Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Review: The Girl In the Park by Mariah Fredericks

Publisher:  Schwartz & Wade/Random House Children's Books
Publication Date:  April 24th, 2012

When Wendy Geller's body is found in Central Park after the night of a rager, newspaper headlines scream,"Death in the Park: Party Girl Found Strangled." But shy Rain, once Wendy's best friend, knows there was more to Wendy than just "party girl." As she struggles to separate the friend she knew from the tangle of gossip and headlines, Rain becomes determined to discover the truth about the murder. Written in a voice at once immediate, riveting, and utterly convincing, Mariah Frederick's mystery brilliantly exposes the cracks in this exclusive New York City world and the teenagers that move within it.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

The Girl In the Park was one of those books that had me waffling on my feelings about it several times throughout the book.  There were things I loved and there were some problems.  The main character, Rain, is a sympathetic one.  She's a bit of an outcast at her private Manhattan prep school.  She was born with a cleft palate, and although she's long ago had it fixed, she is haunted by the abuse she endured from her peers when she was younger, and just doesn't talk much; she's kind of invisible. When her used-to-be closest friend, Wendy, is brutally murdered after a party one night, Rain starts to remember the things that made her love Wendy in first place, and feels a deep desire to put the pieces together and solve the mystery of her death.  She has intense, if very mixed and confusing feelings, as she rehashes the past few years, their friendship, and their eventual growing apart.  You see, Wendy didn't have the best reputation.  Wendy had always been shunned by her classmates for being Jersey new money trash, but on top of that, she had earned herself a reputation for being a slutty, boyfriend-stealing, party-girl.  When she turned up dead, people acted shocked and saddened, but whispered on the sidelines about how she kind of had it coming.  Rain knew Wendy like nobody else did, and knew there was more to Wendy; knew she was too smart to go into Central Park alone at night...

I enjoyed the parts of this book that had Rain exploring who she is, as a result of her friendship with Wendy.  I enjoyed the complicated mixed feelings she had about Wendy, who very much deserved her reputation, even if she didn't deserve to die.  I enjoyed the emotional journey that Rain underwent.  Rain is a complex character, and surprisingly, so was Wendy, and it was only through Rain's memories of her, that I ever really understood that.  At the beginning, I also thought the mystery was well done.  It certainly had me turning the pages. Where it went wrong for me was when I pinpointed the killer, far too soon.  I don't get mad when I predict the ending, unless it is WAY early in the story, and that is what happened here.  I did think the way Rain worked it all out was well done, but I don't like that I KNEW, without a doubt, the "who".  It was like the author tried too hard to put the focus on the guy she wanted us to think did it, and in doing so, made it glaringly obvious that it was the someone else...  My other complaint about this book is that there was ZERO levity.  Even in books containing serious subject matter, such as this one, there should always be something to break the tension here and there, and this book had nothing.  Because of this, it became a bit tedious.  That said, I still enjoyed this quick, intense read.  It wasn't perfect, but books rarely are.  If you like a fast-paced, intense mystery, give this book a go, just don't expect any huge surprises in the end.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  This book has a bunch of teen drinking, sex, inappropriate relationships, a brutal murder, and some language.  I would say this is appropriate for grades 9 and up (ages 14+).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Favorite Books I've Read Since I Started Blogging

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new Top Ten list topic is posted and book bloggers fill in their own choices. I'm a list girl (as in, I don't function without them), so I thought this would be a good choice for me!  I haven't been doing many memes lately, mostly because I lack the discipline to get them done by the right day, but I couldn't resist this one...

Top Ten Favorite Books/Series I've Read Since I Started Blogging
(in no particular order)

1.  The Forest of Hands and Teeth/The Dead-Tossed Waves/The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan~ I adore this series.  It's one of my all-time favorites!  I actually teared up a little when it ended.  Read my review of The Dark and Hollow Places HERE.


2.  Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor~ This book was a huge surprise for me, and I love it when that happens!  So beautifully written, and so unique.  I can't wait for Days of Blood & Starlight to come out!  Read my review of Daughter of Smoke & Bone HERE.


3.  The Fault In Our Stars by John Green~ There are only two authors who made this list for more than one book (that's not part of the same series), and John Green is one of them.  The Fault In Our Stars is just one of those books.  I've never heard a negative word about it.  It's an instant classic!  Read my review HERE.

4.  Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin~ This is one of my all-time favorite books.  Whenever I have to make a list of favorites, this one never fails to be there.  If you haven't read it, do yourself a favor and get on it.  In fact, I just decided that I will be exposing my book club to it when it is my turn to pick!

5.  Clockwork Angel/Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare~ I love Cassie's writing, and I think her style is so well suited for the Victorian era.  I have so much LOVE for these books, and I suspect it will be no different when I read Clockwork Princess.  Read my review of Clockwork Prince HERE.


6.  Unwind by Neal Shusterman~ Neal Shusterman is my favorite YA author (and he will be at the Decatur Book Festival in just 11 days!!), and the other author to make my list twice.  Unwind is a brilliant, thought-provoking novel that everyone should read.  Its sequel, Unwholly, releases next Tuesday, and is my most anticipated read of 2012.  Read my Banned Books Week Showcase on Unwind HERE.


7.  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern~ One of the most beautifully written novels  I've ever read.  I found myself slow-reading this so that it would last longer, then going ahead and listening to the audio after reading it.  Erin Morgenstern is going to have a really hard time topping this work of art!  Read my review HERE.

8.  Looking For Alaska by John Green~ This book touched my heart. I'm not a crier, but this one had me sobbing.  John Green has such a gift.  

9.  Shine by Lauren Myracle~ This was may favorite book of 2011, and since I've been blogging for about two years, obviously it has made my list.  If you haven't read this, please, PLEASE go read it.  It touched my very soul.  Read my review HERE.

10.  Everlost/Everwild/Everfound by Neal Shusterman~ These three books make up Shusterman's Skinjacker trilogy, and they are PHENOMENAL.  Such originality and lots of kick-ass adventure and intrigue.  Read my review of the third book, Everfound, HERE.


So- there you have it!  I could have made a much longer list, but when I went back through Goodreads, these were the top ten that jumped out at me, above many others.  Looking forward to reading everyone else's lists!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Review: The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry

Publisher:  Abrams Books
Publication Date:  May 1st, 2012

This dark and thrilling adventure, with an unforgettable heroine, will captivate fans of steampunk, fantasy, and romance.

On her 18th birthday, Lena Mattacascar decides to search for her father, who disappeared into the northern wilderness of Scree when Lena was young. Scree is inhabited by Peculiars, people whose unusual characteristics make them unacceptable to modern society. Lena wonders if her father is the source of her own extraordinary characteristics and if she, too, is Peculiar. On the train she meets a young librarian, Jimson Quiggley, who is traveling to a town on the edge of Scree to work in the home and library of the inventor Mr. Beasley. The train is stopped by men being chased by the handsome young marshal Thomas Saltre. When Saltre learns who Lena’s father is, he convinces her to spy on Mr. Beasley and the strange folk who disappear into his home, Zephyr House. A daring escape in an aerocopter leads Lena into the wilds of Scree to confront her deepest fears.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

This book was a tough one for me to review, which is probably why I'm reviewing it long after reading it.  I had to let it digest some, before I could truly appreciate it...  I will admit first that I was drawn to this book for one reason- the stunning cover.  I love the clockwork, the wings, the art.  It is a beautiful rendering, and very, very fitting to the story.  When I started reading The Peculiars, I wasn't sure if I was going to like it.  It was a little slow to start.  When I say "slow" though, I mean that I didn't feel compelled to drop things to read it.  Although there was a good bit of action from the beginning, it seemed irrelevant at the time.  About a third of the way through the book, that all changed though, and things began to fall into place.  Sometimes I really didn't like where the story was going, but things started to make more sense... The story is a unique one, with rich complexities, that require the reader to really stay with the story.  That is this book's strength and its weakness.  Readers who have a hard time keeping track of details are not going to enjoy this book as much, while those who thrive on the intricacies and subtle plot twists will love it.  The characters are all the type who have to grow on you.  There was not one, not even the protagonist, Lena, who I felt a quick connection to, and for most of them, it took me the entire book to work out whether I liked them or not.  As for the pacing, I mentioned before that it was a little slow to start, but it picked up quite well by about halfway through, and kept me turning pages until the end.  I really enjoyed the Steampunk elements of it, and I felt like the whole exile of the Peculiars added an emotional twist it it, that made me think of the prejudices that people who are different endure in our society, even now.  I greatly enjoyed the revelations of what was happening in Mr. Beasley's lab and his role in Lena's finding the answers she was looking for.  As far as the romance was concerned, I found it to be a little lacking.  It seemed forced, like it was added as an afterthought because YA novels MUST (insert sarcastic face here) always have a romance to be relevant.  I liked Jimson, but it just didn't click that way for me.  I would say the best part about this book would be the world building.  The author painted gorgeous pictures in my mind's eye of lush snowy landscapes, dilapidated, yet loved estates, and quaint, if depressed mining towns.  The Victorian era is a favorite of mine, and I think she nailed it.  I felt like I could picture every setting perfectly, just as she saw it when creating the story. 

Overall, I did end up liking The Peculiars more than I initially thought I was going to.  After sitting on it awhile, I feel even better about it.  It was well written, and the story was different from most of the YA Steampunk out there right now.  I can't say I agree with Booklist giving it a Starred Review, but I think it is a solid YA debut for Maureen Doyle McQuerry, and I think she is definitely one to watch in the future.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  There is some violence, but nothing graphic or over-the-top, and there's an innocent romance.  It's really very tame compared to most YA.  That being said, this book is rather detailed in its descriptions and plotline, and I think it would be hard for many younger readers to follow, even if the content is benign enough.  I would say this is best suited for readers age 10 and up (5th grade+).

Review: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date:  April 3rd, 2012

What if the world's worst serial killer...was your dad?

Jasper (Jazz) Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say.

But he's also the son of the world's most infamous serial killer, and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could--from the criminal's point of view.

And now bodies are piling up in Lobo's Nod.

In an effort to clear his name, Jazz joins the police in a hunt for a new serial killer. But Jazz has a secret--could he be more like his father than anyone knows?
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

This book has been on my radar for awhile.  I remember seeing it in the Hachette catalog last year and thinking, "That looks intense! I need to read that!", and then kind of forgetting about it.  When my *fabulous* book club decided to read it, I was excited because I now had no excuse not to.  Ya'll?  Can someone please explain to me why I waited?  This book is made of morbid awesomeness!  This is something I knew before I even cracked the spine...  How did I know this?  It was blurbed on the back jacket by not one of my favorite authors, but THREE!  Here...

"Something just ain't right about Barry Lyga, and that's good news for all of us.  I Hunt Killers is a dark carnival ride through twisty questions of good and evil, nature and nurture, with a DELICIOUSLY DEMENTED teen as your guide.  Buckle up and keep your hands inside the ride at all times." -Libba Bray, Printz Award-winning author of Going Bovine and the Gemma Doyle trilogy

"I adored this book.  The mystery pulls you in from the first pages, and Jazz is a more CHILLINGLY CHARMING protagonist than Dexter Morgan." -Cassandra Clare, author of the Mortal Instruments series

"Being inside the mind of Jazz is so COMPELLING AND DISTURBING that I no longer want to be left alone with Barry Lyga- but I do want to spend lots more time with Jazz." -Holly Black, author of Tithe and the Curse Workers series

Libba freaking Bray?  Cassie Clare?  Holly Black?  Yeah.  Needless to say, I was sold!  Then I opened the freaking book, and I was blown away! There is no introduction or buildup; we get our first body on page two, and they keep piling up from there.  That in and of itself makes for a great mystery, but what really draws you in is the snippets of Jazz's grotesque childhood that are triggered throughout the book.  You see, Jasper Dent, aka Jazz, was raised by his Dear Old Dad, the notorious serial killer, Billy Dent, and Billy taught him everything he knows.  Billy had grand ideas that Jazz would carry on his legacy, being an even better killer than him.  Billy didn't hold anything back, and he started Jazz's training at a VERY young age.  This book is disturbing, riveting, twisted, and downright horrifying, and I loved it.  I have to say it... Thomas Harris (The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Red Dragon), move over.  There's a new kid in town, and his name is Barry Lyga!

Now, I really want to go into detail about why I loved this book so much, but there is so much potential for spoilers, so I'm not going to.  I will say that the character development was absolutely brilliant.  Being inside of Jazz's head, trying to work out the whole nature vs. nurture thing along with him, was really compelling, and I honestly still don't quite know where I stand, because HE doesn't.  Then there were the supporting characters; his best friend Howie and his Granny, who both add a bit of levity to what would otherwise be an entirely dark and morbid tale; Connie, Jazz's girlfriend, who doesn't take his crap, and tells it like it is; local Sheriff G. William Tanner, the man who brought Billy Dent down, and is now on the new serial killer's case, and the list goes on...  Barry Lyga added an element of human connection to every single character mentioned, no matter how small a role they played, and it really added to the mystery and intrigue of the story.  

I don't think I need to to tell you any more about the plot to make you understand how engaging it is.  You are in the mind of a serial killer, via the the memories and thoughts of his teenage son, who is not sure if he will become like his dad because of his experiences and training from such a young age, while a copycat is committing murders of people he knows, in his back yard.  Um yeah.  So. Moving on.  Pacing... Everyone in my book club said the same thing...  They could NOT put this book down.  It is not at all predictable, and you will be blown away in the end.  I promise.  This book is so well written, so twisty and surprising, with little barbs thrown in here and there that make you say, "What?!?!", so often, that you happily forgo sleep just to find out what happens in the end.  It is one of the most engaging and astonishing books I've read. Finally, I have to comment on the cover.  The jacket is okay for me, but the actual cover is brilliant.  Don't buy the eBook of this one.  Pay the extra couple of bucks for the hardcover.  It is worth it!

Overall, I have to say that this is the best YA Psychological Thriller I have EVER read.  In fact, I'm going to venture and say that it is the best one I've read, YA or Adult.   If you like books like this, RUN out and buy it.  You won't regret it!  I can't wait for the second book in this series, Game (releases April 23, 2013),because while I Hunt Killers does wrap up nicely, there are still some seriously nagging questions in my mind.   I can promise you this... I will not be waiting for book club to read book two!  It will be read on release day, or sooner, if I can get my grubby paws on an advance copy. 

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This is not, I repeat, NOT a YA book that should be read by upper-level reading elementary or middle school age students.  This book is loaded with graphic violence, disturbing images, and horrifying acts of torture inflicted on people and animals.  If you wouldn't let your child read or watch The Silence of the Lambs, don't let him read this book.  I almost question this book's YA classification.  I would have classed it a an Adult novel, with crossover appeal for OLDER teens, like The Lovely Bones.  I think this is most appropriate for TEENS, ages 15 and older (grades 10 and up).

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Audiobook Review: Chomp by Carl Hiaasen, Narrated by James Van Der Beek

Publisher: Random House Audio/Listening Library/Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: February 27th, 2012

Wahoo Cray lives in a zoo. His father is an animal wrangler, so he's grown up with all manner of gators, snakes, parrots, rats, monkeys, snappers, and more in his backyard. The critters he can handle.  His father is the unpredictable one. 

When his dad takes a job with a reality TV show called "Expedition Survival!", Wahoo figures he'll have to do a bit of wrangling himself—to keep his dad from killing Derek Badger, the show's boneheaded star, before the shoot is over. But the job keeps getting more complicated. Derek Badger seems to actually believe his PR and insists on using wild animals for his stunts. And Wahoo's acquired a shadow named Tuna—a girl who's sporting a shiner courtesy of her old man and needs a place to hide out. 

They've only been on location in the Everglades for a day before Derek gets bitten by a bat and goes missing in a storm. Search parties head out and promptly get lost themselves. And then Tuna's dad shows up with a gun . . .

It's anyone's guess who will actually survive "Expedition Survival". . . 
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

With grand plans of doing a joint guest review, my husband actually buddy-read this with our (then) ten year old daughter in late 2011.  When he started animatedly telling me about it, gushing about the humor and wit, I told him that he didn't have to do the review... He got me excited for it, and being the selfish girl that I am, I wanted to review it myself.  But, as it usually does, time slipped by and I got more and more backed up on my review reading.  Well, imagine my excitement when I found Chomp in Audible's library (AND that it was read by Mr. Dawson's Creek himself, James Van Der Beek!)!  I promptly downloaded it and gave it a listen.

I am a fan of Carl Hiaasen.  Back in the day when I read books written for adults, I read quite a few of his adult novels (Skinny Dip, Sick Puppy, Nature Girl, Skin Tight, Star Island, etc.).  I've also read all of his MG novels as well (Flush, Hoot, Scat).  Between the facts I am already a fan, and that they show up on just about every summer reading list known to man, reading them was really a no-brainer.  It just stands to reason that I would like Chomp, right?  Right.  I did like it.  It was typical Carl Hiaasen; great characters, enticing plot and pacing, funny, adventurous, well-researched and informational, with smatterings of intelligent sarcasm throughout.  Just like every other book I've read by him, it takes place in Florida, and is heavily laced with eco-speak.  It is obvious that Mr. Hiaasen cares tremendously about our natural world, particularly the piece of it that we call Florida (and he calls home).  As a avid bird-nerd and conservationist myself, I applaud him for lacing his books with thought-provoking dialogue related to the damage we do, as humans, to our environment.  If his books open the eyes of even a small percentage of the people who read them to these facts, he has done a great service to our planet, and has entertained the masses at the same time!  Bravo!

But enough about my general feelings toward Carl Hiaasen, and on to this particular book...  I liked Chomp.  It wasn't perfect, and it wasn't my favorite of his books, but I probably laughed most reading this one.  I think the characters, or rather (for the most part), the caricatures, were the best part of the book.  There were too many great ones to list here, but each one was done so well, even the most minor of them.  The characterizations were spot-on; from the ratings-obsessed Hollywood producer, to the over-indulged TV star, to the bubba Everglades airboat tour guide, to the trailer-trash drunk, each added an element of entertainment and enjoyment to the story.  I don't know if everyone will get the same vibe off the characters that I did because I'm a bit biased.  I'm sure part of my enjoyment came from having lived in Florida for four years, and the fact that I encountered some of the latter type regularly.  For me, they were what made this story great.   

Told mostly from the POV of Wahoo Cray (How's that for a name? And yes, that's his REAL name!), Chomp takes us on a crazy adventure that takes us deep into the Florida Everglades, with a cast of characters that doesn't get any more bizarre.  Wahoo is great, and probably the most level headed and "adult" of the entire bunch.  He's the son of a renowned animal wrangler, and although his dad, Mickey, is great with the animals, he's rather flaky about the other facts of life.  When Wahoo's dad is hired by the TV show, Expedition Survival, to do a show in the Everglades, the adventures kick off and just keep getting nuttier.  The star of the show, Derek Badger, is a real piece of work.  He is supposed to be a cross between Steve Irwin and Bear Grylls, but he is really anything but.  The world sees him is this hard-core survivalist, but he is actually a pampered, spoiled, Hollywood creation (and former Irish Folk Dancer), who couldn't survive the county park without help.  He is the source of a great number of the laughs, and for me, played a huge part in making this story as good as it was. Added to Derek and his drama, was Wahoo's friend, Tuna, who they accidentally rescued from her abusive father (and the trailer they lived in, in the local Walmart parking lot).   While her whole situation added a bit of austerity to the story, it also provided a bunch of laughs as well, taking the story in a rather unexpected direction.  Along with the laughs, I really enjoyed being a casual observer to both the way Wahoo matured throughout the book, and how his sweet, unexpected relationship with Tuna evolved.  Carl Hiaasen wrote these parts so well, in in such a way that they didn't get lost beneath the laughs and adventure, and I think that takes a lot of talent.

As for the audio experience, I thought James Van Der Beek did a great job with it.  I thought his voice added a nice touch, breathing life into Wahoo's character, in particular.  I think I liked this book better this way, than I would have if I had just read the text version.  If you are considering reading this book, and enjoy audiobooks, you should definitely give this one a shot.

Overall, I think this was a good story.  Like I mentioned before, it wasn't my favorite by Carl Hiaasen, but it was well worth the listen/read.  This would be a great addition to any upper elementary or middle school classroom/library.  This book has appeal for not only the MG readers it was written for, but teens and adults as well.  In fact, I think my husband loved it even more than my daughter did.  It would be a great choice as a read-aloud for parents who still read to their older kids because both would enjoy it.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  Carl Hiaasen's MG books are not squeaky clean.  There are usually a few swears and almost always a bit of violence, although none of it graphic or gratuitous.  This book was no different.  Considering this, I think Chomp is appropriate for the average 4th grader and up.  (Ages 9+)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

ARC Review: Touched by Cyn Balog

Publisher:  Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date:  August 14th, 2012

Nick Cross always listens to the voice in his head. Because if he doesn't? Things can go really, really wrong. Like the day he decided to go off script and saved a girl from being run over . . . and let another one drown. Trying to change the future doesn't work.

But this summer at the Jersey Shore, something's about to happen that Nick never could have predicted. He meets a girl named Taryn and finds out about the Book of Touch. Now the path that he thought he was on begins to shift . . . and there's no way to stop things from happening. Or is there? 

In a life where there are no surprises, nothing has prepared Nick for what he's about to discover--or the choice he will be forced to make. . . .
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Disclaimer:  This review is going to be very short and sweet.  This is the type of book that even the smallest details will likely be spoilery, so I am avoiding them at all costs...

Well, this book was just full of surprises!  I have to admit that I was expecting something a whole lot more creeptastic, based on the cover and the font that the title is printed in. That said, I'm not disappointed with this book either.  Unexpected is sometimes a good thing, and this is one of those times.  The story moved along a nice pace, with new twists revealed at precise moments when I was beginning to feel like something new was needed for this book to hold my interest.  The romance could have been cliche, but ended up not being so, because the author wove in plausible explanations and details.  The characters were unapologetically flawed and achingly human because of it.  I liked that the future was constantly changing based on Nick's decisions whether to stay on of go off "script".  It not only kept things fresh, but really highlighted the agony of what life must have been like for him.  As far as the Book of Touch, and Taryn's involvement- that kind of threw me for a loop.  I feel like she should have told him everything from the beginning, and not revealed a little at a time.  But then, I guess the story's pacing would have suffered for it, so that part is forgiven.  I think that my favorite part of this book was how it ended.  It was unexpected and very satisfying.  There were some things that made me sad, but it fit well, and it kept me thinking about the book after I finished. 

Overall, Touched was a solid read.  It wasn't one of my favorite books ever, but I liked it.  It was entertaining and thought-provoking, and I like that it was a stand-alone; the world needs more of those!  If you like a twisty-turny mystery, with an ending you won't ever see coming, the check this book out!

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  This book is pretty clean.  There is innocent romance and some sad parts, but it is perfectly fine for the average 5th grader (ages 10 and up).

ARC Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Publisher:  BloomsburyUSA
Publication Date: August 7th, 2012

After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king's council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she'll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom. Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she's bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it's the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best. Then one of the other contestants turns up dead... quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

With each debut I've read this year, I believe more firmly, that 2012 is THE year of the debut, and this book has been one of my favorites.  Throne of Glass is absolutely PHENOMENAL!!  I really enjoy a good High Fantasy from time to time, with GOOD being the operative word.  Over the past few years, most of the HF novels I've read have fallen really short for me.  Of course, that is partly Kristin Cashore's fault for writing her brilliant Seven Kingdoms Trilogy (Graceling, Fire, Bitterblue), setting the bar so high, but honestly, the stuff that has come out in the genre just hasn't done much for me.  That changed this year.  First there was Shadow & Bone by Leigh Bardugo (read my review HERE), and now this gem, Throne of Glass.  Where to start when reviewing near perfection?

The central character is Celaena Sardothien, otherwise known as Adarlan's Assassin.  Celaena had been toiling away in the prison mines of Endovier, a horrible place where most don't survive a week, for over a year, when she was plucked out by the Crown Prince of Erilea, Dorian, and his loyal Captain of the Guard, Westfall.  Prince Dorian proposes an agreement- Celaena competes in a challenge to become the king's Champion.  If she wins, she will serve as the king's assassin for three years and then be free, if she loses, she will be returned to the mines until she inevitably dies there.  She accepts the challenge, with every expectation of winning.  She is, after all, the most skilled and notorious assassin that anyone has ever seen.  What she doesn't expect is what comes to pass over the course of her training and the challenge period...

Celaena is totally kick-ass.  I have always said that Katsa from Graceling is hands-down, my favorite kick-ass female heroine, and I have to say, Celaena gives Katsa a serious run for her money.  Celaena wasn't born with her abilities like Katsa was, she trained hard and learned everything she knew.  She is smart, witty, cunning, and forward-thinking.  She is beautiful, fit, amazingly strong for her small stature, and tough as nails. She is also very human and extremely emotionally damaged.  Each and every part of her person plays a part in shaping her experience at the king's palace, and I found myself repeatedly surprised at her combination of tenacity, ferocity, and vulnerability; it was a constant subtle reminder that in the end, she was just a young girl with extraordinary abilities.  

Celaena did not carry this story by herself, though.   Captain Westfall really intrigued me with his mysterious, stoic nature.  From time to time, he would slip, and let some of his humanity show, but for much of the book, I was as unsure of what to make of him as Celaena was.  Although, I have some inclinations now that this book is over, I still have a great many questions pertaining to WHO he really is, and those questions are really what have me most looking forward to the next installment in this series.  Another character I really liked, and from the other reviews I've read, I know I'm in the minority here, was Prince Dorian.  At first, I felt the same as Celaena did about him- I thought he was the pompous, over-privileged,  philandering, pawn of his viciously cruel father.  What both I and Celaena learned over the course of the story was that his only true fault was that he didn't have enough of a spine to stand up to his father, but that he had a very kind heart, one not cut out for what was expected of him.  I also really loved Princess Nehemia, and I truly hope we see much, much more of her in subsequent books.  As for the other champions, a few played important roles in the story, but none really had the lasting impact on me like the aforementioned characters; not did the other sponsors.  Even the antagonists, Cain, as revolting as he turned out to be, or Perrington and his girl Kaltain and their evil plots, didn't stay with with me, which is fine.  I prefer to dwell on the others in my mind, as I anticipate future stories taking place in this vividly breathtaking and horrible world.

As far as the story is concerned, I can't go into it much without spoilers, but I will say this... I went into this expecting a standard High Fantasy, and it very much started out that way.  What I didn't expect was the paranormal elements, the tumultuous romance, or the heart-pounding mystery that it evolved into.  Those elements are what set it apart from some of the other High Fantasies I've read, and made it absolutely riveting.  I loved the way the ended too.  Everything about it was unexpected, but at the same time, it didn't feel like a cliffhanger.  I think there is SO much more to this story, and I eagerly await more, but at the same time, I feel content, much like I do after a delectable dessert.  I will definitely jump at the chance to have that dessert again, but I don't feel the need to dive into a vat of it right now, but rather, just settle in and enjoy digesting it.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  There are a handful of hot make-out sessions, but no sex.  There is definitely violence.  That said, it is relatively tame compared to much that is out there.  I would say this is appropriate for 5th grade+ (ages 10 and up).

P.S.  Sarah Maas will be at the Decatur Book Festival, and I am super-excited!  Given my great LOVE for this book, I'm thinking of doing a giveaway of a signed finished copy.  What do ya'll think?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review: Love & Leftovers by Sarah Tregay

Publisher:  Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date:  December 27th, 2011

My wish
is to fall
cranium over Converse
in dizzy, daydream-worthy

(If only it were that easy.)

When her parents split, Marcie is dragged from Idaho to a family summerhouse in New Hampshire. She leaves behind her friends, a group of freaks and geeks called the Leftovers, including her emo-rocker boyfriend, and her father. By the time Labor Day rolls around, Marcie suspects this "vacation" has become permanent. She starts at a new school where a cute boy brings her breakfast and a new romance heats up.

But understanding love, especially when you've watched your parents' affections end, is elusive. What does it feel like, really? Can you even know it until you've lost it?
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

This was one of the Winter 2011 books that I had most looked forward to.  I knew nothing about it, but the cover alone had me wanting to get my hands on a copy- it's just too cute.  I got the book when it came out and pretty quickly, forgot that I had it.  A few months later I came across it again, and decided that despite its thickness, I would give it a go.  Upon opening it, I was surprised that it was written in free verse, like Ellen Hopkins's books.  I love Ellen's books (like, really, REALLY love them), and I tend to, probably unfairly, hold all other books written in this style up to her standard, so I immediately lowered my expectations...  Can I tell you?  There was absolutely no need!  Sarah Tregay may not do it quite as well as Ms. Hopkins, but as good as her debut is, I have a feeling she has it in her.  This book was very good!

Told in the form of protagonist, Marcie's diary/poetry journal entries, Love & Leftovers is a coming of age story that stands out from the pack.  Marcie is an interesting character.  She is happy with her life, her friends, her boyfriend (she thinks, maybe...).  Things shake up for her when her mother finds out that her father has been seeing another man on the side, and without thought, takes Marcie to her family lake house for a permanent vacation.  Marcie's mom ends up spending months wallowing in self pity and depression, leaving Marcie to fend for herself.  As she struggles with the fact that she misses her dad, her friends, and (maybe) her boyfriend back home, she also begins a new life at a new school, meets a boy who she finds herself drawn to, and starts to realize that maybe she wasn't as happy as she thought she was before.  Just as she settles into her new life, her mother sends her back to her father, friends, and boyfriend, and things are not the same, and never will be...

I loved the way Sarah Tregay wrote Marcie.  She was so achingly real as she went through the ups and downs of life.  I loved Marcie's voice, and the way she picked things apart in her poems.  He journey along the road of self-discovery was inspirational, and I often found myself getting emotional right along with her.  This book took me back to my high school years, and it made me remember the yin and yang of feeling like an invincible teenager one moment, and an insecure child the next.  There are some questions that don't have answers, or have too many answers, but certainly no right or wrong, and to me, that is what growing up is- the ability to recognize that.  I felt like Tregay really captured that.  

Overall, I would say that this book won't be for everyone.  People will either love it or hate it, and I think there won't be a lot of in-between.  There isn't any heart-stopping action or malice in this book- there is not even really an antagonist.  This book is romantic and emotional, with a touch of humor laced into it.  It's purely a feel-good, warm-fuzzies, coming-of-age story, that will make you smile in the end.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This book has a couple of hot and heavy make-out scenes and a few swears, but is otherwise clean.  Appropriate for 6th grade and up (ages 11+).

**Don't forget to check out my giveaway for a chance to win a hardcover cop of Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry!  Click HERE to enter!  Ends at 12:00am, August 14th, 2012**

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

ARC Review: The Goddess Legacy by Aimee Carter

Publisher: HarlequinTeen
Publication Date: July 31st, 2012

For millennia we've caught only glimpses of the lives and loves of the gods and goddesses on Olympus. Now Aime e Carter pulls back the curtain on how they became the powerful, petty, loving and dangerous immortals that Kate Winters knows.

Calliope/Hera represented constancy and yet had a husband who never matched her faithfulness....

Ava/Aphrodite was the goddess of love and yet commitment was a totally different deal....

Persephone was urged to marry one man, yet longed for another....

James/Hermes loved to make trouble for others-but never knew true loss before....

Henry/Hades's solitary existence had grown too wearisome to continue. But meeting Kate Winters gave him a new hope....

Five original novellas of love, loss and longing and the will to survive throughout the ages. 
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I am a big fan of retellings.  I adore a good Fairy Tale Retelling, and lately retellings of Greek myths have really grown on me.  I never paid much attention when we studied Greek mythology in school, and I think that had a lot to do with the fact that my teachers kind of glossed over, or skipped altogether, the more entertaining parts of the lore- the affairs, the debauchery, the betrayals, the sex...  Through my reading of these retellings, I have found a renewed interest, and I look at the original stories in an entirely different light now.  Aimee Carter's series, beginning with The Goddess Test, is one of the ones that sparked this renewed interest.  The Goddess Legacy is the third (actually, it's titled as number 2.5) book in the series, and thus far, is my favorite.  The Goddess Test begins with the story of Henry/Hades and Kate, and her quest to pass the tests set forth by the Olympians so that she may become one of them, Henry's bride, and Queen of the Underworld.  Goddess Interrupted picks up where The Goddess Test leaves off, and ends with one of those horrible cliffhangers that makes the reader ponder and pine for more (read my review HERE).  Both are centered around Kate and Henry's relationship, and while many of the other gods and goddesses have roles, their stories and motivations are not stated.  The Goddess Legacy gives those stories an opportunity to be told.  It consists of five novellas, each telling the story of a god or goddess who had an integral role in the first two books.  Each is told from the POV of the god or goddess in question, and while not all of their stories evoked my sympathy, they did earn my understanding of their motivations and behaviors.

In the first two books Hera/Calliope is painted in a rather negative light.  Her negative traits include bitterness, selfishness, and a manipulative nature, and that is only to name a few of many.  She is cast as the total villain, and rightly so.  In The Goddess Legacy, as her life story and motivations are revealed, it becomes glaringly obvious why she has become the goddess she has become.  Did I ever grow to like her or excuse her actions because of it?  No.  But I can better understand how she came to be the goddess she is in the first books.  She has experienced much pain and suffering at the hands of others, over the course of her eternity.  Because of her pride and principles, she made some very deplorable and misguided decisions, of which there seems to be no end in sight. I still don't like her, but I now feel some pity for her.

Next was Aphrodite/Ava's story, and my opinion of her actually changed, after getting the skinny on who she actually is.  In the first two books, I felt sorry for her.  She showed some selfish tendencies, and she often made some questionable choices, but I honestly thought that those things were mainly a result of her lack of intelligence.  Wrong!  She is one manipulative, cunning girl.  Obviously she is her daddy's (Zeus) favorite, and she milks it for all it's worth.  She is spoiled and self-absorbed, and almost always gets what she wants, come hell or high water.  One scene that sticks out in my mind is when she argues with Persephone over Adonis; she isn't getting her way, and she shouts, "Daddy!", and Zeus immediately arrives to sort things out.  She is like a mythological Veruca Salt (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, for those of you who have been living under rocks).  She is entertaining, but she is a brat.  Her only redeeming quality is the tenderness she shows toward Hephaestus and Eros, but in my mind, it isn't nearly enough.

After Aphrodite, we "meet" Persephone.  Compared to Persephone, Aphrodite's selfishness looks like martyrdom.  That said, I still felt more sympathetic toward her because she was truly a victim of the poor choices that others made on her behalf.  Zeus and her mother, Demeter, arranged the marriage she did not want, Hades allowed it to happen, and Hera clearly cursed the possibility of their union to ever working.  I'm glad Persephone found her happiness in the end, even as badly as I feel for Hades.

Next up is the story of Hermes/James...  In the first two books I didn't care much for him.  It wasn't that I disliked him, I just kind of felt indifferent.  Now, after reading his story, I really like him to the point that he is one of my favorite characters.  I enjoyed his story the most, and I really loved learning how each of the gods/goddesses got their "modern" names and why.  I felt like he had the most depth and humanity.

Finally, we learn more about Hades/Henry, and the circumstances leading up to his story in the first two books.  Having more of his background really helped me to understand him as it pertains to his cautious nature as far as Kate was concerned.  All of the gods/goddesses suffered to some degree, but he had it the worst.  At least they had one another to comfort them in their moments of pain, but he was alone in the Underworld.  Still, he almost always make selfless choices, even ones that the others didn't understand or hated him for.  I like the path Aimee Carter took when telling his story, and it makes me look forward to The Goddess Inheritance all the more.

Overall, this compilation of novellas really added to my enjoyment of this series.  If you've read and enjoyed Aimee's books to this point, make this one a priority on your TBR.  If you haven't read the first two books, that's okay, you can still read this one and fully understand what is going on.  The stories stand alone, but I will warn you, once you get a taste of Aimee's take on these characters, you will want to read more!

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  There is definitely some sex (Aphrodite is the goddess of it, after all) and a few of the characters definitely have some issues with morality, but otherwise this book is clean.  I stand by my grade level recommendation for the first two books.  Grades 6 and up (ages 11+).

**Don't forget to check out my giveaway for a chance to win a hardcover cop of Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry!  Click HERE to enter!  Ends at 12:00am, August 14th, 2012**