Saturday, April 30, 2011

Review: The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 22nd, 2011

Where do I even start with this one?

Let's just get the cover over with.  I love it.  I love all the covers in this series.  I think they are stunning.  I am total cover whore and I always buy books with a beautiful covers, sometimes without even reading the synopsis.  I've only gotten burned a few times... Anyway, I think this cover is beautiful and I would have bought this even if I hadn't read the 1st two books.

Now that that is over, I guess I can start by telling you that I absolutely adore Carrie Ryan. My husband calls her my "procrastimentor" because I pretty religiously read her blog, Carrie's Procrastinatory Outlet (the fact that my husband even knows who she is should be a testament to my adoration- he's not a big fiction reader, and certainly not YA fiction). She's also one of the few people on Twitter that I get SMS notification of their tweets. That means I actually care about what she has to say. Plus, I'm always happy to find authors that hail from the South (which is funny because although I've been living in the South for 15 years, I'm originally from NY). The fact that I'm an author-stalker aside, I love her writing. When I found out that she wrote The Forest of Hands and Teeth during NaNoWriMo, I was blown away! I mean, most novels written during that annual event are, quite frankly, horrible. Obviously, her attempt at it was hugely successful, and you know why? Because her writing is beautiful. That's why. Now, let's get to my review...

There are many things that Annah would like to forget: the look on her sister's face before Annah left her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, her first glimpse of the Horde as they swarmed the Dark City, the sear of the barbed wire that would scar her for life. But most of all, Annah would like to forget the morning Elias left her for the Recruiters. 
Annah's world stopped that day, and she's been waiting for Elias to come home ever since. Somehow, without him, her life doesn't feel much different than the dead that roam the wasted city around her. Until she meets Catcher, and everything feels alive again. 
But Catcher has his own secrets. Dark, terrifying truths that link him to a past Annah has longed to forget, and to a future too deadly to consider. And now it's up to Annah: can she continue to live in a world covered in the blood of the living? Or is death the only escape from the Return's destruction?
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I guess it should be known right off the bat that I loved the first two books in this trilogy. The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves are two of my favorite books.  EVER. I had really, REALLY high hopes for this book. It did NOT disappoint. In fact, this is my favorite one yet.

For starters, this book brings everything from the first two books together. Although we don't see Mary at all in this book, she's definitely present in Gabry, her "daughter". Many characters from the previous books are referred to, and Vista, Mary and Gabry's former village, plays in integral part in the story despite the fact that it does not take place there. I liked that there were a good many solid answers and resolved issues.

As for writing... This book was so masterfully written, just like it's predecessors. The language Carrie Ryan uses is part of what makes these books so beautiful. She writes in a way that takes you into the story so that you feel the same joy and gut-wrenching pain that the characters feel. At several points in the book I would look down and realize that I was gripping the book so tightly that my knuckles were turning white, or I would wonder later why my jaw was sore, and realize that it was because I had been grinding my teeth while I was reading...

As for the story itself.? I thought it was outstanding! I thought The Dead-Tossed Waves was better than The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and I was wondering if Carrie Ryan would be able to top it. Did she ever! Annah, the main character, was the type that have you going through 2/3 of the book not knowing it you like her or hate her. A few times I got annoyed with her self-pity, but then I would look at what her life had been like, and realize that she was entitled to it. Her circumstances were ridiculously difficult and she handled them in such a competent way, you can't help but admire her. In the end, she became one of my favorite characters in the entire series. As far as the other characters in the book, I found that my feelings kind of waffled a bit.  By the end of the book I was most annoyed with Gabry, who I liked a lot in The Dead-Tossed Waves. I was glad to have Catcher back as a huge part of the story.  I liked him in the last book, and like him even better now.  As for Elias, I could have taken him or left him. He is the only character I have never formed a connection with. There were a few other key characters that I didn't necessarily like, but had a very important part in the story. They were written so well, and I wish I could say more, but I don't want to spoil anything...

All in all, I loved this book. LOVED it! I think it was the best of the three and I'm sad that the trilogy is over . I'm thrilled to know that that Carrie Ryan has done an eBook of the short-story prequel to the trilogy called Hare Moon. I only only hope she'll do more of them.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Grade Level Recommendation: I think this series is fine for mature 5th grade and up. There is no sex, drinking/drugs, or language. There is a decent amount of violence, but nothing new to average kids of this age. There is romance, some of it intense, but not in a sexual way.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Review: The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: April 20th, 2009

I realize that this book has been out awhile, and while I try to do most of my blogging about newer books, I sometimes like to pull one out of the vault that may not have gotten as much attention as it deserved when it was released.... This book is one of those. So, in honor of the recent release of its sequel, The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group, I am gracing you with my opinion on this book.

I'll start by saying that I think Catherine Jinks is hilarious in a witty and sarcastic way. Not everyone loves her books because frankly, you have to have a decent intellect to get the humor. Fortunately, if you're intelligent enough to be following my blog, you fall into that category. :) I really enjoyed her Evil Genius books, so I was pretty excited to read The Reformed Vampire Support Group. I'm glad I did...

Think vampires are romantic, sexy, and powerful? Think again. Vampires are dead. And unless they want to end up staked, they have to give up fanging people, admit their addiction, join a support group, and reform themselves.

Nina Harrison, fanged at fifteen and still living with her mother, hates the Reformed Vampire Support Group meetings every Tuesday night. Even if she does appreciate Dave, who was in a punk band when he was alive, nothing exciting ever happens. That is, until one of group members is mysteriously destroyed by a silver bullet. With Nina (determined to prove that vamps aren't useless or weak) and Dave (secretly in love with Nina) at the helm, the misfit vampires soon band together to track down the hunter, save a werewolf, and keep the world safe from the likes of themselves.
The perfect antidote to slick vampire novels, this murder-mystery comedy of errors will thrill fans of Evil Genius. 
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Certainly an entirely different take on vampires, and an unglamorous one at that. I loved Nina, the protagonist. She isn't really happy with her lot, but tries to make the best of it and live her death the best she can. She lives with her human mom and makes a decent living writing books about a kick-ass vigilante vampire named Zardia Bloodstone. She hangs out by night with her other reformed vampire friends. When the vampire who "fanged" (created) her at the age of 15 is murdered, the group decides that they need to figure out who is responsible in case the guy is on a mission to kill them all. They embark on an adventure to find the killer and reform his thinking; they want him to realize that vampires aren't bad guys, especially reformed ones. While on their adventure they stumble into a whole other criminal enterprise that balloons into a caper filled with laughs and groans.

Like I mentioned before, I liked this book. I didn't love it like I did the Evil Genius books, but I think the series has real potential. I gave it 3 1/2 stars because so much time was spent developing the characters and sometimes that can interfere with how the story flows for me. Now that she's through with that part, I think this is going to be one hell of a funny ride!

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½

Grade Level Recommendation: 4th+ Contentwise there wasn't anything in this book that would make me object to an middle-grade student reading. I would let my 9 year old read this if she were interested. Some parents might object to some of the violence in this book, but it's no worse than what's in Harry Potter or Indiana Jones, and it's not gratuitous or even a common theme. The only thing that might have me tell a kid to wait is that they would get so much more from it in say, 7th or 8th grade.

Look for the following reviews coming soon:

The Dark and Hollow Places (Forest of Hands and Teeth, Book 3)         Where She Went         Human.4         Shine

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

WWW (2) and Waiting On Wednesday (April 27th, 2011) Double Feature

W. W. W. Wednesday is hosted by Should Be Reading, a great YA 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 don't have quite as many going this week, so this post shouldn't take me all day like it did last week.  Without further ado...

What are you currently reading?

Human.4 by Mike A. Lancaster- I picked this book up because the cover is pretty wild.  2/3 of the way through, and I can tell you, the story is pretty wild too!  This would make a great movie.  Look for my review soon!

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer- I just started this one on my Kindle.  I didn't really have any idea what it was about when I picked it up.  I just loved the cover and title (Nightshade is a beautiful, but extremely toxic flower).  Stay tuned!

Falling Under by Gwen Hayes- This is my audio selection of the week.  Again, loving the cover (anyone see a pattern here?).  Romance and intrigue.  I'm hooked!

What did you recently finish reading?

The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan- Abso-freakin-lutely AMAZING!  If you are a fan of the series, just know that this is the best one yet!  I LOVED it!  I will be posting my review tomorrow.  I kind of need to let it digest some...  Carrie Ryan totally outdid herself with this one though.  I'm sad that it's the last.  Boo hoo!

The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks-  This was very good, but not as good as I expected it to be, based on her Genius Wars series.  I'll have a review up later this week.  Stay tuned.

The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder- The awesome cover does this book justice.  It's exactly what you would expect it to be based on it.  Check out my review of this book by clicking HERE.

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare- Two words.  Effing Awesome!  If you are a fan of the series and haven't read this, run right out and buy it!  You won't be disappointed!  If you haven't read any of The Mortal Instruments books yet, you need to.  NOW!  Check out my spoiler-free review HERE.

What do you think you'll read next?

Where She Went by Gayle Forman- I've been waiting on this one for quite awhile and am so happy to finally have it.   I loved If I Stay, it's predecessor, and I'm sure this one will be no different. It is next on my list.  As in, I will be starting it today!  Yay me!

Shine by Lauren Myracle- I'll also be starting this one this week.  My daughter LOVES Lauren Myracle and is itching to get her hands on this one, but it's definitely a "Mom reads first for content" book (my daughter is almost 10), so I need to get moving or I will find it hidden in her room like I did Twilight (when she was 7!!).

"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. 

So, without further ado, the book I am highlighting this week is....

Everfound by Neal Shusterman

While Mary lies in a glass coffin aboard a ghost train heading west, her minions are awaiting her re-awakening by bringing lots of new souls into Everlost to serve her. Meanwhile Jackin’ Jill has met Jix, a fur-jacker—a skin jacker who can take over the bodies of animals, most notably jaguars. Jix serves a Mayan god who collects Everlost coins, and has his own agenda. In the concluding volume of The Skinjacker Trilogy, Neal Shusterman reveals new sides of the characters of Everlost, who are pitted against each other in a battle that may destroy all life on Earth.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

This is the third and final book in Neal Shusterman's Skinjackers Trilogy.  It drops on Tuesday, May 3rd, and I cannot wait!  I have been waiting for this book for what seems like forever!  It is by far and away, my number one most anticipated book of 2011!  The first two books Everlost and Everwild are two of my favorite books EVER (pun totally intended).  So, just a forewarning... The people that rely on me should expect nothing from me next Tuesday and Wednesday because I will be busy!  If you haven't read these books, you are missing out on literary greatness! (Also, check out Shusterman's Unwind, which is even better!)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Publication Date: May 3rd, 2011
My Expected Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ + + +

Review: City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare (Spoiler Free)

Publisher:  Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: April 5th, 2011

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

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

I finished this book a few days ago and actually had to give it a few days to digest before I could write my review.  I wasn't really sure how I was feeling about it...  I mean, I knew that I absolutely LOVED this book as a whole.  It truly is the best book (so far) in the series.  As with the first three, it was engaging, suspenseful, and absolutely impossible to put down, BUT... I was extremely conflicted about the ending.  I definitely wasn't happy with it, but I didn't hate it.  That should leave me indifferent, right?  Not so much...  Shocked? Absolutely.  Slightly nauseous?  Sure.  Otherwise?  After giving it five days to digest, I still don't know how to feel.  The ending was good.  Great even.  A real cliffhanger.  One that will make me want to run right out and buy the next book at midnight on it's release date, but it still pissed me off...

With all that said, I can get down to my actual review...  I'll start by saying that this book was one of my most anticipated releases of 2011.  I read City of Bones this past summer and liked it enough to read the next book, but didn't love it.  A few weeks later I read City of Ashes, and was hooked!  From there, I went right to City of Glass.  With each book the story got better without getting overly complicated.  There were definitely parts in each book that pissed me off (especially the death of a certain young character in City of Glass), but I would have complained even more if the books were full of happy endings and rainbows, so I'm not going to complain... (The fact that I was pissed was a good thing.  A book that makes you FEEL is always a good book, even if the feelings aren't good ones.)  I re-read City of Glass to prepare and refresh for this book and I'm glad I did because this book pretty much picks right up where the former left off.

So... without giving spoilers on any of the books, I will attempt to articulate my feelings.  I loved, loved, LOVED that we saw more of Simon in this book.  He has grown so much over the course of the series, and we see a new, more mature, sexy side of Simon in this book.  He has always been one of my favorite characters and I was thrilled to see him get some of his due in this book.  There is also a new character in this book who I really took to.  He came up very early on in the series, but then we heard nothing more about him.  Until now.  I have a feeling that he is going to be a key player in the final two books (I certainly hope so).  Of course, the Clary/Jace relationship continues to evolve, but I'm reluctant to give details because I don't want to spoil any of the previous books for readers.  A character from a previous book that I thought was gone comes back.  Then there were some nice developments involving Magnus that made me happy (he's one of my favorite characters too), and we start to see more connection between The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices, including a "new" character addition to TMI who we have only seen in TID.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and give it a five star rating.  I couldn't put it down and got in trouble with my husband more than once for reading under the dinner table and "setting a bad example for the kids".  I know there people out there who hated it, but I really don't know what they expected (happy ever after? unicorns farting rainbows?).  I like the direction the story is headed in.  It was well written and it turned out to be extremely different than what I expected.  Kudos to Cassie Clare for surprising the hell out of me!

My Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Grade Level Recommendation:  6th+  There were some pretty intense almost-sex scenes in this book.  There is also an extreme amount of violence (not gratuitous by any means, just a lot of it).  I think it's fine for middle schoolers that have gotten the go ahead to read Twilight and the like.  If parents haven't said yes to it yet, they shouldn't be okay with this series either.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder

Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date:  April 4th, 2011

I'm going to own up to it right now... I only picked this book up because the cover ROCKS! I am a total cover whore, and this one had me the second I saw it! Of course, I knew it wasn't going to be anything profound, but it looked extremely entertaining and a tad naughty...

At Penford High School, Britney Taylor is the queen bee. She dates whomever she likes, rules over her inner circle of friends like Genghis Khan, and can ruin anyone's life with a snap of perfectly manicured fingers. Just ask the unfortunate few who have crossed her. For April Bowers, Britney is also the answer to her prayers. April is so unpopular, kids don't even know she exists. But one lunch spent at Britney's table, and April is basking in the glow of popularity. But Britney's friendship comes with a high price tag. How much is April willing to pay? (Courtesy of Goodreads)

I really enjoyed this book in a "guilty pleasure" sort of way. There were funny parts and downright horrifying parts. I don't remember girls at my high school being this awful, and I hope to God that I wasn't one of the awful ones and too just warped to remember! If you like Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl, and The Clique, you'll LOVE this.

I have mentioned before that I really don't like "mean girl" books, and I almost put this book down a few times because of that, but I kept reading... The protagonist, April, is definitely not a "mean girl" in the beginning of the story. She's actually somewhat of a loser, who for whatever reason, is allowed to hang with the popular girls. She knows that everything about this group of girls is wrong, but is so desperate for friends that she ignores her gut and her BFFs warning and keeps on surrounding herself with them. Of course, in typical "mean girl" fashion, they turn on her. Now here is where I envisioned her taking the high road and gaining popularity and respect with her winning personality. Well, we all know that is NOT how high school works. AT ALL. So, April disappoints me, and does what is necessary to make this story entertaining. She seeks revenge in awful ways, and while I was a little happy that the nasty little b**ches were getting some of what they had coming to them, I felt like April wasn't any better than they were with her antics.

 Will she become one of them through her own shallow behavior, or will she see the light? Will she win the boy of her dreams, or will the "Lipstick Lawlords" turn him against her?  Will her greatest secret be revealed to the whole school, ruining her forever?  This book is worth reading to find out!

My Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★

Grade Level Recommendation: 5th or 6th+  There is some teen drinking, but not in a glorified way, and there are actually consequences. Otherwise, this book is pretty benign.

In My Mailbox Monday (2)

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. Anyway, I have some good ones IMM this week, that I'm excited to share!

Where She WentWhere She Went
By Gayle Forman
Publisher: Dutton Books
Publication Date: April 5th, 2011
Source: Library
Date Acquired: April 23rd, 2011
Goodreads Synopsis
I loved If I Stay and I can't wait to find out what happens next!

By Lauren Myracle
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: May 1st, 2011
Source: Library
Date Acquired: April 23rd, 2011
Goodreads Synopsis
Don't ask me why my library has this available more than a week before it's release date, but I'm not complaining!

Shimmer: A Riley Bloom Book (Radiance)Shimmer
By Alyson Noel
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication Date: March 15th, 2011
Source: Purchase
Date Acquired: April 23rd, 2011
Goodreads Synopsis
Radiance, it's predecessor, was a good read, and very appropriate for my tweenaged daughter. Hoping Shimmer follows suit. 

By Julie Chibbaro
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: February 22nd, 2011
Source: Library
Date Acquired: April 23rd, 2011
Goodreads Synopsis
A historical fiction/mystery for science nerds? I'm all over it!

By Laura Goode
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: July 12th, 2011
Source: NetGalley (ARC)
Date Acquired: April 21st, 2011
Goodreads Synopsis
This looks like it's going to be hilarious! Can't wait!

Look for a bunch of reviews coming up over the next few days including, City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare, The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks, The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan, and The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder.