Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Noirish What I Saw and How I Lied Sleek, But Not Wholly Satisfying

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Evie Spooner's used to going without. It's what she did during the war. It's what everyone did. Now that Hitler's been defeated and the troops have come home, though, things are changing. Victory gardens are turning back into lawns; food's no longer being rationed; people are buying new homes; things are looking up for everyone. Even though Evie's still stuck living with her battleaxe of a step-grandmother, she's thrilled that her stepdad made it home from the war in one piece. Now that Joe Spooner's building up a successful appliance business, their little family might finally be able to leave the city for a quaint suburban house of their own.

When Evie's dad suggests a spur-of-the-moment trip to sunny Florida, it seems to be just one more sign of the Spooners' newfound prosperity. Evie's never stayed in a hotel before, so the prospect of spending weeks in one feels so glamorous she wants to squeal with delight. So what if Palm Beach is basically deserted this time of year? There are enough guests at Le Mirage to make things interesting, especially when handsome Peter Coleridge shows up. Even though he's 8 years older than Evie, she quickly falls for her father's dashing army buddy. After so much "making do" during the war years, she feels like she's finally arrived - she's summering in tony West Palm, sunning herself on the beach, drinking freshly-squeezed orange juice, finally getting some attention from not just a boy, but a man, and doing it all without her grandmother's evil eye boring through her.

Evie hardly notices when things start to unravel. Only after a horrifying boat accident does she realize just how wrong things have become. It's only afterward, when she's forced to consider the events of the summer, that she finally asks herself the tough questions: Who was Peter, really? Was the tension she felt between him and her father just because of Peter's attention to Evie? And what truly occurred on the boat that night? The truths will shock her to her core, making her question not only herself, but also the people she loves the most.

Judy Blundell brings 1947 to vivid life in the noirish What I Saw and How I Lied, painting the post-war years in all their glitz and careful optimism. It's only through quick snapshots that the reader senses a dark undercurrent drifting below the story's glittering. Before he/she even really knows it, the reader's swept into a taut, well-paced thriller that's suddenly very hard to put down. Evie's infernal naivete makes the finale rather predictable, but there's enough going on to keep things interesting.

Whether it is that predictability, or Evie herself, or just a kind of coldness in the novel's tone, I didn't love this one like I wanted to. There's no question that the book is well-written and I don't hesitate to recommend it to fans of the genre - it's just not my favorite. Still, What I Saw and How I Lied is a sleek, smart little mystery that many will find riveting.

(Readalikes: I can't think of any, can you?)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language and sexual innuendo/mature themes

To the FTC, with love: I received this book from Scholastic. Thanks!

The Mortal Instruments: The End, But Not Really

(While this review will not contain spoilers for The City of Glass by Cassandra Clare, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from the previous two books in The Mortal Instruments trilogy. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Unlike City of Bones and City of Ashes, City of Glass takes place almost entirely in the ShadowHunter's fairy tale land of Idris. Having battled their way through a bloody fight with Valentine, the New York delegation is headed to their homeland to convince the Clave to stand against the power-hungry madman. Clary wants to stop her father as badly as any of them, but she's also desperate to save her mother - and the only one who can help her with that is a magician living in Idris. Jace is dead set against her going. Clary doesn't care. She's not about to be left out. So, when Jace tricks her into staying back, she finds her own way into the magical world. No one's too happy to see her, especially since she dragged a werewolf along with her.

Clary's got better things to do than fight with Jace, so she sets out in search of the magician who holds the antidote that can cure her mother. With the help of Sebastian, a hot - and very interested - foreign ShadowHunter, she tromps all over the city. Although the tour brings back vague memories from her earliest childhood, it doesn't produce the magician she seeks. In fact, the whole thing feels wrong. Something is very off in Alicante, the ShadowHunters' beloved City of Glass. When the place fills with bloodthirsty demons, Clary's horrified. If the ShadowHunters can't come up with some way to defeat Valentine, they will all be slaughtered in a battle against evil that can't possibly be won. Clary knows her gifts are special, but are they any match for those of her all-powerful father? Her only hope is to find the answers she's been seeking all along: Who is she? What is her purpose? What does Valentine want? Can he be stopped? How?

Still conflicted over her feelings for both Jace and Simon, Clary must answer the questions her heart's asking as well. Then, there's Sebastian. And Aline. Do new friends mean new rivalries? With so much turmoil in Alicante, including anger over her presence there, should she just give up and go back to New York? After all, things made sense there. Or should she stick it out and demand the answers for which she came? When Valentine descends, will she even have a choice? Or will she be annihilated along with everyone she loves?

I read City of Glass, the heart-pounding conclusion to The Mortal Instruments trilogy in one reading because, well, I couldn't help myself. It helps that I have to be in seclusion thanks to my radioactive iodine treatment, but still - can you say addicting? Even though I had a pretty clear idea how the story would end up, I still loved plowing through the finale of this entertaining and inventive series. As satisfying as its end is, I can't help sniffling a little to know the story's over. Luckily, Clare's working on a series of prequels, the first of which will be released on August 31. So, while it's over, it's not really, really over. Can you hear me now? I'm the one squealing for joy!

(Readalikes: City of Bones and City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare; Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer; a little like the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for language, sexual innuendo and violence

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Mortal Instruments II Leaves Me Begging For More



(While this review will not contain spoilers for City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare, it may inadvertently ruin plot surprises from its predecessor, City of Bones. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

It wasn't all that long ago that Clary Fray lived a normal life. She spent her days painting, hanging out with her best friend, Simon, and lounging around the New York apartment she shared with her mom. She didn't believe in demons, had never heard of ShadowHunters, and didn't have impossible feelings for the incorrigible Jace Wayland. It wasn't that long ago, but it feels like forever since Clary's life plodded by so mundanely.

These days, she's accepted her role in the ShadowHunter world, even if it hasn't quite welcomed her. She doesn't blame the other demon-slayers for their reluctance - after all, her father is Valentine, the rogue ShadowHunter, whose lust for power threatens them all. He's clearly the mastermind behind the recent murders of Downworlder children, obviously behind the thefts of precious magical objects. Clary has to help Jace convince the obstinate Clave to see the truth, before it's too late for them all. As if Armageddon isn't quite enough on its own, she has to figure out how to wake her mother from a magic-induced coma. And then there's the small matter of Clary's heart - her pinings for Jace are completely wrong as are her feelings for Simon. Will the confusion never end? Will Clary ever figure out where she belongs?

City of Ashes takes everything I loved about City of Bones and cranks it up a notch. Heart-stopping action, engaging characters, deepening plotlines, romance, humor - this one's got it all. Including a cliffhanger ending. Don't read this one without having the last volume, City of Glass, in hand because, trust me, you are not going to want to stop reading this fabulous trilogy until you get to the end. Even then, you'll beg for it to go on and on and on.

(Readalikes: City of Bones and City of Glass by Cassandra Clare; Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer; a little like the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling)

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for some language, sexual innuendo, and violence

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I Don't Like Westerns. I Don't Like Romances. I Loved This Anyway.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

If you visit this blog regularly, you know I rarely read romance. And I never read Westerns. So, what gives? Why did I decide to step so far out of my literary comfort zone and give Kaki Warner's Pieces of Sky a try? I'm not sure. All I know is, I'm glad I did.

Warner's debut novel is the first in a trilogy about the Wilkins Family, a group of brothers caught in a vicious feud over the rights to RosaRoja ranch. Sancho Ramirez, a bloodthirsty bandero, has vowed to avenge his family and take back the land his father once dominated. The three Wilkins brothers, having already lost their parents and a younger brother to the fight, want only peace. Even if it means stringing Sancho up by his cojones to get it.

Into the midst of the battle steps prim and proper Englishwoman Jessica Thornton. She never intends to get mixed up with anything as uncouth as a cowboy, but when her stagecoach crashes, Brady Wilkins comes to her rescue. As she recovers at his ranch, Jessica comes to realize there may be more to the boorish cattle wrangler than meets the eye (not that what meets the eye doesn't have a certain rugged appeal). Harboring her own secrets, she's desperate to heal and get on her way. She can't put her new friends in danger when her past comes calling, but the longer she lingers, the more she wants to stay. Suddenly, the desert doesn't seem so desolate, the people not so improper, the cowboys not nearly as uncomely. Still, Brady's made it obvious he cares about only two things (well, three, but that's clearly reserved for the beautiful Elena): taking his revenge on Sancho Ramirez and cultivating his beloved RosaRoja. Jessica knows she'll never fit in in the wild American West - so why can't she make herself leave?

I know I'm making Pieces of Sky sound like a trashy bodice-ripper, but - like rangy Brady Wilkins himself - there's a lot more to it than meets the eye. First of all, the story's engrossing, the characters believable, and the setting really comes alive. Really. I'm a (very) reluctant desert dweller, and I still wanted to live at RosaRoja. Secondly, it's not just a western, and it's not just a romance - there's all kinds of stuff going on in the story. This makes it exciting, romantic, adventurous, funny, lighthearted and heartbreaking all at the same time. Speaking of romance, it's definitely sexy, but also sweet. Sure, the story's predictable, but there's enough conflict that Happily Ever After doesn't come too easily. The best part about the novel, though, is that it's only the beginning of what promises to be a lovely, sweeping saga about one of the most romantic periods in American history.

Just to reiterate:

I don't like westerns.

I don't like romances.

Pieces of Sky by Kaki Warner is both. I loved it anyway.

(Readalikes: I rarely read in this genre, so I don't know what to compare it to. Lonesome Dove, maybe? The story I kept thinking of while reading it is Australia, the movie.)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language, crude humor/sexual innuendo, sexual content, violence

To the FTC, with love: I received this book for review from the author's publicist. Thanks!

Author Chat: An Interview with Kaki Warner (with a Giveaway!)

Today, I'm happy to welcome the lovely Kaki Warner to Bloggin' 'bout Books. Kaki's the author of The Blood Rose Trilogy, the first novel of which I reviewed above. The second, Open Country, will be available in June and the final volume, Chasing the Wind, comes out in January 2011.

Me: Welcome, Kaki!

KW: Thanks for inviting me to visit today, Susan. (And thanks for being such a good sport about the Mormon comment—yikes!—busted!)

Me: I'm glad to have you. And, for the millionth time, it's totally find! I thought the Mormon Mention was hilarious. Not offensive. Really!

Me: Tell me about The Blood Rose Trilogy. I just finished the first book, PIECES OF SKY, and I HAVE to know what's going to happen next!

KW: Book 2, OPEN COUNTRY comes out June 1st and I’m very excited about it because even though it centers on a different brother, the characters from Book 1, Brady and Jessica, are still very much on scene. In fact, I couldn’t shut Brady up, bless his heart. This second book is about Hank—the middle brother, the quiet one, the tinkerer, and the family peacemaker when necessary—and Molly, a gifted Civil War nurse on the run with her late sister’s children. After a train derailment, Molly, out of money and desperate to evade the children’s vicious stepfather, marries a severely injured passenger, hoping to get the railroad settlement when he dies. Except the stranger doesn’t die, and when Hank awakens with no memory and a wife and two kids he knows nothing about, things get really complicated. As his memory slowly returns and their sham marriage flounders in a tempest of distrust and betrayal, a killer tracks Molly to the Wilkins ranch, forcing her to decide about how far she will go to protect the man and children she loves.

Book 3, CHASING THE SUN, is Jack’s story. Jack, the adventurer, the wanderer, the one who left, and who now returns to find the ranch in jeopardy and old resentments still unresolved. Trapped between his duty to his brothers, his childhood sweetheart, and a woman from his past, he has to battle his own demons and confront choices about what he owes to his family, himself, and the woman he loves. Oh, yeah. And a bear.

Me: Sounds fun. Why did you choose to write about this place and time (The American Southwest - 1860s)? Why do you think this time period lends itself so easily to romance, especially considering that all those people out on the rancho had to be a dusty, sweaty, stinky bunch?

KW: Stinky? There’s no stink in romance, Susan. Sweat, OK. But no stink.

I think the late 1860s through the 1880s is a very romantic period in our history. Wide open spaces, unlimited possibilities, cheap land, the myth of the cowboy, the Code of the West. Check out Zane Grey’s 1934 book by that title, and you’ll find simple rules of honorable behavior that focused on accountability (sometimes sudden and harsh), hospitality (even to your enemies), respect for women (and your horse), where the bad guys were really bad, and the good guys were only marginally bad, and what you did today was more important than what you did in the past. It was a glorious, violent, lawless time in our history, and for those with the courage to prevail against an unforgiving land and hostile climate, the rewards could be great. And then, of course, what could be more romantic than a handsome man on a fine-looking horse riding off into the sunset?

Me: Agreed. One of the big themes in PIECES OF SKY is the importance of the land. Why do you think land was so important to the early settlers? As a desert dweller who lives in a dry, dusty place filled with lizards, scorpions, cactus, coyotes, etc., I sometimes wonder exactly what Jessica does in the book - How can anyone love a place as brown and untamed as this? What do you think? Just like me, you've lived in both the desert and the Pacific Northwest - which suits you more?

KW: Land is forever. It was here before we came and it’ll cradle us when we die. That continuity is what gives us our sense of history, of being a part of something bigger than ourselves. As dramatic as it sounds, I feel that open land is the best of the human spirit put in tangible form, and how we take care of it, now and back then, decides whether we survive or not. I think Jessica comes to realize that—and grows to love it for its durability and uncompromising honesty, even though it isn’t always beautiful, or kind, or gentle—sort of like Brady. Land is life.

Granted, some parts of that life are less loveable than others, which is why I picked a setting that covers both the starkness of the desert and the lushness of a high mountain ranch. It’s a lot like the country I live in now—almost mountains and almost desert—where we still have cougars, rattlers, coyotes, bears, deer, and now re-located wolves (not sure about that one), and we also endure snow and sub-zero temps in the winter, and more sun than we want in summer. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.

Me: I know you grew up in Texas riding horses and such, but how would you have survived in one of your stories? You know, no regular bathing, living in isolation on a rancho, birthing babies without epidurals, fending off sexy cowboys, etc.?

KW: Epidurals? Is that some new fangled name for that leather strip you’re supposed to bite on? Hmmm. After the first birth—being a quick learner and not that fond of pain—I probably would have put a stop to that foolishness by sending off for a box of those rubber sheaths Charles Goodyear invented in 1853. Isolation? My husband and I, along with our stinky coon dog and a whiny cat live eighty miles from a mall or the nearest COSTCO, which to some might be “living in isolation.” Suits us fine. As to regular bathing, if you have a rain barrel, a crick, a river, a water trough, a well, or a pond (which we would call a “tank” in Texas), you can bathe. Did they back then? Maybe in summer. In a romance? Daily. As for fending off sexy cowboys—I would endeavor to persevere. But not very hard.

Me: 1853? I did NOT know that. LOL.

What would you say to readers who (like me) may be a tiny bit reluctant to pick up a book that is not only a western, but also a romance? Why should they read your trilogy?

KW: Because they want people to see how smart and discerning they are. Or because they want to broaden their horizons. Or because it has a beautiful cover. Or because I dare you NOT to like the characters. It’s a good story. Try it. You might like it.

Me: Are there any other genres that appeal to you or do you think you'll stick with westerns/historical romance?

KW: I like most everything. I read most everything, as long as it has strong characters and a compelling story. For now I’ll stick to this genre since I’ve already done all the research.

Me: Tell me about your path to becoming a published writer. Did you enjoy writing as a child? Did you dream about growing up to be a writer? How has your life changed now that you're an "almost semi-famous author?"

KW: My path to publications was long and full of detours. I started Pieces of Sky over twenty-five years ago after reading a ghastly book and thinking surely I could do better. The first draft wasn’t. So I set it aside and went back to life, and family, and kids. But every now and then I’d drag the manuscript back out and re-do this and revise that before some other detour pulled me away again. Then about four years ago I found the manuscript in storage, and before throwing it out, decided to give it another read. It wasn’t that bad. Or that good. So I did another re-write and entered it in several contests for feedback. After making suggested changes, I tightened my cinch (so to speak) and started sending out queries. Four months later, I was happily tucked under the wing of a great agent (Nancy Coffey), and contracted to a great editor at Berkley (Wendy McCurdy) and had the distinction of becoming the oldest living instant twenty-five year overnight semi-success. The only thing that has changed since then is that complete strangers, who are brilliant and discerning (much like yourself) send me questions to ponder, as if my answers actually have meaning. Amazing. But no paparazzi yet. Or calls from Oprah. So far.

Me: Did you read as a child? What were your favorite books? How about now?

KW: Of course I read as a child. I may have grown up in Texas, but I wasn’t raised by badgers. Not really. Favorite picture book? Petunia the Silly Goose. Favorite I-can-read-it-myself book? White Fang. Favorite book now? Pieces of Sky, of course. Or maybe Open Country. Or Chasing the Sun. Hmmm. Such wonderful choices. (Does that sound too self-promoting?)

In truth, I have tons of authors I love, in all different genres. Dean Koontz, Bernard Cornwell, Sara Donati, Jodi Thomas, Eloise James, Jane Austen, Nelson DeMille, Larry McMurtry, Michael Crichton, Ken Follett, Dan Brown, Robert Parker…getting bored, yet?

Me: Badgers? LOL. I wasn't trying to "mess with Texas" - I'm just amazed how many writers discovered reading later in life. Apparently, you're not one of them :)

Is it really a secret, or can you tell me what you're working on now?

KW: I’m currently working on a proposal for a trilogy about four women who get stranded in a dying mining town in Colorado in 1870. That, and convincing my husband to enlarge our kitchen.

Me: Finally, I ask this of every author I interview simply because I found the answers fascinating in their variety: How do you write? Do you outline or just let the words come? Do you write on a set schedule or wait for the muse to strike? Where do you write? Is there anything you HAVE to have by your side when you write (food/beverage/lucky object, etc.). What sets you apart from other authors?

KW: Good question. For this trilogy, since the ranch is the home for all three books, I came up with the setting first. Then the brothers. Once I had them in my mind, their individual personalities dictated the tone of each book, and their motivations determined the plot points. Then I wrote scenes, discarded half of them, and heavily edited what was left. And finally, I read every page aloud to find faulty transitions and redundant words, and to entertain the dog.

I try to write twenty polished, edited pages a week, my final goal being to submit manuscripts that don’t have to be returned for re-writes and can go straight to copyediting. So far I’m two out of three. (I hate revising).

I write in a lovely office my husband built for me with wraparound windows and a wonderful view of the Sawtooth Mountains, except for that tree he planted just outside the window, but we won’t get into that.

What sets me apart from other authors? My late start. That, and my astonishing luck that it even happened at all. There are a lot of great writers out there still waiting for their chance.

So there you have it. The life story of an almost semi-famous twenty-five-year overnight success. Have I inspired you to write? Maybe. Have I convinced you NEVER to give up? I hope so.

Me: Thanks so much, Kaki!

KW: Thanks, Susan, for letting me spout off today. It’s been grand.

-----

Isn't she fun? Even if I hated her book, I think I'd still love Kaki. As it is, love the book, love the author.

Thanks to Kaki's publicist, I have one copy of Pieces of Sky to give away. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post answering this question: What's the best western and/or romance you've ever read? Be sure to leave me an email address if you don't have a public blog that you check regularly. Spread the word about the giveaway (post on your blog/sidebar, Tweet, Facebook, whatever) and I'll give you extra entries (1 extra entry per method of spreading the word). Deadline to enter is April 15. Open to readers in the U.S. only.

Good luck!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mortal Instruments Like A Drug - and I Need Another Hit

Pandemonium is a trip. As New York City's hottest all-ages club, the place guarantees a spectacle - garish tattoos, candy-colored hair, intricate costumes, mind-dulling trance music - there's always something new to see, taste or try. It's a colorful, dizzying, dream-like world so different from Clary Fray's usual humdrum existence, that the 15-year-old just can't get enough. Even when she witnesses what appears to be a murder, it's tainted with the strangeness that suffuses every square inch of Pandemonium. Her sudden appearance in a deserted storeroom stuns the would-be killers, her boldness saving a blue-haired boy - at least momentarily - but the assassins seem unconcerned with Clary's presence. They're talking about demons, Shadowhunters and some weirdo named Valentine. Are the "murderers" acting out some crazy role play game? Are they hopped up on drugs? Or has Pandemonium completely warped her mind? Even outside the club, she can barely think clearly. She's seeing things that aren't there, knowing things she's never learned, remembering events that never occurred. What's happening to her?

When Clary's mother goes missing, apparently at the hands (well, claws) of a demon, Clary must face the fact that everything she's ever known - about her parents, her home, herself - is a lie. The "killers" from Pandemonium seem to be the only ones with any clue as to what's going on. The teenagers claim to be Shadowhunters, beings created to track and kill demons. Whatever they really are, Clary is drawn to their energy, their powerful convictions, their sexy confidence. And the fact that they're the only ones who can help find her mother. Jace, an especially fine specimen of - well, whatever he is - helps Clary see the dark, fantastical underbelly of New York society, a strange, nightmare land that holds her mother somewhere in its clutches.

Clearly, Jace belongs in this bizarre alternate world, but what does it have to do with Clary and her mother, the most boring "mundies" on the planet? As she desperately searches for her mom, Clary realizes the person she really has to find is herself. Who is she, truly? What are the Shadowhunters really after? What do the demons want with her mother? What will Clary have to do - to accept - to save herself and those she loves?

Just when I was really getting sick of demons, vampires, werewolves and the whole crazy, copycat genre of YA urban fantasy, Cassandra Clare creates a series that finally pumps some life (so to speak) back into this tired category. Although City of Bones doesn't quite live up to its hype, it's still an imaginative, engrossing debut that will leave readers clamoring for more. It's sexy, funny, addicting - and I sorely need another hit.

(Readalikes: Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer; a little like Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for language, sexual innuendo and violence

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Delicate Dress Guarantees Memories of Stolen Childhoods Will Never Be Forgotten

(Image from Barnes & Noble)


One dark night in 1943, 8-year-old Lola Rein sneaks out of the Jewish ghetto. She whispers past buildings, quiet as a mouse, always on the look out for guards. Once she makes it to the bridge, she's safe - for now. A Ukrainian woman hides Lola in her farmhouse. Until it becomes too dangerous. On another dark night, the farm wife hustles Lola across the fields to a different hiding spot. Sheathed in her favorite dress - the one her mother made for her, the one with the beautiful, delicately stitched flowers - Lola slides deep into the dirt under someone's root cellar. Although there are other Jews there, none are her family. Lola's father is dead, her mother has been shot by the Gestapo, and her beloved Babcia (grandma) remains in the ghetto. She is all alone. For nine months, she crouches in the filthy hole. Not once does she take off the dress.

With this startling detail, so horrifying in its wrongness, begins the incredible true story of Lola Rein Kaufman. The Hidden Girl is her account (written with the help of YA author Lois Metzger) of a childhood ruined by Hitler's determination to exterminate the world's Jewish population. In her unsentimental, no-nonsense voice, Lola describes how she became one of the thousands of Jewish children hidden away during the war. Although she was "lucky" enough to avoid death camps and gas chambers, she stresses that

It's hard to feel lucky. We did what we could and what seemed to make sense, but even when things went right, we were scared every moment. That's not what "lucky" feels like (87).

Even when she was allowed to emerge from hiding, Lola's plight continued. With no family to care for her, she was left to scrabble on her own. Eventually, she found her way to America. There, she was able to begin a new life for herself. Years later, after pressing the terror of the war years into the deepest recesses of her mind, she felt compelled to share her story.

Her favorite embroideried dress now lays in a musem, a delicate reminder of the innocence stolen from thousands of children who spent what should have been their carefree years trembling in their dark hiding spots. It speaks of their strength, their courage, their resilience. Lola's dress guarantees that, although thousands of childhoods died in the darkness, their stories will see the light. Never, ever to be forgotten.

Lola Rein Kaufman's dress is now on display at The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Learn more about her and her story here.

(Readalikes: Anne Frank, The Diary of A Young Girl; Rutka's Notebook: A Voice From the Holocaust by Rutka Laskier)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: While stories about The Holocaust can never be rated anything less than R for senseless violence and abject horror, The Hidden Girl is written with a young audience in mind. It contains violence and mature themes, but they are described in a PG manner that should be suitable for children ages 8+.

To the FTC, with love: I received this review book from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Salt-Free, Dairy-Free, Chocolate-Free Par-tay!

It's Friday, and I'm celebrating. Why? Because I got a huge box of shiny new books today? No. Because I'm going out on a hot date with my husband? I wish. No, I'm celebrating because I got the results of my blood work back and my thyroid/iodine levels are low enough for my iodine radiation treatment. Woo hoo! I know, it may not seem like much to be celebrating, but it is. I've been on a low-iodine diet this week and it's seriously just about been the death of me. No iodized salt, no dairy, no CHOCOLATE. Can you imagine? It's been horrendous. By Tuesday, I should be locked away from the world-at-large, alone with my books, feasting on chocolate, and glowing like a firefly. Ahhh ... now that's worth celebrating, don't you think?

Okay, maybe you don't understand my enthusiasm, so chew on this: The Book Blogger Hop over at Crazy-For-Books.com is in full-swing. This fun, weekly meme encourages us to hop around and discover all the great book blogs out there (hint: there are TONS). Click on over to sign up. If you're here because of the hop, be sure to let me know. If you're here just because you love me, then thanks :)

I'm so excited I think I'll make myself a baked potato loaded with unsalted butter and non-iodized salt. I might even throw in some steamed unseasoned vegetables, just for fun. Do I know how to party, or what?

Mormon Mentions: Kaki Warner


I won't be posting my review of Kaki Warner's Pieces of Sky until the 30th, but I wanted to share a passage from the book.

I haven't done a Mormon Mention in awhile, so I'll explain: As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly called The Mormons), I always find it funny/interesting/outrageous to see what non-members write about us. So, I like to share what I find along with my thoughts. What's the purpose of this little event? To laugh, to learn and to clear up misconceptions.

Here goes:

"Shut up." Brady stomped over to the desk. Yanking open the bottom drawer, he grabbed his special bottle of Hannah Goodman's Red-Rye Whiskey, reputed to be the finest brew to come out of Mormon country and guaranteed to turn an ugly woman pretty, or a confirmed bachelor into a polygamist with a single sip" (243).

Ha ha! I guess we know how Joseph Smith and Brigham Young enticed a "sober" people into something as illicit as polygamy. Should I be sniffing my Sacrament cup a little more closely each week?? Hmm ...

While you count down the days until the 30th, click on over to Kaki's blog and read all about her. She's a warm, funny lady. Pieces of Sky is her debut novel and the first in a trilogy about life on a ranch in New Mexico Territory during the 1860s and '70s. It's a western and a romance, but don't let that stop you - it's a very enjoyable read!

(Book image from Barnes & Noble)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Forbidden Falls: An Extreme Makeover, Virgin River Style

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for Forbidden Falls, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from previous Virgin River books. Do yourself a favor and read the series in order!)

What do you get when you cross a minister, a stripper and an old church in serious need of a facelift?

No, that's not the opening to a dirty joke, it's the premise behind Forbidden Falls, Book 9 in Robyn Carr's heartwarming Virgin River series. Although the book actually follows a novella (titled "Under the Christmas Tree," it can be found in the Christmas collection "That Holiday Feeling!"), it picks up where Paradise Valley (Book 7) left off. The story begins with the old town church. Once a beautiful sanctuary, it's now a crumbling wreck. No one in their right mind would buy it, which gives crusty Hope McCrea a bright idea - she can auction it off on eBay. Her idea works like a dream, bringing newly-ordained minister Noah Kincaid into town.

Noah fits no one's idea of a preacher. He's young, handsome, down-to-Earth and decidedly more comfortable in a flannel shirt and ragged jeans than a shiny suit. What he lacks in experience, he makes up for in enthusiasm. Most importantly, he's got some inheritance money. Not a lot, but enough to give the church a well-deserved extreme makeover. It doesn't take long, though, before he realizes the project's a lot bigger than he can handle alone. Enter Ellie Baldwin. She's not what Noah had in mind for a preacher's assistant. With her tight clothes, pancake makeup and teased hair, she is, in fact, the exact wrong type of girl to be helping with the job. Noah knows tongues will never stop wagging if he hires the sexy 25-year-old. Too bad she's a whiz with a broom, a dynamo with a paintbrush, and the best darn organizer he's ever known. In short, she's the perfect person for the dirty, dusty, overwhelming chore of whipping the church into shape. Against his better judgment, he hires her.

The more Noah gets to know Ellie, the more he realizes how wrong first impressions can be. Ellie's a strong, hardworking woman who wants only one thing - to get her children back from her control freak ex-husband. As the only clergy in town, Noah feels obligated to help. Between working together at the church every day and wrangling with Ellie's legal problems, the two grow closer and closer. Noah's growing especially attached - does Ellie feel the same way? She's been hurt so much in the past that she's sworn off men forever. Does that mean Noah will never get a chance to love the woman who's awoken all the feelings he thought he'd buried with his young wife? And what about the congregration Noah's trying so hard to build in Virgin River? Will they ever accept him if he's trailing after an ex-stripper like a lovesick pup? Can an unlikely couple like Noah and Ellie ever succeed in a small, conservative town like Virgin River?

I don't read much romance, but a friend suckered me into reading Robyn Carr. I tell you, one book and I was hooked. Carr creates the best kind of settings - small, close towns filled with the kind of people you'd want to rub shoulders with every day. Virgin River's idyllic, although it's not without its problems. The people are the same. Good, hardworking, family and community-oriented, they look out for their own. Reading about these folks is always a pleasure. I really do miss them when I'm away.

Forbidden Falls is everything I already love about this series - and more. The more comes purely from Ellie Baldwin. Sure, she's the clich├ęd prostitute (well, stripper)-with-a-heart-of-gold, but she's the kind of person that just makes you smile. Noah's a typical Carr character - Ellie breaks the mold. You always get a Happily Ever After in a Carr novel, so you know the two will end up together. Still, it's a sweet, enjoyable romance that's funny, hopeful and charming in that down home Virgin River way. This is easily one of my favorite installments in what has proved to be a thoroughly entertaining series.

(Readalikes: Grace Valley trilogy by Robyn Carr; previous Virgin River books)

Grade: A-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language and sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received this book from the author. Thanks, Robyn!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

No Lies: It's A Michael Grant Giveaway!



I've been hinting about this giveaway, and it's finally here! My wonderful contact at HarperTeen has generously provided me with two ARCs of Michael Grant's Lies to give away. This is the 3rd book in his series about Perdido Beach, a peaceful little town that dissolves into utter chaos when everyone over 15 disappears one day. It's a fun, exciting YA series that should appeal to readers of all ages. If you haven't read the first two books - Gone and Hunger - you really need to. And you need to read this one, too. Lies will not be on the market until May, so this is a great chance to read it before anyone else!

Okay, here's how it's going to work: I promised Krista I would make you answer a silly question. So, if you want to be entered in the contest, leave me a comment answering the question at the bottom of this post. Be sure to leave me a current email address if you do not have a public blog that you check regularly. If I can't get a hold of you, you can't win! The deadline to enter is April 10. As per usual, I'll give you extra entries for spreading the word about the contest. Tweet about it, post it on your blog, whatever - one extra entry per advertising method. Oh, and since I'm mailing the books, the giveaway is open internationally.

Here's the question (and it's not even that silly): I've really been into the apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic/dystopian thing lately. Do you like this genre? Why or why not? What's the best post-apocalyptic and/or dystopian novel you've ever read?

Good luck!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Winner, Winner, We Have Another Winner

I still haven't heard from Jennii, so I went ahead and picked a new winner. Congratulations to:


You've won a copy of Taken By Storm by Angela Morrison. If you'll send me your snail mail address, I'll get your book in the mail ASAP. I'm determined to make it to the post office this week - come rain, snow, sleet or very long lines!

I have lots more giveaways coming up, so stay tuned.

This World We Live In Will Not Be The Same Without More Pfeffer In It

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for This World We Live In, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from Life As We Knew It and The Dead & The Gone. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

The apocalypse may have come for Miranda Evans and Alex Morales, but I'm not ready for their stories to end. That's why reading This World We Live In, the last installment in Susan Beth Pfeffer's excellent series, made me so sad. Somehow, I missed the memo announcing it would be the last book. *Sniff*

It's now been a year since an asteroid hit the moon, causing widespread disaster all over the world. Massive tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and disease have decimated cities and towns all over the U.S. Miranda, her mother and her two brothers have survived - barely - through a combination of hard work, strategic rationing and scavenging abandoned houses for necessities. Isolated in the small town of Howell, Pennsylvania, they're one of the few families to have emerged from the disaster intact. Still, keeping themselves alive is no easy feat. Electricity's spotty, their food supplies are dwindling, and the plumes of ash in the air make it nearly impossible to breathe.

So many are missing or dead that Miranda holds out only a very slim hope of seeing her father again. When he finally shows up on her doorstep, she's overjoyed. The only problem is he's not alone. He's brought his new wife, of course, and their baby, along with an older man named Charlie and siblings Alex and Julie Morales. Along with the problem of feeding the newcomers come issues with so many people sharing one space. A colicky baby, divorced parents, and a brother who's about ready to explode make for a tense household. Then, there's Alex. Miranda hardly knows how to act around a boy her age, it's been so long since she's even seen one. And this particular specimen is a prickly one. Even after he and Miranda grow close, Alex is determined to drop Julie off at a nearby convent then tromp off to some monastery in Ohio. He begs Miranda to come along, but can she really leave her family behind in Pennsylvania? Is there truly a safe place anywhere or is Alex just dreaming?

In one disastrous night, everything changes. Death finally visits the ragtag Evans family, Miranda's plagued with a terrible secret, and everyone's forced to make a decision about the future. If there even is a future.

As riveting as the first two books in the series, This World We Live In continues a tale that is at once horrifying, fascinating and absolutely engrossing. There's the familiar grapple for survival; the inevitable tension between people forced to live together 24/7 with no escape, no privacy, no break from worry, fear and frustration; and the heartbreaking reminiscings of a teenage girl who longs for life as it never will be again. Pfeffer offers something new in this final book - romance. The idea of love - however fragile and desperate - brings a hopeful feel to an otherwise bleak tale. Most interesting, though, are the questions Pfeffer poses by bringing Miranda's father and his band of "strangers" into the story: Where do one's moral obligations lie in a world gone mad - to family only? To those who join it, even when their motives are less than pure? What about helpless strangers? And what role does faith play when it seems pretty clear that God's gone M.I.A.?

I've mentioned before that The Last Survivors series should probably not be read by anyone who's already panicked about the end of the world. Pfeffer's books are not nice, comfortable stories with happy, bow-tied endings. They're dark, disturbing, thought-provoking and completely mesmerizing. I haven't been able to get the story off my mind since I started Life As We Knew It. Even though the series is directly responsible for several recent nightmares, I can't get enough of it. Really, I can't. C'mon, Susan Beth Pfeffer, this isn't really the end, is it?

(Readalikes: Life As We Knew It and The Dead & The Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer; the Gone series by Michael Grant)

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for language, mature themes

To the FTC, with love: I bought this one off Amazon with the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger - ha ha.

Hogwarts Reading Challenge: Read this one for Astronomy class :) [+1 for HufflePuff!]

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Winner, Winner, SUNDAY Dinner

You know what I'm craving for Sunday dinner? Juicy chicken fried steak, pillows of creamy whipped mashed potatoes, buttery peas and, for dessert, brownies and ice cream. Yum yum. I would just go ahead and make it, but I'm preparing for a radioactive iodine treatment which means I'm on a low-iodine diet - no iodized salt, no dairy, no ice cream, no chocolate, no anything good. Blech. I've been on it for exactly a day, and I'm dying!

Not that my dinner fantasies have anything to do with anything, I was just trying to come up with a clever title for this post. The point is, Random.org has chosen the winner of 1 copy of My Ridiculous, Romantic Obsessions by Becca Wilhite. Congratulations to:

Misskallie2000

The book will be mailed by the publisher, but I need you to shoot me an email with your snail mail address. Thanks a bunch!

In other giveaway news, I still haven't heard back from Jennii, who won a copy of Taken By Storm by Angela Morrison. Unless she happens to contact me today, I will be drawing another winner tomorrow.

I've also got 2 ARCs of Lies by Michael Grant coming my way. As soon as they arrive, I'll announce a contest for them. And, just for Krista, it will include a silly question :)

Have a wonderful Sabbath. If you're having a wonderful, salt-laden Sunday dinner, I don't want to know about it!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Dirty Little Secrets: It's Heartbreaking. It's Moving. It's Unforgettable.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Every family has a secret it hides from the world. The Tompkins' is just dirtier than most. Lucy's spent her life hiding it, protecting herself from certain shame and humiliation. She's done everything she can to keep people away, never letting anyone come closer to her house than the porch. No one can know what's inside. Not friends, not family, not neighbors, not repairmen, not delivery people. No one. Which becomes a major problem when Lucy finds her mother dead in the hallway. The thought of reporters covering the story, filming the heaps of junk that fill every corner of her house, announcing the lurid truth - that Joanna Tompkins suffocated under a pile of her own filth - gives Lucy the shakes. She's finally got a best friend, even a potential boyfriend, both of which she knows she'll lose if her filthy secret gets out.

Lucy's story provides the backbone for C.J. Omololu's stunning first novel, Dirty Little Secrets. It's a heartbreaking story dedicated to "every child who grew up with a shameful secret" (Acknowledgments, Page 211). Closets skeleton free? No matter, you will still feel for brave, believable Lucy.

As the 16-year-old digs through the rubble of her mother's life, grief, anger and a strange sense of freedom swirl inside her. She can vaguely remember a time when Joanna Tompkins cared more about her children than about her precious stuff. But that time is long past. Any warm memories have long been erased by her mother's stacks of junk, garbage she obviously treasured over Lucy's happiness. Her compulsive hoarding stole Lucy's childhood, guaranteeing she would never do anything as normal as invite girls over for a PJ party, gossip with her best friend in her bedroom, or, God forbid, eat a meal at an actual dining room table. Instead, she's lied, evaded, and lived in mortal fear of anyone discovering her dirty secret.

Lucy's so determined to hate her mother that she's surprised by the little things she unearths - a secret scrapbook, a handmade teddy bear, blue ribbons. Is it possible she never knew her mother at all? As Lucy literally shovels the past out of her life, she finds a sort of healing - even as she struggles to hide her biggest secret of all.

I've read plenty of books about family secrets, but never one that moved me as much as Dirty Little Secrets. My heart hurt for Lucy. Omololu paints such a clear picture of the filth, shame and despair associated with compulsive hoarding that you'd think she was speaking from personal experience. She's not. Still, the story comes off as achingly real. Although Dirty Little Secrets ends on a semi-hopeful note, it's never warm and fuzzy. It's an honest, sometimes brutal, portrait of what it means to be a child burdened with a terrible secret. It's heartbreaking. It's moving. It's completely unforgettable. In three words: Highly, highly recommended.

(Readalikes: Reminded me of What's Eating Gilbert Grape? by Peter Hedges)

Grade: A-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for some language, sexual innuendo and underrage drinking/partying

To the FTC, with love: I purchased this book from Amazon using the millions of dollars I make from my lucrative book reviewing career.

(Note: If your life has been impacted by compulsive hoarding, check out Children of Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive)

New Year's Resolutions? What New Year's Resolutions?

Remember back in December when I made those neat little resolutions for my blog? Well, let's just forget I ever did that, shall we? Especially the one about not signing up for challenges. Let's face it, I'm flunking that one in a big way. I have showed a tiny bit of restraint, but I just could not resist joining these two:Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings is a fabulous challenge host. He's fun, organized and creative. Since I've been reading tons of fantasy lately, this one's kind of a no-brainer. You can read all the details here.

I'm doing Quest the 1st, which involves reading 5 books that fit somewhere into the following categories: fantasy, folklore, fairy tales, mythology between March 21 and June 20. That's doable, right? Here's my list:

1. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare - my review

2. City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare - my review

3. City of Glass by Cassandra Clare - my review

4. My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison - my review

5. Wish by Alexandra Bullen - my review




This one was just way too fun to pass up. It's the Hogwarts Reading Challenge hosted by Bunnitaz over at Worth Reading It? You read books in a bunch of categories to earn points for yourself and your house. It's a tad bit complicated, so I'll let you read the details for yourself rather than explain it all here. All I have to say is, Go Team Hufflepuff!


This one doesn't require a reading list, so I'm just going to put down The Classes and add the appropriate titles as I finish them:

Transfiguration - read any book that has trans or figure in its title, is about shape shifting, has a shape shifter in it, or is about anything having to do with changing one thing into another

Princess for Hire by Lindsey Leavitt - finished May 2010 - review (+1 point)

My Double Life by Janette Rallison - finished July 2010 - review (+1 point)

The Devouring by Simon Holt - finished October 2010 - review (+1 point)

Soulstice by Simon Holt - finished October 2010 - review (+1 point)

Defence Against the Dark Arts - read any book that has defence(defense), dark and/or art(s) in its title, read any book that is about self defense, war, history of war/marital arts, murder mysteries

Charms - read any book that has charm in its title, any book that deals with/gives something or someone a new aspect (for example the nerdy guy become a handsome doctor)

Potions - read any book that has potion in its title, cookbooks count but you must cook at least one recipe out of the book

Astronomy - read any book that has astronomy in its title, books about planets, stars, etc, sci-fi

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer - finished 3/20/10 - review (+1 point)

History of Magic - read any book that has history or magic in its title, books about magic, witches, etc

Forget-Her-Nots by Amy Brecount White - review (+1 point)

My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison - finished May 2010 - review (+1 point)

Wish by Alexandra Bullen - finished June 2010 - review (+1 point)

Herbology - read any book that has herb in its title, again cookbooks count and again you must cook at least one recipe out of the book

Arithmancy - read any book that has arithmancy in its title, any book with a number in its title, any book that deal with numbers or math

11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass - finished April 2010 - review (+1 point)
12 Finally by Wendy Mass - finished April 2010 - review (+1 point)

Ancient Runes

- read any book that has ancient or runes in its title, books about historical places like the pyramids, Stonehenge, great wall of china, or any book about symbols

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare - finished 3/29/10 - review (+1 point)
City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare - finished 3/30/10 - review (+1 point)
City of Glass by Cassandra Clare - finished 3/31/10 - review (+1 point)

Divination - read any book that has divine in its title, any book about psychics or psychic abilities, tarot reading etc

Premonitions by Jude Watson (Judy Blundell) - finished April 2010 - review (+1 point)

Disappearance by Jude Watson (Judy Blundell) - finished April 2010 - review (+1 point)

Care of Magical Creatures - read any book that has magical or creatures in its title, about supernatural beings

Muggle Studies - nearly any book works here, what better why to understand Muggle than to read what they read

Fun, huh? Who needs resolutions anyhow?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

This, That and The Other

In case there's anyone out there who doubts the power of book bloggers to sell books, I offer you the following:

EXHIBIT A: Books I recently purchased from Costco

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver


EXHIBIT B: Books I recently purchased from Amazon

Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omololu

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

All of these books have been so talked up on book blogs that I couldn't wait for my turn at the library - I had to buy them. Yes, had to. While I'm busily making my way through these shiny beauties, let's talk about a couple other things ...

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You only have a few more days to enter the giveaway for My Ridiculous, Romantic Obsessions by Becca Wilhite. This is a light, clean, fun romance that really is a delightful read. You know you want it, so enter already. Deadline is midnight on March 20.

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I still haven't heard back from Jenii, who won a copy of Taken By Storm by Angela Morrison. Since I've been out of commission lately, I'm going to give her until Monday to contact me. If I haven't heard from her by then, I'll select another winner.

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The lovely Jillian over at Random Ramblings gave me The Stylish Blogger Award and the Beautiful Blogger Award. Thanks so much! I'm supposed to pass it on to 15 other bloggers. Recently, I discovered Crazy for Books and Jennifer's Book Blogger Hop. I think this is a fabulous idea. I already subscribe to 200+ book blogs on my reader, so it's not like I need to discover anymore, but still ... it's kind of an addiction, you know? Anyway, I'm going to pass the award on to Jennifer and 14 other blogs that I've found through the Hop:

1. Jennifer @ Crazy for Books - for spreading the book bloggy love

2. Robby @ Once Upon A Book Blog - a 14-year-old boy who reviews books in a very intelligent, well-written manner. Need I say more?

3. Laura Fabiani @ Library of Clean Reads - because I always get excited when I find blogs dedicated to clean reads.

4. Christie @ The Fiction Enthusiast - a "kinda crunchy" SAHM reviews YA paranormal books. Pretty blog design, succinct reviews (something I'm always failing at), and fun personality.

5. Libby's Library - fun blog layout and I love how her reviews are short, sweet and look like poetry. Plus, she adores Adriana Trigiani - a girl after my own heart.

6. Bethany @ Words, Words, Words - nice, well-written reviews

7. Tweezle @ Just One More Paragraph - enjoyable reviews and she hates housecleaning as much as I do!

8. Jessica @ Forever Young: A YA Lit Blog - a high school English teacher who reviews YA books. If only all h.s. teachers were so cool!

9. Angela @ Reading Angel - I love the whimsical layout of her blog. Plus, I love finding other SAHMs that read and blog. So fun!

10. The Little Reader - I love how she reads books that are a little different from the norm - most of her newer picks are ones I haven't seen reviewed a million times already.

11. Mrs. B @ The Literary Stew - love the title of this blog and her reviews of classicish books

12. Juju @ Tales of Whimsy - I love the way she sets up her reviews. Also all the recipes. Yum.

13. Jeannie @ Pine Cottage Books - because doesn't "Pine Cottage" just conjure up an image of cozy reading in front of a roaring fire? Plus, this Miss Marple wannabe grandma is funny and writes such enjoyable reviews.

14. Jonita @ The Book Chick - her reviews remind me of mine, which is to say thorough :) [Argh! I've got the wrong URL on this one - anyone know the correct one?]

15. Amanda @ Desert Book Chick - Read Amanda's "About" section and you'll find that she's absolutely fascinating. I love reading what this Australian adventurer has to say!

Phew! That's a lot of book bloggers. And there are so many more out there. Your Google reader will hate you, but you should really join in the Book Blogger Hop and check out all the great book blogs out there.

You're supposed to pass on the award to 15 others. I know some people hate passing them on, so I'll understand if you don't, but it's always nice to spread the bloggy love around.

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I just received an email letting me know that my blog is being included in Rachelle Rogers Knight's Read, Remember, Recommend. It's listed in the Resources section under "Lighter Book-Related Blogs." Cool, huh? According to the publisher (Sourcebooks):

Read, Remember, Recommend brings exceptional works of fiction to the attention of readers while inciting their overall enjoyment by exploring thoughts, feelings and emotions through the course of reading. The journal features dozens of cross-referenced lists of literary awards and notable picks and offers more than 2,500 suggestions to help readers discover great literature and new authors. Users can record books read, jot down thoughts and ideas, and keep track of recommendations, books borrowed and loaned, and book club history.

I'm thrilled to be included. Can't wait to get my copy of the book!


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Angela Morrison. You may have heard that her publisher did not pick up Unbroken Connection, the sequel to Taken By Storm. If you (like me) are a little miffed about this, consider posting about it on your blog or joining the Facebook support page.


Also, Angela wanted me to let you know that "Beth's Song" (from Sing Me to Sleep) is now available on iTunes - find it here. You can also check out the book's Epilogue (which was cut in the final printing) on Angela's website.

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And just for fun, a bookish meme taken from Jillian's blog, Random Ramblings:


1. Book next to your bed right now: I don't usually keep a book on my nightstand. If I'm going to read in bed, I just bring up whatever book I'm reading.

2. Favorite series: I love, love, love series', so I'm just going to list the first 5 that come to mind: Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling; Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani; Temperance Brennan books by Kathy Reichs; The Last Survivors by Susan Beth Pfeffer; Virgin River by Robyn Carr

3. Favorite book: Again, I couldn't possibly choose just one. If you held a gun to my head and made me pick one, it would probably be Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Or Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Or The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. Or ...

4. The one book you would have with you if stranded on a desert island: Well, the handiest would be "How to Survive on a Desert Island" or, perhaps, Swiss Family Robinson.

5. Book/series you would take with you on a long flight: Hmmm ... some nice, fat family saga.


6. Worst book you were made to read in school: Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I can't stand that book.


7. Book that everyone should be made to read in school: I agree with Jillian on this one - The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.

8. Book that everyone should read, period: The Bible; The Book of Mormon; The Lord of the Rings; Jane Eyre

9. Favorite character: Of all time? Anne Shirley, hands down.


10. Best villain: I've been wracking my brain on this one, but I can't think of one. Still wracking ...

11. Favorite concept book/series: Right now I'm really fascinated by post-apocalyptic/dystopian worlds like those in the Gone series by Michael Grant and The Last Survivors series by Susan Beth Pfeffer. My favorite concept, though? Hmmm ... I'm thinking the Inkheart books. Haven't all of us fantasized about stepping into our favorite storybook worlds?

12. Favorite invented world: Since I would NEVER want to step into worlds like those created by Grant and Pfeffer, I'm going to go with Virgin River, the setting for a series of books by Robyn Carr. It's a quaint little town in California populated by good, hardworking folks. Mountains, rivers, Preacher's home cookin' at Jack's Bar, and some eye candy to ogle - what's not to love?

13. Most beautifully written book: Tough question. Let me think on it ...

14. Funniest book/series: Anne of Green Gables is hilarious in a funny, old-fashioned kind of way.

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Whew! I think that's it. I'm going to dive back into Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omololu. And yes, I am going to be shunning housework to read about a teenage girl who has to deal with the humiliation of her mother's excessive hoarding. Oh, the irony!



Printz Contender Like Good, Old-Fasioned Comfort Food: Warm and Satisfying

(Image from Barnes & Noble)


Virginia's read about stuff like this. It happens sometimes - a nurse accidentally hands the wrong newborn to the wrong couple. Obviously, this is what happened to her. How else could a short, plump blonde like her have ended up in a family full of tall, thin brunettes? Clearly, she was switched at birth.

Welcome to the world of Virginia Shreves, the 15-year-old narrator of The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. In a family of beautiful overachievers who are dedicated to looking like beautiful overachievers, Virginia's a bit of a misfit. She's not super skinny like her older sister; she's not popular like her older brother; she's not a golf-toting club member like her father and she's certainly nothing like her gym-rat-child-psychologist mother. She's smart enough, sure, but she's also boyfriendless and lonely now that her only friend's been whisked off to Oregon by her vagabond parents. With no social life to speak of, she's been spending her time surfing the Web and downing Doritos, neither of which help with her biggest problem - her weight. Viriginia's not grossly obese, but she's chubby enough to get picked last for any kind of team in P.E. She's "heavy" enough that her calorie-conscious mother has to remind her about it every single day. Virginia's getting the message loud and clear: she is the fleshy blight on what is otherwise a perfect family.

Then, one night, the phone rings. And changes everything. The caller delivers horrifying, unimaginable news. While the rest of the Shreves are busy hiding the unsightly accusation behind their blemishless facades, Virginia's imploding. Facing the ugly truth about her flawless family means confronting the cold, hard facts about herself. As terrifying as the process is, it might just be the one thing that can free Virginia to be the only person she really needs to be - herself.

Virginia Shreves is one of those characters that girls recognize instantly. With all of her doubts, her self-loathing, and the tremendous pressure she puts on herself to look a certain way, she's an EveryGirl who will jiggle her way into the hearts of all girls, whether they're a size 2 or 20. She's the perfect antiheroine - funny, but self-deprecating; sweet, but sarcastic; sympathetic, but not pathetic; smart, but often clueless. Her story resounds not because it's terribly unique, but because her voice makes it so. While The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things didn't completely blow me away like other Printz Award contenders, it's still an appealing read. In fact, it's a lot like good, old-fashioned comfort food (something Virginia would no doubt appreciate): warm and satisfying.

(Readalikes: Reminded me of The Girl With the Mermaid Hair by Delia Ephron)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language, sexual innuendo/making out/sexual references

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lisa McMann: My New Guilty Pleasure

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Of what, exactly, are dreams made? Memories? Fantasies? Hopes? Fears? Regrets? Desires? A little of each? Seventeen-year-old Janie Hannagan has seen every kind. She's not sure exactly where this special talent came from - the one that lets her roam through other people's dreams - but she's sick to death of it. She's encountered enough monsters, enough lust, enough falling, enough secret wishes to last her ten lifetimes. All she wants is to be normal for once. But with an alcoholic mother, an absent father, and her crazy little secret, Janie's life is about as mundane as a Tim Burton film.

Then, a chance encounter takes her into the terrifying nightmares of a classmate. The violent images in his head shake her to the core. Even more horrifying is the fact that sexy Cabel Strumheller sees her in his dream. And remembers seeing her. That never, ever happens. Janie's terrified of the monster in Cabel's head, but even more frightened that he'll realize what a freak she is. She can't let anyone know the truth. Cabel doesn't seem to be the secret-spiller type - after all, he's hiding some big ones of his own - but she can't be sure. As her dreamwalking intensifies, endangering Janie's job, schooling, life and future, she searches desperately for answers. How can she stop herself from entering the dreamworld? Why does it happen in the first place? And why her, of all people? An offhand experiment will give her clues and show her the real power she possesses. The only question left is: What will she do with it?

I've always been interested in dreams and their meanings, so the premise of Wake by Lisa McMann caught my attention immediately. I loved the whole idea behind the story. I'm not sure what I expected to find inside its pages, but I was taken aback by the book's rawness. Although Janie's a vulnerable, sympathetic character, she's got very sharp edges. Especially in the beginning, Wake is dark, erotic and bleak - so much so that I almost put it down. But, it had that premise. That fascinating, hypnotizing premise. Coupled with interesting characters, a heart-pounding storyline and McMann's compelling writing style - well, let's just say, I kept reading. As Janie learns more about herself, the tone of the novel brightens, until it climaxes with a somewhat predictable, almost cheesy, conclusion. It ends on a hopeful note, something that's weirdly incongruent with the first half of the book. I didn't love the ending, but the rest of the story had me whipping through pages fast enough to cause injury.

Considering all the profanity and sex in Wake, I shouldn't be looking forward to reading its sequel nearly as much as I am. But, there you go. Lisa McMann's my new guilty pleasure.


(Readalikes: I can't think of any. Can you?)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language, violence and sexual images

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Sunday, March 14, 2010

"Fat Free" Hex Hall Lacks the Lusciouness of a True Original

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Unlike most halflings in modern urban fantasy, Sophie Mercer knows exactly what she is. A witch. And a pretty crappy one at that. With her warlock father out of the picture, she's had to learn the ropes under the eye of her human mother. The result? Disaster. They've had to flee more towns than Sophie can count. As her powers grow stronger, so do Sophie's blunders. Now, following a love spell gone hugely and publicly wrong, Sophie's being exiled to Hecate Hall, a reform school for teenage Prodigium (the children of powerful witches, warlocks, werewolves, fairies, etc.) in need of ... instruction.

Even at "Hex Hall," where Sophie can finally be "herself," she's having trouble fitting in. Unlike her classmates, she's never been surrounded by so many different creatures - she doesn't know all their different histories, customs and prejudices. She only knows that everyone seems to be giving her a wide berth. The harder she tries to blend in, the more she stands out. Sophie refuses to join a coven of stuck-up witches; she's crushing on a totally hot, totally unattainable warlock; her roommate's a suspected murderer; and, oh yeah, she's being stalked by a ghost. To make matters worse, she can't cast a decent spell to save her life. And that's exactly what she's going to have to do. As the school's witches get attacked one-by-one, it's pretty clear who's next. Can Sophie figure out who's to blame before it's too late? What if the would-be killer turns out to be the only real friend she has at Hex Hall? What's a crappy, misfit witch to do?

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins is, as the author describes it, a "Southern-fried paranormal romance." As the description indicates, the book's a light, funny take on the whole urban fantasy thing. Hex Hall has its share of gore, but it's definitely more snarky than sinister. I've heard the book compared to the Harry Potter novels and, while I see some similarities, it's kind of like pitting fat free cream cheese against the rich, lusciousness of the original. Same product, but the imitation can never equal the real thing. You know what I mean? That being said, the story did keep me turning pages, made me laugh a couple of times, and even surprised me with a couple of its twists. Hex Hall doesn't come anywhere near the greatness of HP, but it's a quick, entertaining read that will probably appeal to female fans of the boy wizard.

(Readalikes: kind of like the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for language, violence, sexual innuendo and references to homosexuality

To the FTC, with love: I received this book from the generous folks over at Disney/Hyperion. Thanks!

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