friend Jack run away rather than join? Dancia’s adorable boyfriend Cam insists they need the help of every Talented student to defend Delcroix from dangerous enemies outside their gates. But Dancia has to wonder: what if Delcroix’s most frightening enemies come from within? 
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

It's no surprise to me that I really enjoyed this book.  Back in 2010, I read The Talents (then named The Candidates), book one of the Delcroix Academy series, and I thought it was a very solid start to what I was expecting to be a great series.  I'm happy to report that book two, The Marked, has not only measured up to my expectations quite nicely, but exceeded them.  Everything I liked about book one- the characters, the setting, the mystery and intrigue- carries over to book two, but I felt like Inara added a lot more dimension and excitement this time.  The characters were very human, despite their very powerful, superhuman talents.  They made mistakes, had feelings, and didn't always do things for the right reasons.  I liked almost everyone, and I thought the development was great- not just for the main characters, but also for the supporting ones.  I really felt for the protagonist, Dancia... She was sort of thrown into this life, much sooner than she was supposed to have been, and then asked to give up her best friend, lie to her other friends, and put her full trust in people who she really didn't know much about because they said she had to.  In return, she would get the guy (and what a guy Cam is!), and learn how to control and hone her gift.  It's no wonder that she spent much of the book battling a nagging inner voice telling her that something wasn't right...  As far as the story is concerned, like The Talents, it was a tad on the predictable side, but I didn't feel like it took anything away from my enjoyment.  There were a few things that I didn't see coming, and there was one situation that rather pissed me off, but since the door isn't completely closed on remedying it, I will reserve judgement until book number three (which I will DEFINITELY be reading).  I thought the book was really well paced, and the action was pretty kick-ass.  The fight scenes were great, and I really enjoyed getting a glimpse of what some of the other students could do.  Inara Scott has a brilliant imagination when it comes to some of the "talents" she graced her characters with.  I'm glad there was a more sinister sub-plot in this book because what are superpowers good for if they are only used for betterment?  The excitement lies in the people who use them for no good, and the good guys trying to stop them!  I can't imagine how this series is going to play out, but I can't wait until it does!  Book three has not been announced yet, but since I am eagerly awaiting it, I will make sure it is my Waiting On Wednesday as soon as it is!

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  Both this book, and its predecessor are pretty clean.  There are a couple of make-out scenes (kissing only), but nothing even remotely graphic.  The violence is no different from the type you see in superhero comic books.  This series is appropriate for grades 5 and up (ages 10+).

Happy *belated* Blogoversary To Me! YA Litwit is ONE!

As my kids' Spring Break was winding down and the house-guests were catching flights, I came to a stunning realization... YA Litwit has officially been up for a year!  That's right, two days ago, YA Litwit quietly turned ONE and I missed it!

When I started this blog, I did it for one reason, and one reason only...  I needed an outlet for my constant ramblings and ravings about the books I read.   My husband and kids were getting sick of hearing about YA books, and most of my friends aren't huge readers.  I created YA Litwit with the full expectation that nobody would read it; I never dreamed it would grow to be what it is today, and I never in a gazillion years thought it would happen in only a year!  Thank you to all of you who take the time to read my posts!  It means so much!

The YA book blogging community is one that I am so proud to be a part of!  I cannot properly articulate the respect I have for everyone in it!  The time spent and dedication to it is astounding!  I feel immense gratitude toward all of the veterans who freely pass along tips and encouragement to newbies, and to all the publicists who are willing to take a chance, and send us books.   The authors are brilliant and so down-to-earth!  It takes true talent for adults to write books that teens can relate to, and I think the YA community has the best of the best!  I know I'm being gushy here, but I can't say enough great things...  Having this blog gives me sense a fulfillment that I don't get elsewhere, and it wouldn't be possible without these other people who share my passion!

Anyway, here's to my belated 1st blogoversary!  Keep your eyes peeled for some sort of celebratory gesture in the upcoming days!  Until then... HAPPY READING!!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

In My Mailbox (28)

In My Mailbox (IMM) was started by The Story Siren a few years back, and is a great way for bloggers to give the books they are reading (or are planning to read) a quick mention.  I didn't post an IMM last week because I had nothing to post.  I got ZIP the prvious week.  Not necessarily a bad thing, as it gives me time to catch up... So I thought!  I had a phenomenal week for books this week, and my TBR is bigger than ever now!  Here goes...

By Cat Patrick
Publisher: Little, Brown BYR
Publication Date: May 8th, 2012
Source: ARC/Southern ARC Tours
Goodreads Synopsis
I really enjoyed Cat's debut, Forgotten, and was thrilled when I found out I was one of the lucky ducks who got on this tour.  This book was AWESOME!  It was one of those drop-everything-to-read books!  Look for my review toward the middle-to-end of the month.

By Josephine Angelini
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date:  May 29th, 2012
Source:  ARC/Publisher
Goodreads Synopsis
I was hoping for an opportunity to review this one!  I reviewed its predecessor, Starcrossed, last spring, and loved it!  Look for my review of this book at the beginning of May.

By Tara Hudson
Publisher:  HarperTeen
Publication Date:  June 5th, 2012
Source:  ARC/Publisher
Goodreads Synopsis
This is another sequel to a book I reviewed last spring, and have been eagerly awaiting.  Hereafter was one of my favorite Paranormal Romances of 2011 and I have high hopes for this one!

The Selection
By Kiera Cass
Publisher:  HarperTeen
Publication Date:  April 24th, 2012
Source: ARC/Publisher
Goodreads Synopsis
I had all but given up on getting a pre-release copy of this coveted book!  I am beyond excited to read it, and with release date so close, I don't even have to wait, adhering to my self-imposed rules of reading in order of release date!
By Cyn Balog
Publisher:  Delacorte BFYR
Publication Date:  August 18th, 2013
Source:  ARC/NetGalley
Goodreads Synopsis
This book looks great!  I'm trying not to get too excited to read it because of my aforementioned self-imposed restrictions, but it's pretty hard.  Also, the cover!

The Immortal Rules
By Julie Kagawa
Publisher:  HarlequinTeen
Publication Date:  April 24th, 2012
Source:  ARC/NetGalley
Goodreads Synopsis
The reviews have been amazing, so when  got a an email from NetGalley, I had to run right over and get this one!  I've been kind of over vampires, but I think this could be the book to rekindle my love for them.
By Sarah Rees Brennan
Publisher:  Random House BFYR
Publication Date:  September 11th, 2012
Source:  ARC/NetGalley
Goodreads Synopsis
I've never read anything by Sarah Rees Brennan because I don't have time to start many series that I'm multiple books behind on, but I've heard great things about The Demon's Lexicon, so when I heard she was beginning a new series, I was all over it!
By Daniel Marks
Publisher:  Random House BFYR
Publication Date:  October 9th, 2012
Source: ARC/Publisher
Goodreads Synopsis
When I read the synopsis of this book, I got chills!  I remember telling my husband, "Listen to this...", so I am thrilled to have an advance copy.  I mean, "Bonesaw"?  Honestly, I hope I have the stomach, because this sounds like one hell of a thriller!  Woohoo!
Bad Hair Day
By Carrie Harris
Publisher:  Delacorte BFYR
Publication Date: November 13th, 2012
Source:  ARC/Publisher
Goodreads Synopsis
I thought Bad Taste In Boys, Carrie Harris's debut, was great!  It was funny and smart, and being somewhat of a nerd myself, I always love a nerdy heroine.  Can't wait to read this book!