Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review: Diary of a Parent Trainer by Jenny Smith

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: June 12th, 2012


A must read novel for anyone requiring tips on how to control this bizarre species by (undiscovered) genius Katie Sutton - a fabulous, funny new teenage character who rivals Georgia Nicholson with her wit.

Katie is an expert on operating grown-ups. She knows exactly how to get the best out of them, so she decides to write a guide to help the world's long-suffering teenagers do the same.

But then Katie's mum starts dating the awful Yellow-Tie Man. Suddenly Mum is acting completely out of character and totally out of control! For everyone's sake, Katie needs to use all her expertise to get rid of him - and quick!
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

This book is classed as a YA title, but I don't think it is going to appeal to the majority of YA readers; I would class Diary of a Parent Trainer as a Middle Grade or Middle School read. It was a fun, very cute book, but it was definitely a bit on the juvenile side. I loved the Brit humor and the characters were just great. They were very real and the story, written as a series of diary entries, disguised as a "how to" for dealing with adults, was really funny, insightful, and much deeper than the synopsis and title imply. This book is more of a coming of teenage (it's a bit too young to be a "coming of age" novel) story that deals with not only what it's like to be a middle school aged girl, but one who is dealing with her mother dating someone after the death of her father. It has a really positive message that is masked with humor and wit, which is exactly how this type of book needs to be written if readers are going to get anything from from it. Tweens and teens don't want to be preached to, and this book never comes off that way; readers will absorb the message without ever realizing that it was there, and I LOVE that. Honestly, kids will have such a great time relating to all of the funny, very true, things that the protagonist observes about grown-ups, that they will never catch on that they are learning valuable life lessons at the same time. That said, there are a few mentions of "snogging" (the setting is in England), a spattering of language here and there, and some allusions toward sex (although no outright mentions), so some parents might not want their middle grade child reading this, and that is where I am struggling... Although I liked this book, I can't really say that it has a very wide audience, which is a shame. The average reader over the age of about 13 is going to think this is a kid's book, and they wouldn't be wrong. Because of this, my rating is reflective of what I would think if I were reading it as a person of the audience it is best suited (girls, ages 9-13).  As an adult reader, I would probably give it more like 3 stars.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Grade Level Recommendation: As I mentioned above, this is a book best suited for upper middle grades (4th or 5th) through about 7th grade. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Release Day Review: One Moment by Kristina McBride

Publisher: EgmontUSA 
Publication Date: June 26th, 2012 

"This was supposed to be the best summer of Maggie's life. Now it's the one she'd do anything to forget." 

Maggie remembers hanging out at the gorge with her closest friends after a blowout party. She remembers climbing the trail with her perfect boyfriend, Joey. She remembers that last kiss, soft, lingering, and meant to reassure her. So why can't she remember what happened in the moment before they were supposed to dive? Why was she left cowering at the top of the cliff, while Joey floated in the water below-dead? 

As Maggie's memories return in snatches, nothing seems to make sense. Why was Joey acting so strangely at the party? Where did he go after taking her home? And if Joey was keeping these secrets, what else was he hiding? 

The latest novel from the author of The Tension of Opposites, One Moment is a mysterious, searing look at how an instant can change everything you believe about the world around you. 
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I had very mixed feelings while reading this book, and I really didn't form a solid opinion of it until the very end. One Moment is a YA Contemporary Romance that tries very hard to be a Mystery, but never quite pulls it off. It was just way too predictable from the beginning. I saw each "big" reveal coming a mile away and was always disappointed when I realized that was right. I kind of felt like Kristina McBride wasn't giving her readers enough credit, dropping way too many clues and hints, revealing too much, too soon for it to legitimately fall into the Mystery genre. That said, I kept turning the pages anyway, hoping that I would be surprised, and I did get a small one in the end, and that sweet surprise at the end was what saved this book for me, but honestly, it wasn't enough...

Another problem for me was that it was so similar to another book that I recently read called Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf (read my review HERE). Now,if you haven't read Breaking Beautiful, you can just skip this part of the review, because this problem would not be relevant to you, but if you have this is important! I don't fault the author, because obviously, she wouldn't have had any idea that such a similar book would be published just two months before hers, but the similarities between the two books nagged at me the entire time I was reading One Moment. A girl witnesses boyfriend's tragic accident, represses memories so that she has no clue what happened, finds out boyfriend had secrets, wants to remember but knows that there is something that is making her subconscious not want to remember, etc. There were some differences, sure, but I still spent the whole book comparing the two, and finding that I liked Breaking Beautiful better. I just never connected with the protagonist, Maggie, or most of her little group of friends, and although I really liked one character, there were a couple who I outright despised, and as I've said in other reviews, I have a difficult time with books that have characters I don't like.

Now, you may think, from reading what I've written so far, that I didn't like this book, and that isn't true. I actually thought it was pretty well written if you overlook the predictability, and it was certainly a page-turner (I read it in under 24 hours), it just didn't go where I would have hoped it would. It was a quick, engaging read, and I thought it was great for reading by the pool during the summer. Sometimes it's nice to read something that doesn't force you to think very much. Like I mentioned above, I did like the ending a lot; it was sweet and it made sense. It also was the only thing I didn't call way ahead of time. I wouldn't say that this book was disappointing, I just think it was trying too hard to be something it wasn't, and would have been better off just being what it is, a YA Contemporary Romance.

Overall, I would say this... If you are a fan of Contemporary YA authors like Lauren Barnholdt, Sarah Dessen, Deb Calletti, and Jennifer Echols, then you will probably like this book. If you're looking for a great YA Mystery, then I think you will be disappointed. If you've already read Breaking Beautiful, then skip this one altogether because you will spend a lot of time thinking that you've already read this book...

My Rating: ★ ★ ★

Grade Level Recommendation: There's lots of teen drinking and some sex, but nothing graphic. I would say this book is fine for grades 8 and up (ages 13+).

Thursday, June 21, 2012

ARC Review: This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: June 19th, 2012

It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self.

To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live.

But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. 

When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

This book has gotten some seriously rave reviews! Every time I turn around, one of my blogger peers is gushing over This Is Not a Test. Between that and the fact that this book involves zombie apocalypse, I was sold; I definitely went into to reading it with high expectations. I was forewarned that although this book was an end-of-the-world story, complete with a zombie invasion, that it was actually NOT a zombie story. I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed when I heard that; I was really looking forward to loads of action and hard-core fighting-zombies-in-order-to-preserve-the-human-race stuff. Still, I went on to read it, and while I can't necessarily say I enjoyed it, I did think it was very well done.

There are a few parts of the book that involve some of the aforementioned (zombie fighting and action), but this story was more about the protagonist, Sloane, coming to terms with the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, the loss of her older sister, the desire to escape it all, and her internal struggle over whether or not her feelings have changed now that her circumstances have. Holed up in a school with five other kids her age, Sloane doesn't know if she wants to go on, but she knows that if she offs herself, she puts the others at risk, and so the struggle goes. This book primarily takes place inside Sloane's head, and I have to say that she is a piece of work- I'm still undecided on whether or not I liked her. I know she is damaged, so I never faulted her for her lack of likability, but I couldn't connect with her either. As for the other characters, I didn't really find most of them very likable either. Rhys was alright, and he seemed to really care for Sloane, but he was so guarded. Grace had her kindness to redeem her somewhat, but her spinelessness when it came to her brother pretty much cancelled that out. Cary seemed to at least have a survival instinct that was much more developed than any of the others, and was probably the reason they made it as far as they did, but he knew it and didn't hesitate to remind everyone at every opportunity. Trace was a total douche and Harrison was absolutely worthless. Since I have kind of a hard time with books that don't involve people I like, I a bit struggled with This Is Not a Test. As for the story, it was very well written. The emotions came through the pages in a very real, very raw way. I actually had to pick up a different book than I intended after reading this because I needed something light; this book really gutted me at times. I felt kind of depressed and hopeless after reading it, and that didn't sit well with me.

Overall, while I think this book definitely has a large audience who will love it, I just didn't. I read for escape, and this book didn't do that for me. That said, I will admit that it was extremely well written, and I loved that it was a totally unique take on the woe-is-me-let-me-come-to-terms-with-myself YA Contemporary, I just didn't feel good after reading it...

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½

Grade Level Recommendation: This book is really heavy emotionally. There is also some sex, teen drinking, lots of language, and violence. I would say this book is most appropriate for grades 9 and up (ages 14+).

Friday, June 15, 2012

ARC Review: Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: June 19th, 2012

When Travis returns home from a stint in Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother’s stolen his girlfriend and his car, and he’s haunted by nightmares of his best friend’s death. It’s not until Travis runs into Harper, a girl he’s had a rocky relationship with since middle school, that life actually starts looking up. And as he and Harper see more of each other, he begins to pick his way through the minefield of family problems and post-traumatic stress to the possibility of a life that might resemble normal again. Travis’s dry sense of humor, and incredible sense of honor, make him an irresistible and eminently lovable hero.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I have admit, I had no idea what I was getting into when I picked up this book.  I thought I was going to get the standard YA Contemporary Romance; I could not have been more wrong!  This book was so far beyond most of the books it shares a genre with.  First off, it was so very eye opening.  As a civilian, I tend to go about my life not paying an inordinate amount of mind to our servicemen and and women;  I donate supplies for care packages, I buy soldiers drinks in airport bars, I pray for their safety and for their families' peace, but I never really stop to consider how they live when they are overseas, or what they deal with when they come back.  This book puts all of that in your face, and it really sheds a new light on just how grateful we should be for their service.

Another thing that struck me about this book is the way the characters are written.  There is not a perfect one in the bunch, but they are all apologetically human; so real.  Travis, Charlie, Kevlar...those boys could be anyone's brother or son.  I laughed at the crude way the guys spoke to one another, but I also got tears in my eyes when the story told of their bond that was even tighter than blood.  Charlie's memorial service slayed me.  Travis's nightmares, panic attacks, and hallucinations of his dead friend made me want to reach into the book and hug him. Trish Doller  nailed the feelings that go with being through something so awful that you are never quite the same again, but she was able to insert levity in the right places that this book ended up not being a total downer.

As for the romance... It was very, very well done.  Harper is just the kind of girl you want to see a guy like Travis with (and Ryan and Paige TOTALLY deserve each other!).  I liked that Travis and Harper had to kind of grow on one another and that she had to forgive him of past wrongs- and that it didn't happen instantly.  I also loved how understanding and compassionate she was toward him, even when she wasn't exactly pleased with him.  Their romance was sweet and believable, and it warmed my heart to know that they had each other.

Much to my surprise, I truly enjoyed this book.  From now on, I will look at our military personnel with not only respect and admiration, but with compassion and a grateful heart; these people have taken the burden of seeing and doing things that no person would ever want to, so that we civilians can continue living our lives in ignorance.  Travis's story, although fictional, touched me.  This book is a rare gem because it makes the reader look within; I grew as a person because of it.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ++

Grade Level Recommendation:  This is definitely a high school and up read.  There is lots of sex, drinking, and vulgar language.  There are also some rather graphic descriptions of war violence.  I think this is a "must read for EVERYONE" over a certain age though.  Every American should read it!  Grades 9 and up (ages 14+).

ARC Review: Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: June 12th, 2012

Calder White lives in the cold, clear waters of Lake Superior, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids. To survive, Calder and his sisters prey on humans, killing them to absorb their energy. But this summer the underwater clan targets Jason Hancock out of pure revenge. They blame Hancock for their mother's death and have been waiting a long time for him to return to his family's homestead on the lake. Hancock has a fear of water, so to lure him in, Calder sets out to seduce Hancock's daughter, Lily. Easy enough—especially as Calder has lots of practice using his irresistible good looks and charm on unsuspecting girls. Only this time Calder screws everything up: he falls for Lily—just as Lily starts to suspect that there's more to the monsters-in-the-lake legends than she ever imagined. And just as his sisters are losing patience with him.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I was really excited when I got the opportunity to review Lies Beneath. I like mermaid stories, I thought the cover was great, and I am a total sucker for books told from a male POV. Win on all accounts, right? Not quite. First I should comment on the cover... Um,the protagonist is a merMAN, so why is a merMAID on the cover? That little discrepancy made me dislike a cover that I initially really, REALLY liked. Now that that's covered (no pun intended), let's move on to the important stuff...

I started out really loving this book...  I plowed through the first half with gusto, not able to put it down, but toward the middle it kind of sputtered for me.  It did redeem itself somewhat in the end, with its unexpected conclusion, but there were 70 or so pages where it dragged somewhat, and that sort of tainted it for me...  That said, I will tell you that if you are into lengthy descriptions of how the bad boy nefariously woos the good girl, accidentally falling in love with her, then the parts of the book that bugged me won't bug you.  You'll love it!  The story was good; quite different from the other mermaid stories I've read.  You see, mermaids are cold-blooded creatures, supposedly incapable of feeling positive emotions on their own.  Feelings like joy, happiness, elation?  Not in their emotional spectrum.  The only way they can feel these much craved emotions are by absorbing them from their "prey", human victims, who they kill by draining, then hide at the bottom of deep water; they are consummate predators.  This all comes into play when Calder, our main character, and his three sisters prepare to collect on an old life-debt, and need pretty Lily Hancock to get close to their target, her father.  Should be a piece of cake for hottie Calder, right?  Not so much...

I like my bad boys, but Calder didn't really do it for me.  He was kind of creepy, if I'm being honest.  When I was reading the book, I couldn't help thinking that he thought more like a girl than a guy.  On the surface he was cocky as they come, but he was actually pretty insecure.  Add to that the fact that he was essentially a stalker, and I just couldn't find him appealing.  He made me think better of him by end of the book, winning me over to a point, but he's just not a "swoon-worthy" leading man by my terms.  Lily, on the hand, was great.  She's the type of girl I wouldn't mind having for a daughter.  Headstrong, but not to a fault, responsible, smart, and principled.  Definitely too good for Calder... The sisters were great too; I actually consider Pavati a favorite character, but I didn't feel like they were used enough in the story (it isn't coincidence that the parts of the story I liked best heavily involved them).  They really added the sinister element to the story that set it apart from other mer-tales I've read.  They were what they were supposed to be- cold-blooded predators- and that is something I can respect, even if I don't necessarily like it.

Lies Beneath is the first book in a series (Deep Betrayal comes out next year), and I will probably read it.  I'm curious as to what Anne Greenwood Brown has in mind since I felt like the story wrapped up quite neatly.  I really did love the ending; it took me by surprise and it was quite well thought out.  If the entire book read as well as the ending, this would have been a five-star book for me, but alas, it didn't.  I enjoyed it, it just wasn't a favorite.  If you're a fan of Paranormal Romance  novels, if you're a fan of the Twilight series, or if you love merpeople, you will love it more than I did.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  There was some teen drinking, talk of seduction, and a few swears, but nothing over the top.  This is fine for grades 6 and up (ages 11+).

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

ARC Review: Timepiece by Myra McEntire

Publisher: EgmontUSA
Publication Date: June 12th, 2012

A threat from the past could destroy the future. And the clock is ticking...

Kaleb Ballard's relentless flirting is interrupted when Jack Landers, the man who tried to murder his father, timeslips in and attacks before disappearing just as quickly. But Kaleb has never before been able to see time travelers, unlike many of his friends associated with the mysterious Hourglass organization. Are Kaleb's powers expanding, or is something very wrong?

Then the Hourglass is issued an ultimatum. Either they find Jack and the research he's stolen on the time gene, or time will be altered with devastating results. 

Now Kaleb, Emerson, Michael, and the other Hourglass recruits have no choice but to use their unusual powers to find Jack. But where do they even start? And when? And even if they succeed, it may not be enough...

The follow-up to Hourglass, Timepiece blends the paranormal, science fiction, mystery, and suspense genres into a nonstop thrill ride where every second counts.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Oh, how I've waited for the release of this book!  Its predecessor, Hourglass, was one of my favorite books of 2011 (read my review HERE), and I had such high, HIGH hopes for Timepiece.  Did it hold a candle?  Did Myra McEntire deliver?  Yes and YES!  I loved this book even MORE than my much loved Hourglass!  It was fan-freaking-tastic!!  

I have to start this review by admitting that I never even read the synopsis... I didn't need to.  I knew I wanted to find out how this fabulous story would progress... That said, I was a little thrown when Timepiece ended up being from Kaleb's perspective.   NOT that I am complaining.  When I read Hourglass, I knew Emerson and Kaleb weren't right for each other (I mean, come on, she and Michael blow up electronics because their connection is so fierce), but forgive me Jesus, this 35 year old woman was having some seriously naughty thoughts about the boy!  The fact that this book puts you in Kaleb's head is bonus point one for Myra and Timepiece!  Onward...

So, he everything I thought he would be?  Yes and no.  He's better.  I thought he would be a bit of a douche, and in the beginning, I thought I was right, but...  Really getting inside his head, you begin to understand his tortured existence and you have to forgive him for the faults he showed in Hourglass, and then you want to help him to get better.  His life has definitely not been easy, and while it improves on some levels in Timepiece, there are also some really heartbreaking moments as well.  As for Emerson and Michael...they really play more of a supporting role in this book, which in part, made me sad, but this really isn't their story.  Jack and Lily, on the other hand, get lots of face-time.  Jack is so much worse than I could have imagined, and Lily surprised me in many ways.  I think I might like her as much as I like Emerson.  There are a few new characters, and of them, I found Poe most interesting.  Hopefully, we'll see more of him in Infinityglass...

Story?  Totally made of win!  The pacing and plot development were spot on.  I could not stop reading, and there were surprises around every corner.  There are still lots of questions, but I say that in a positive way... I'm just itching to get my hands on the next book.  I had a feeling that this series would be a favorite after I read Hourglass, and this book has solidified that statement!  If you have not read Hourglass, you're lame!  Go out and get it!  While you're at it, get Timepiece because you'll NEED to know what comes next (then shoot me an email and thank me for that awesome bit of advice)!  In a literary world where the same story seems to get told over and over, it is refreshing to come across something so original! Add to that the fact that it is told from a male POV (truly a rarity in the YA fiction world), and there are no faults in this book. Myra McEntire, you RULE!

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★++  

Grade Level Recommendation:  There is definitely some hot and heavy in this book, but nothing graphic or inappropriate for the intended audience.  It was more romantic than anything.  I said Hourglass was appropriate for 4th grade+ because it was pretty squeaky clean.  Timepiece is maybe a bit older.  Kaleb is a drunken, tattooed/pierced rebel and he is known to be a bit of a ladies man.  That said, I would put this one at 6th grade+ (ages 11 and up).

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

ARC Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. BYR
Publication Date: June 5th, 2012

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee. 

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. 

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I almost don't even want to post a review of this book; I almost just want to say, "Go. Buy. It. NOW!", and leave it at that.  Shadow and Bone is THAT good, people!  I can honestly put this High Fantasy is the same class as the brilliantly beautiful Graceling by Kristin Cashore.  In fact, when someone asks me (or even when I'm not asked, because, yes, I loved this book enough to rant to strangers!), I say, "OMG!  No words!  It's the best High Fantasy since Graceling!".  Obviously, I've given this book 5+++ stars...  That should be enough of an endorsement, but in case it's not, read on...

Leigh Bardugo is a brilliant storyteller.  She manages to weave a multi-layered tale of magic, love, betrayal, desire, and darkness against a beautifully rendered backdrop of a land both gorgeous and twisted.  Her words flow like honey, allowing the reader to savor each and every one, while becoming completely absorbed into Alina's world, experiencing a full range of emotion that connects and bonds tightly.

And speaking of Alina...  Human to the very core, but a kick-ass female heroine, nonetheless.  Alina differs from some of my favorite heroines in that respect.  I love my strong female leads like Katsa (Graceling), Katniss (The Hunger Games), and Tris (Divergent); we all do, but they are often so very kick-ass that they sometimes lack vulnerability.  Alina is as insecure as any teenage girl, and it shows, but when she needs to be strong, they don't come any stronger.  There were times when I thought her humanity would get her killed, but in the end, it's what saves her, and I love her for that!  As far as the other characters are concerned, there are several really great ones.  They were well developed enough that you understand their importance, but they never take the focus off of the most important characters.  And of course, there is something of a love triangle...  I found Mal endearing and perfect for Alina, but damn, that Darkling is one sexy, if *ahem* dark, dude.

This story was so original, with such depth, I could not put it down.  With every word, I became more invested, and was frequently and pleasantly surprised when it would change direction so seamlessly that my reactions were delayed.  I loved how the betrayals almost didn't feel that way and I loved how perceived betrayals were anything but.  Nothing was easy in this story, but it still left me satisfied, and it doesn't get better than that!  I wish I could tell you more because I SO want to discuss, but I really need each and every one of you to go buy this book.  NOW!  You won't be disappointed!  I can't wait for next year's release of of book number two, Siege and Storm.  Here's to hoping I can say it is the best HF sequel since Fire!

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ++++ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  There are a few hot and heavy make-out scenes, but nothing graphic.  Otherwise, this book is clean.  I would say it is fine for 5th grade and up+ (ages 10+).

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

ARC Review: Arise by Tara Hudson

Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: June 5th, 2012

Amelia—still caught between life and death—must fight for every moment of her relationship with the human boy Joshua. They can hardly even kiss without Amelia accidentally dematerializing. Looking for answers, they go to visit some of Joshua’s Seer relatives in New Orleans. But even in a city so famously steeped in the supernatural, Amelia ends up with more questions than answers…and becomes increasingly convinced that she and Joshua can never have a future together.Wandering through the French Quarter, Amelia meets other in-between ghosts, and begins to seriously consider joining them. And then she meets Gabrielle. Somehow, against impossible odds, Gaby has found a way to live a sort of half-life...a half-life for which Amelia would pay any price. Torn between two worlds, Amelia must choose carefully, before the evil spirits of the netherworld choose for her. 
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Let's just start with the cover, because I always feel I should comment on that first, to get it out of the way. This cover is gorgeous and goes well with the cover of book number one, Hereafter. It's no secret that I think HarperTeen rules the publishing world when it comes to covers, and this is a prime example. Beautiful, eerie, and relevant to the story. Another win by the cover people at HarperTeen.

Now for what is between the pretty covers... I loved this book's predecessor, Hereafter (read my full review HERE). Arise was one of my most eagerly anticipated sequels of 2012, and I was beyond thrilled to get an advance copy of it (Thanks, HarperTeen!!). Hereafter ended with a lot of answers to the mysteries surrounding Amelia's life, death, and afterlife, but it also left me with a lot of questions... My biggest question was, "How do a ghost and a living human manage to have an intimate, fulfilling relationship without people thinking he is crazy?" Well, Arise answers that question and many more as the story within takes us from Oklahoma to the most haunted city in the United States, New Orleans...

I'm pretty certain I liked Arise even more than I liked Hereafter, and Hereafter was a pretty tough act to follow. I've always been a fan of ghost stories, and I've always been fascinated with the practices of Voodoo and the way religion is so deeply intertwined. Arise picks up right where Hereafter left off, and the story and the mysteries within intensify as Voodoo is brought into the mix. We meet some new characters and we get to know some of the characters from Hereafter a little better, for better of for worse. In fact, one of the things I liked about Arise was that you never REALLY knew who to trust... Were the good guys really good, and were the bad guys really bad? It all sorts out in the end, but you never know until then. All the same, I still liked all the characters, even the baddies usually had some quality that redeemed them in my eyes to some degree. What I liked best though, were the strong bonds of friendship that formed in this book and the romantic element. I'm usually not for the sappy romance in books, but it was well done here. No love triangle, just two people (even if one of them IS dead) who love each other intensely and at all costs. The love story element was beautiful.

Hereafter was a quick read for me because I didn't want to put it down. It was one of those books that kept me turning the pages because I had to have answers. Arise was no different. It was definitely a 24-hour read, and I have to say that I wasn't even a little bit pissed about the lack of sleep when I was finished! It was a spellbinding, intensely romantic, thrilling, and intricately woven tale of love, loss, family, and friendship.  I can't wait for the release of the third book, Elegy, which should release sometime next year. I can firmly state that, after reading two of her books, Tara Hudson has solidly earned my fandom.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★++  

Grade Level Recommendation: There are a few intense make-out scenes and some talk of sex and intimacy, but nothing graphic. The violence is more of the paranormal type, and if I were to give any cautionary advice, it would be that some of the aspects of voodoo might scare some very sensitive kids. Otherwise, I would say this book is fine for 6th grade and up (ages 11+).

Don't forget to enter my GIVEAWAY for a SIGNED hardcover copy of Hourglass by Myra McEntire!  One of my favorite books of 2011! (Read my review HERE!)