Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: September 13th, 2011

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

This review is going to be short and sweet.  This book took me FOREVER to read.  It was THAT good.  Let me explain... This is the type of book that you read slowly and savor because there is really nothing else out there like it.  It was full of magic and mystery; it was tragic and sexy and romantic; it was beautifully written.  It is the type of book that stays with you for a long time after you've finished it.  I can't go very deep into the story or the characters like I usually do in my reviews, because this book is something to be experienced without a lot of preconceived notions.  I will say that the world building is astonishingly good and it filled my head with visions that made me long to be a part of that time and this story.  This is one of those books that I think any person who loves books would love.  It is destined to be a classic, read by millions, for many years to come.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ +

Grade Level Recommendation:  This is not technically a YA book, but I don't think there is any objectionable content for the typical YA reader.  I would say that to get the most out of it, the reader should be a bit older, maybe HS.  Grades 9 and up (ages 14+).

**Don't forget to enter my international GIVEAWAY for your chance to win a SIGNED hardcover copy of Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins!  Click HERE to enter!**

Top Ten Tuesday (1): TBR List for Winter

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 is my first Top Ten Tuesday, and I'm super excited for this week's topic because I haven't made my TBR for winter yet, so here goes...

Karis's Top Ten Books TBR for Winter 2011-2012 
(in no particular order)
*click the title for a synopsis of each book*

1.  Bloodrose by Andrea Cremer~ I'm ridiculously jealous of all the bloggers who got ARCs of this.  It's one of my most anticipated books of 2012.  January 3rd, Philomel.

2.  A Million Suns by Beth Revis~ Another much-anticipated title.  I adored Across the Universe and can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this.  January 10th, Razorbill.

3.  Fever by Lauren DeStefano~  I adored Wither, and have already pre-ordered this.  I can't wait to find out what happens next.  Honestly, I'm glad I waited until summer to read Wither, because the wait is a few months less painful. February 21st, Simon & Schuster.

4.  Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi~ I am trying not to read my copy of this right now because I have other books for review that release before it, but I am having a hard time waiting... January 3rd, HarperCollins Children's Books.

5.  Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne~ This cover is one of my favorites of all the upcoming 2012 releases.  Just stunning.  I've heard good advance buzz and can't wait to read this.   February 2nd, Putnam Juvenile.

6.  Fracture by Megan Miranda~ I've heard it said that if you loved If I Stay, then you will love this.  This is another one that I have, and am itching to read, but am trying to wait for until I catch up on my earlier releases.  January 17th, Walker & Co.

7.  Everneath by Brodi Ashton~ The most gorgeous cover so far for 2012.  I have this and will probably read it very soon.  The advance buzz has been amazing!  January 24th, Balzer + Bray.

8.  When the Sea Is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen~ This looks like it's going to be amazing.  It comes out toward the end of winter, but I think it will definitely get read immediately upon release (unless I'm lucky enough to get an advance copy).  February 28th, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux BYR.

9.  Dead to You by Lisa McMann~ I've been looking forward to this release for a LONG time.  I love Lisa's books and this one looks to be one of her best yet!  February 7th, Simon Pulse.

10.  The Fault In Our Stars by John Green~  I am such a John Green fangirl, so I will read this immediately upon release.  I would read this without even knowing what it's about because I love his books so much, but this actually looks to be made of awesome anyway.  Win, win!  January 10th, Dutton Juvenile.

So this is my first Top Ten Tuesday... How did I do?  What are your Top Ten?

**Don't forget to enter my international GIVEAWAY for your chance to win a SIGNED hardcover copy of Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins!  Click HERE to enter!**

Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Publisher: Dutton
Publication Date: September 29th, 2011

Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit -- more sparkly, more fun, more wild -- the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket -- a gifted inventor -- steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Stephanie Perkins is a gifted YA Romance writer.  She understands teen angst and insecurity, while at the same time is able to make a happy ending something you can believe in.  I am such a fan, and a year ago, I would have never believed that was even a remote possibility.  I am not the biggest fan of the YA Romance genre.  I usually find the books sappy, lame, and completely unrealistic.  I do have a few that I have loved, but in the past, I have almost always passed them over.  That was until I read Stephanie's amazing debut, Anna and the French Kiss.  For months, I'd read gushing review after gushing review, had numerous blogger and Goodreads friends tell me that it was a "must-read", but still I pushed it aside in favor of something else; I didn't like the lame cover or title, plus it was a Contemporary Romance... Finally, in the mood for something light, I caved and read it... I was an instant fangirl!  I finished it and immediately wanted to read Lola and the Boy Next Door- and had to wait because it wasn't out for several more months... :(

When Lola and the Boy Next Door finally came out, I was so excited!  I ran right out to buy it, and then had it was hijacked by my daughter... When I finally got it back, I read it in one sitting.  I enjoyed it as much as Anna and the French Kiss, and possibly a little more because of Cricket; I liked Etienne (from Anna), but he wasn't crush-worthy for me (too short- yes, I'm THAT shallow), but Cricket? *swoon*  He was my teenage dream-boy.  Cricket wasn't  the only character I loved though.  I really adored EVERYONE.  Hell, even Calliope grew on me.  Stephanie has a way of making even the antagonists in her stories at least somewhat likable.

As for the story itself, I just loved that while is was a Romance, it was so much more.  Lola had other issues to deal with.  To her, boyfriend Max hung the moon, but I thought he was kind of a douche most of the time (although I do give him credit for the brunch thing, even if it was more self-serving than not). Lola had put him on such a pedestal, that she couldn't see the issues in their relationship, and the ones she did see, she always seemed to make them her fault.  Until Cricket came back... Then there is the family dynamic.  Lola's dads were amazing parents, but even in San Francisco, it can't be easy to have two dads and an absentee mom.  Kids can be cruel.  Add to that Lola's quirky wardrobe, wigs, and thinly veiled insecurities, and you have a nightmare on your hands as far as a social life is concerned.  Even so, I loved Lola.  I loved how she grew into herself and discovered who she was and who and what were best were best for her.  I loved, loved, LOVED this book.  It was one of my favorites of 2011, for sure.  I can't wait for Isla and the Happily Ever After to come out sometime next year (no, there isn't even a date yet!).  I will be sure to pre-order the second I can!

If you have not read Anna and the French Kiss or Lola and the Boy Next Door, do it!  Now!  Even if you're like me, and don't particularly like YA Romance as a genre, do it anyway!  You won't be sorry you did!

My Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★+

Grade Level Recommendation:  Very sweet story.  Lola does talk about losing her virginity to Max, although it's not a graphic description at all.  Also, Max and his friends smoke cigarettes and pot.  Generally speaking, I would say this is for grades 7 and up (ages 12+), but that is very discretionary.  Because I have no illusions about the things my 5th grader is aware of (teen sex, drug use), I allowed her to read it because these things are mentioned in passing and are not what the story is really about.

**Don't forget to enter my international GIVEAWAY for your chance to win a SIGNED hardcover copy of Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins!  Click HERE to enter!**

Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake

Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication Date: August 30th, 2011

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father's mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn't expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he's never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas's life.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Oh boy!  Someone is getting bumped off of my "Top 10 YA Books of 2011" list, because this book just earned a place high on it!  Wow!  What an awesome read!  This is one of those books that does not let go once it has you in its clutches!  It is really difficult for me to believe that this is Kendare Blake's debut novel because she writes like a seasoned pro.  She did a bang-up job with the character development, world building, plot, and pacing.  I just don't have any complaints.  I am officially a Kendare Blake fangirl!  Now that I've said that, I can delve a little deeper into why...

First off, I'm a sucker for books that are told from a male protagonist's POV; there are not enough books like this, and I usually find myself loving them.  Add to that the fact the male in question is an epic character.  Cas is a ghost hunter- he "kills" the worst of the dead, the ones who kill humans where they haunt- and he's damn good at it.  As you can imagine, a teenage boy with his job might have some morbidity issues.  Compound that with the fact that his occupational predecessor was killed on the job, and also happened to be his father.  Cas is a complicated character; dark, mysterious, sexy, and detached.  All he needs is the right woman to bring out his feelings, right?  But what if that woman happens to be a violently murderous ghost that he is responsible for taking out?

And that brings me to another reason I loved this book- Anna.  She was terrifying, tragic, and absolutely believable.  The mysteries surrounding her were so unpredictable and utterly riveting.  An YA mystery that isn't predictable is a rare, rare thing, and I was so impressed that I never figured her out.  As far as the other characters were concerned, while I didn't like them all, I never felt like anyone was flat.  They all had their stories and reasons why they were who they were.  I think it's important to be able to connect on some level- like, love, or hate- with supporting characters, and Kendare Blake makes sure her readers do.

As far as the story itself is concerned, it was fabulous!  It was gory and mind-bendingly scary much of the time, but at other times, it was tender and full of emotion.  One thing it never was, was dull.  It's pace was quick, but even; I stayed up far too late the first night reading it, starting again the moment I woke the following morning.  In the meantime, I dreamed about it.  It was that good.

Finally, I have to comment on the aesthetics...  Is the cover not to die for?  I love the black and white image, with just the smallest bit of red.  As is the case with a lot of the books I read, I was initially drawn to the cover, and I can tell you that this cover did not let me down!  Another small, but satisfying feature was the dark red type the book was printed in; it was exactly the color of dried blood and it was just perfect.  Small details like this make me happy.

Book #2, The Girl of Nightmares, comes out August 7th, and I cannot wait!  If it is even a fraction as good as Anna Dressed In Blood, it will be worth the long, long wait!

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★+

Grade Level Recommendation:  This book has a bunch of swears, some teen drinking, and rather graphic violence.  No sex.  I'm not all that bothered by swears, so if you are, you probably want to add a couple of years to my recommendation.  That said, I would recommend this book for grades 6 and up (ages 11+).

**Don't forget to enter my 400 Follower Giveaway for your chance to win a SIGNED hardcover copy of Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins!  Click HERE to enter!**

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Review: Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones

Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: September 1st, 2011

You are not alone.

Discover how Lauren Kate transformed the feeling of that one mean girl getting under her skin into her first novel, how Lauren Oliver learned to celebrate ambiguity in her classmates and in herself, and how R.L. Stine turned being the “funny guy” into the best defense against the bullies in his class.

Today’s top authors for teens come together to share their stories about bullying—as silent observers on the sidelines of high school, as victims, and as perpetrators—in a collection at turns moving and self-effacing, but always deeply personal.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Authors:  Ellen Hopkins (Foreword), Megan Kelley Hall, Carrie Jones, Claudia Gabel, Courtney Sheinmel, Crissa-Jean Chappell, Cyn Balog, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Daniel Waters, Dawn Metcalf, Debbie Rigaud, Deborah Kerbel, Diana Rodriguez Wallach, A.S. King, Eric Luper, Erin Dionne, Alyson Noel, Amy Goldman Koss, Amy Reed, Aprilynne Pike, Carolyn Mackler, Carrie Ryan, Cecil Castellucci, Heather Brewer, Holly Cupula, Janni Lee Simner, Jeannine Garsee, Jessica Brody, Jo Knowles, Jocelyn Maeve Kelley, Jon Scieszka, Kieran Scott, Kiersten White, Kristin Harmel, Kurtis Scaletta, Lara Zeises, Laura Kasischke, Lauren Kate, Lauren Oliver, Linda Gerber, Lisa McMann, Lisa Schroeder, Lisa Yee, Lucienne Diver, Marina Cohen, Marlene Perez, Maryrose Wood, Megan McCafferty, R.L. Stine, Melissa Schorr, Laurie Faria Stolarz, Melissa Walker, Melodye Shore, Michelle Zink, Micol Ostow, Mo Willems, Nancy Holder, Nancy Werlin, R.A. Nelson, Sara Bennett Wealer, Saundra Mitchell, Rachel Vail, Nancy Garden, Sophie Jordan, Stephanie Kuehnert, Steven Wedel, Tanya Lee Stone, Teri Brown, Tonya Hurley

The above authors and the publisher, HarperTeen, deserve our thanks for this book... Every person who has anything to do with kids- parents, teachers, administrators, coaches, other kids- needs to read this book!  This book is so eye-opening on so many levels that it is difficult for me to put into words how important it is.  A group of letters and short stories, written by 70 of the most influential Kid and YA authors of today, it addresses the impact bullying can have on a person, short-term and long-term.  A book like this truly has the power to change the way people think.  It certainly changed the way I do.  Rather than writing a traditional review, I am going to tell you what each group of people stand to gain from reading this.

Kids and Teens~ Kids look up to these authors and I believe that by reading their stories, they can be empowered and changed.  The ones who are the targets of bullies will read these stories and realize two things.  First, that they are not alone, which is so important when they are dealing with something that makes them feel that they are alone in every way.  Second, they see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel; look at all these people who were in their very same place during their school years, and look where they are now.  Successful, influential, and secure in their place in this world.  For the kids who are the bullies, they get a glimpse of how harmful their words and actions actually are.  Perhaps they get to see that what they have always seen as harmless fun and jokes is actually very hurtful to their target; something that while for them is forgotten the next moment, may stay with that other person for their entire life, like a wound that won't heal.  Finally for the silent onlookers, the ones that aren't targets or bullies, but see it every day and don't speak up to stop it.  Maybe after reading this book, they will realize how important it is for them to do something, say something, be the one to stand up for what's right.  Without onlookers who are willing to speak up, it will never stop.

Parents~ I'm a parent and I know I have been guilty of saying things like, "Ignore them and they will stop" and "Sticks and stones...", regurgitating the same things I heard from my parents and teachers.  This book opened my eyes to what I already knew if I had stopped to think about it.  I would rather have someone beat the crap out of me than have them verbally abuse me; bruises and scrapes heal, but hurtful words have real and long-lasting power.  Bullies don't stop when you ignore them.  That's a total myth.  As a parent, having read this book, I know that if my children are being bullied, I should do whatever I need to do to make it stop; I need to be their advocate, but more importantly, I need to to emotionally support them and let them know that I understand how hard it is.  I know that I should never, ever blow bullying off as a normal part of growing up, because it shouldn't have to be.  I'm also not afraid to call my child out if she is being a bully.  I made my 10 year old read this book when I caught her being a bully and saw a big change in the way she treats other kids as result.

Teachers/Administrators~ These people need to stop turning a blind eye to it.  I'm so sick of "Zero Tolerance" bullying policies at schools.  They are such a joke because they are not enforced, and when they are they are done in a way that just drives the behavior deeper underground.  I'm not naive, I know that as long as kids are kids, bullying will happen, but it is so much more vicious today than ever before and it is time the adults make a valiant effort to curb it.  Every time I'm at my kids' elementary schools, I see teachers socializing with one another during recess.  They make sure the kids don't leave with any physical injuries (most of the time), but they really aren't paying attention to emotional damage that kids are inflicting on one another.  Most bullies are sly and know better than to to be loud about it, so if the teachers aren't paying close attention, they never know.  Administrators need to make sure the teachers are on top of it, and when there is a complaint, it needs to be taken seriously.  It is their job to protect our children while they are in their care, and they need to be held to it.  There are so many stories in this book where the teachers and principals didn't take an incident seriously and the kid just gave up trying to get help.  That is unacceptable.

Coaches~ For many kids, the playing field is where a lot of bullying starts.  On kid's sports teams there is always a star and there is always the kid that just sucks.  I've had my kids on both ends of that; my girls are both excellent athletes, my son, not so much.  What astounded me most in his case was that it was often the parents of his teammates that would laugh at him or groan when he got up to bat, not the kids.  Coaches should be dealing with that type of behavior, not pretending that it's not happening.  My son does not play baseball anymore because of how those people made him feel and it's sad.  My oldest daughter, I am sorry to say, has been the bully on her softball team in the past.  She was the best player on the team, and she knew it, and was particularly hard on the less skilled girls.  In the end, it came down to me being the one to say that she couldn't play if it didn't stop because her coach was not going to bench his "A" pitcher over it.  If coaches didn't tolerate the behavior and benched the offenders, it wouldn't happen as much.  Perhaps reading a book like this would make them see that allowing this behavior is more harmful than they realize.  

It's time that people start taking a stand against bullying.  These brave authors dug deep into themselves, and dredged up some of their most painful and often embarrassing memories to raise awareness.  They should be applauded, and more importantly, thanked.  If this book changes the behavior of one bully, if it lets one victim know that it will end someday, if wakes one adult up to the fact that they need to be an advocate, if it makes one onlooker speak up, it has done its job.  Read this book, and then share it with someone else.  It's a "Must-Read" for everyone.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  Although a couple of the stories have some mature content, this book has such an important message that I say, the sooner the better.  The bullying has gotten worse over the years, with the introduction of social networking, and we have to do our best to stop it. My daughter is 10 years old and in 5th grade, and I MADE her read it.  If it had been out when she was in 3rd grade, I'd have had her read it then.  Because I feel that all parents, teachers, etc .need to read this, I would say that you (parent, teacher, librarian) should read it first and decide what grade level you find it to be most appropriate for.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

400 Follower Giveaway! Win a Signed Hardcover of Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I am so excited to announce that I have passed the 400 follower mark.  I'm patting myself on the back here because I have only had this blog since late April of this year, and I think that gaining an active following of 400+ in such a short time is such a validation of all the work I put into this!  So, in celebration, I am sharing the love with all of my wonderful reader and blogger friends, and giving away a SIGNED copy of the wonderful, fabulous, can't-say-enough-good-things-about Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.  I truly loved this book, and it was such a surprise to me.  I have recommended this book to everyone I know, and I will continue to!  I got this copy signed back in September, and I have been sitting on it, waiting for the perfect time to give it away, and I think this is the time!

Thank you to all of you who have been following my news and reviews, commenting, and interacting!  It's so nice to be a part of a community that is so awesome!  XOXO

In My Mailbox (19)

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 do this last week because I was playing drill sergeant to my oldest daughter who was grounded and doing yard work.  Unfortunately, the entire neighborhood was outside enjoying the unseasonably warm weather, so I had to be over her shoulder to keep her on task.  Not much blogging happened during that time, but now my yard is cleaned up and I have two weeks worth of books for you!

How to Save a Life
By Sara Zarr
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 18th, 2011
Source: Purchase
Goodreads Synopsis
I loved Once Was Lost, and I've heard nothing but amazing things about this book, so I had to get a copy.

Dark Eden
By Patrick Carman
Publisher:  HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication Date: November 1st, 2011
Source:  Library
Goodreads Synopsis
I think Patrick Carman is great.  He knows how to write creepy.  Skeleton Creek scared the crap out of me, and I've heard this one is even scarier.

By Kiera Stewart
Publisher: Hyperion
Publication Date: November 8th, 2011
Source: Library
Goodreads Synopsis
I totally admit that I picked this one up because of the cover, but the story does sound cute, and since my oldest is going to middle school next year, I thought she might enjoy it as well.  Stay tuned.

The Space Between
By Brenna Yovanoff
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: November 15th, 2011
Source: Purchase
Goodreads Synopsis
I loved Brenna's first book, The Replacement, so I've been anxiously awaiting this for ages.  I ran right out to buy it when it dropped, and plan to start reading it as soon as my kids go back to school on Monday (I didn't want to neglect them while on break, so I waited).
Don't Expect Magic
By Kathy McCullough
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 8th, 2011
Source: Library
Goodreads Synopsis
This looked really cute, so I decided to check it out.  The cover actually drew my daughter's eye, and she asked me if she could get it, so being the responsible mother I am, I will read it first.  :)

Wherever You Go
By Heather Davis
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Publication Date: November 14th, 2011
Source: Purchase
Goodreads Synopsis
This looked really intriguing; like it has the potential to be a really beautiful story.  It's told from three POVs, so I'm not sure how I will like it, but I couldn't pass it up.

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses
By Ron Koertge
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: July 10th, 2012
Source: ARC/NetGalley
Goodreads Synopsis
I am a total sucker for a good, gory fairy tale retelling.  This one looks like that and more!  Not only does it look like it is more along the lines of the originals, and less like the Disney versions, but it looks like there is a lot a humor to go with.  Can't wait to read this!
New Girl
By Paige Harbison
Publisher: HarlequinTeen
Publication Date: January 31st, 2012
Source: ARC/NetGalley
Goodreads Synopsis
This looks like an excellent mystery/thriller/ghost story.  Also, I really like the cover.  I will probably wait until January to read this so I can use it for the Sophomore Reading Challenge, but it will be difficult...

Another Jekyll, Another Hyde
By Daniel and Dina Nayeri
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: March 13th, 2012
Source: ARC/NetGalley
Goodreads Synopsis
This pair does a bang-up job with the retelling of classics.  Another Faust and Another Pan were fabulous, and I can't wait to dig into their third book, a modern retelling of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Review: Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin/Macmillan Audio
Publication Date: September 13th, 2011

What if you were bound for a new world, about to pledge your life to someone you'd been promised to since birth, and one unexpected violent attack made survival—not love—the issue?

Out in the murky nebula lurks an unseen enemy: the New Horizon. On its way to populate a distant planet in the wake of Earth's collapse, the ship's crew has been unable to conceive a generation to continue its mission. They need young girls desperately, or their zealous leader's efforts will fail. Onboard their sister ship, the Empyrean, the unsuspecting families don't know an attack is being mounted that could claim the most important among them...

Fifteen-year-old Waverly is part of the first generation to be successfully conceived in deep space; she was born on the Empyrean, and the large farming vessel is all she knows. Her concerns are those of any teenager—until Kieran Alden proposes to her. The handsome captain-to-be has everything Waverly could ever want in a husband, and with the pressure to start having children, everyone is sure he's the best choice. Except for Waverly, who wants more from life than marriage—and is secretly intrigued by the shy, darkly brilliant Seth.

But when the Empyrean faces sudden attack by their assumed allies, they quickly find out that the enemies aren't all from the outside.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Science Fiction and Dystopia are two of my favorite genres, so I was really looking forward to this book.  I still had the delicious aftertaste of Beth Revis's amazing Across the Universe on my tongue when I heard about this one, making me that much more eager to get my hands on it.  I have to admit, I was kind of let down.  It's not that I didn't enjoy this book.  It was a good read and it had an interesting storyline, but it dragged for me.  I didn't really feel that compelling need to keep reading until the final third of the book.  I'm more of an instant gratification girl, so books that don't move along quickly usually annoy me.  I had a hard time connecting with Waverly; I felt sorry for all she went through, but I never felt like I knew her, and didn't really feel a pull to want to get to know her.  Kieran and Seth intrigued me a little more, especially the dynamic between the two of them, but I'm not really sure if I actually like or trust either.   For me, he most vibrant of the characters was Anne Mather, the captain/pastor of the New Horizon.  She evoked nothing but disdain from me, but she had depth that the other characters lacked.  She seemed to bring the story to life; the parts of the story that involved her seemed to be the most gratifying.  Although slow to grab me, I will say that once the story started moving, it really clicked.   I quite enjoyed it from there, which makes me really want to read the second book in the series, Spark, when it comes out in July. I think this series has potential because the idea behind it is unique and thought-provoking, I just think too much time was spent in this first book setting everything up.  

On another note, when I was about 60 pages in, I got the audio version from Macmillan Audio for review, so I switched formats, and I think the audio version was well done.  The readers, Ilyana Kadushin and Matthew Brown, breathe a life into otherwise rather flat characters.  I felt that it was a little on the long side though; the book is only about 300 pages long, but the audio was 10 hours long.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  Because this book is basically about reproductive slavery, I would put it at a high school level.  There isn't really any objectionable content for middle school aged readers, I just don't think they would understand the gravity of what is happening.  Grades 9 and up (ages 14+).

Review: Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication Date: March 30th, 2010

IN THE ENCLAVE, YOUR SCARS SET YOU APART, and the newly born will change the future.
Sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone and her mother faithfully deliver their quota of three infants every month. But when Gaia’s mother is brutally taken away by the very people she serves, Gaia must question whether the Enclave deserves such loyalty. A stunning adventure brought to life by a memorable heroine, this dystopian debut will have readers racing all the way to the dramatic finish.

(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I have had this book on my TBR for well over a year, but kept putting it aside for something else.  This book's been nominated for a lot of awards, and to be honest, I am usually turned off by that.  I know it sounds backward, but let me explain...  I am more often than not, disappointed by books that have gotten a lot of award attention.  I feel like the judges for these awards are often adults who don't typically read YA, and that they are making their choices based on criteria they would use for Adult Fiction.  Because teachers and librarians (who don't have time to read everything) often rely on award winners for guidance, I feel like kids are often given books to read that that can't relate to or don't really interest them, and that saddens me (I will save the rest of my diatribe on this for another post). That said, Birthmarked kept getting pushed aside despite all the great things I had heard about it.  Recently I got an ARC of Prized, its sequel, and figured that I should get around to reading it so I could read Prized.  Once again, I am kicking myself for waiting so long to read a book.  It really was an excellent read.

I will start by noting the (very) few things I didn't like about it.  First, I have to warn you that I found this book very slow to start.  It took me four days to read this book, and that is quite a long time for me to read a book of under 400 pages.  At the beginning, I just wasn't getting into the story.  I don't know if that had more to do with a flaw in the storyline of the fact that it took me a really long time to warm up to Gaia, the protagonist.  I took me three days to read the first 150 pages, and one day to read the rest.  Second, I found some of the character development lacking.  Gaia was pretty well rendered, as you would expect the protagonist to be, but the rest of the characters lacked depth.  I felt like Leon was getting there, but then the book ended.  Gaia's parents were interesting characters, but I never learned enough about them to really care about their fates.  Also, Gaia had two brothers who were "adavanced"; she learns the identity of one of them, but he runs off to outside the walls when he finds out, and we never get to know more about him- I found that disappointing and rather unbelievable.  He knew his only living family were imprisoned inside the walls, so why did he leave them?  We got glimpses of other characters that played relatively important roles, but again, no depth.  Perhaps we will see more of them in Prized?  Finally, I know this book falls under the Dystopia genre, but as far-fetched as Dystopias can be, I like them to be plausible, and the setting of this one just wasn't; there were some important elements that didn't make sense to me as far as human nature is concerned (I can't really say more to that point without spoilers).  You would think that the things listed would be difficult hurdles to overcome, but that's not the case.  This book has so much going for it, that once you get past these things, it still comes out a winner in the end, and here's why...

Although it took me awhile to warm up to Gaia, by the end of the book, she became one of my all-time favorite kick-ass female heroines ever.  (I even nominated her in the YA Sisterhood Tournament of Heroines- she didn't make the cut, but still.)  She isn't a warm, fuzzy character, but she's had a tough life and she's got a lot of understandable insecurity and bitterness.  Because of her physical scars, she has a great deal of emotional scarring, yet she doesn't let either stand in the way of doing what she believes is right.  She also doesn't let fear stand in her way; she is often terrified, but faces her fear head-on, and overcomes.  She reminds me a lot of my all-time favorite female heroine, Katsa, from Graceling.  If you've read it, you know that's a huge compliment.  I know I'm in the minority here, but I also liked the romantic element between Gaia and Leon.  Yes, it was dry and awkward at times, but neither is the stereotypically romantic type.  Their feelings for each other were slow to build because they weren't based on superficial things, and I find that so much more genuine and believable than the typical love-at-first-sight scenario that is the center of most YA romances.  One of my complaints about this book was its slow start, and I stand by that; the pacing of this book was definitely erratic.  However, when this book was exciting, the excitement was heart-poundingly so.  Gaia had a mission, and she was going to stop at nothing to accomplish it, and sometimes that led to very tense moments.  These moments made up for the slow parts, and then some.

One of the things Caragh O'Brien did best in this book was the world-building.  She describes settings and situations very well.  Although, as I mentioned before, some of the situations didn't seem plausible to me, I could still envision them with an almost HD-like clarity.  When a place was described, I could picture it, and I could reference back to it later in the book, which is often quite difficult.  It was very clear, based on the descriptions, how wide a divide something as simple as a wall can generate.  The lives of the people on either side were so drastically different, despite their close proximity.  I found the plot of this book very interesting and unique.  Although this book could definitely be a stand alone, I'm glad it's a series.  I think the story has a lot of promise, and I am eager to know what the future holds for Gaia and her sister.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This book is pretty clean.  No foul language or gratuitous violence.  Gaia is a midwife, so the reader should probably understand something of how babies are made and born, but there is no sex.  The romance is as innocent as can be.  There are some thought-provoking themes in this book that would be lost on someone  too young, though.  For that reason, I would say this book is best for mature 6th graders and up (ages 12+).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

WWW (20) and Waiting on Wednesday (November 23rd, 2011) Double Feature: Just for Fins by Tera Lynn Childs

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?

With the kids being home this entire week for Thanksgiving break, I've had little time to read, but I've gotten a lot of other things done, so that's good!  Anyway...

What are you currently reading?

Guys Read: Thriller edited by Jon Scieszka~ Part of the Guys Read initiativea compilation of stories by authors M.T. Anderson, Patrick Carman, Gennifer Choldenko, Matt De la Pena, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Bruce Hale, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Anthony Horowitz, Walter Dean Myers, and James Patterson.
The Dark Divine by Bree Despain~ I know, I'm late to the party on this one, but sadly, there's only so much time to read...  Loving it so far though.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney~ The newest of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise.  I can't say that I love these books, but my kids adore them.  I'm reading this to Sarah at bedtime.

The Spiderwick Chronicles, #3: Lucinda's Secret by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi~ This is Ben's bedtime read.  I can't say I'm sad about it.  I love these books and am happy to revisit them with another of my kids.  :)

What did you recently finish reading?

As I Wake by Elizabeth Scott~ Hands down, the weirdest book I have ever read.  I'm still a little confused, and still processing it.  I really can't figure out if I loved it or hated it.  Review coming soon (maybe).

Flyaway by Helen Landalf~ I've been trying to stay on top of my NetGalleys, and this one comes out on December 19th, so I gave it a go.  To say it is an emotional book would be an understatement.  Read my review HERE.

What do you think you'll read next?

Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes~ In keeping ahead of my ARCs... I've actually been looking forward to reading this.  It releases on December 27th.

The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff~ I loved her first book, The Replacement, and have been eagerly awaiting this for a LONG time.  Now that I have it, I can't wait to start reading it!  The reviews have been fantastic so far!

"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 SO many books coming out in the next year that I am excited about- too many to count, really!  My WoW pick for this week is one that I'm am particularly eager for because I have never read anything by this author that I didn't adore.  With that said, this week I am Waiting On...

Just For Fins by Tera Lynn Childs

When Lily Sanderson decided to remain Crown Princess Waterlily of the mermaid kingdom Thalassinia, she knew she couldn’t just coast along in the current. But since she’s spent the last couple of years on land—with gorgeous human Quince by her side—Lily’s not sure she has the fins to lead a kingdom. Even her maddeningly pretentious cousin Dosinia seems to know more about ruling than she does.

But Lily has to dive in deep to keep her promise to Tellin, her mer bond in name only, whose kingdom is suffering in the changing ocean climate. Lily knows this is a seven seas–sized problem: from sea animals dying to oil spills and threats to humans. They’ll need to create some serious waves to make the mer community aware and get it to join together to make things right. Even if that means facing one of the iciest queens in the mer kingdoms.

Just when Lily thinks her double life on land and sea can’t get any more complicated, an ancient mer law might separate Lily and Quince after all. It feels as if the pair is up against a solid tsunami wave!

In this third installment in the series that began with Forgive My Fins and Fins Are Forever, Lily will have to find a way to balance safety and justice for the mer people as well as for the humans she loves.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I loved the first two books in this series, Forgive My Fins and Fins Are Forever, so when Tera announced a couple of months ago that her publisher approved a 3rd book for the series, I did a little happy dance.  Now, like she did in 2011, Tera's got not one, but two books coming out in 2012.  That's HUGE news for a fangirl like me!  I can't wait to read Just for Fins!

Publisher:  Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date:  July 3rd, 2012
My Expected Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

What are you waiting on?