Monday, February 28, 2011

Snarky Narrator Makes Me Laugh in Gem of a First Novel


(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Not a lot goes on in the small town of West End, Montana (Pop. 947). Tourists flock to the region to fish and gawk at wildlife in Yellowstone National Park, but for the locals, life pretty much revolves around getting drunk and getting pregnant. Sixteen-year-old K.J. Carson can't wait to leave it all behind. All she has to do is make it through high school. With dyslexia. And a bunch of redneck morons harrassing her daily. Piece of cake.

When shaggy-haired Virgil Whitman appears at K.J.'s high school one day, she's instantly smitten. A transplant from Minnesota, he's gorgeous, laidback, and a brilliant wildlife photographer. Getting paired up with him for a journalism project, puts K.J. over the moon. Wolf-watching with Virgil and his wildlife biology professor mother is exciting; K.J.'s mesmerized by the beauty of the animals (not to mention her journalism partner). Her obsession with them grows every time she pens a new article for her "Wolf Notes" column.

It's not until an angry local takes a potshot at Virgil that K.J. realizes just how dangerous it is to be a wolf sympathizer in a place like West End. She knows the whole idea of re-introducing wolves into Yellowstone sparked controversy in areas surrounding the park, but she had no idea how divisive an issue it really was. Until now. While ranchers rage against the wolves that attack their cattle, activists put up their own fight. The fiercer the battle gets, the more vicious it becomes - businesses are getting vandalized, K.J.'s being threatened, and people are angry enough to shoot teenagers. Despite everyone's warnings to back off, K.J. can't keep away from the wolves. Or Virgil. Or really dumb ideas that get her in trouble with everyone from her father to the town's two police officers. But she can't back down now, can she? Isn't standing up for her beliefs worth a little ribbing from her classmates? Besides, the wolves are the only thing she and Virgil have in common. If she curbs her little obsession, will Virgil stop paying so much attention to her? With her town in turmoil, K.J. has to decide who she really is and how far she'll go to save the animals she's grown to love.

The plot to Kristen Chandler's debut novel, Wolves, Boys, & Other Things That Might Kill Me, may seem a little far-fetched, but I remember well the fight between loggers and environmentalists that broke out in my home state of Washington over the spotted owl. The action in the book might get a little melodramatic - it's a book, after all - still, it was realistic enough to keep me thoroughly engrossed. Virgil didn't even turn into a werewolf. Imagine that! My favorite part of the novel, however, was K.J. Funny, snarky, self-deprecating K.J. She made me laugh, she also made me think and feel and root for her to triumph in her quest to save the wolves. While the novel's got a few rough spots (some awkward phrasing, a handful of copyediting errors, etc.), it's still a gem of a first novel. I enjoyed it, loved it really, and cannot wait to see what Chandler does next.

(Readalikes: Reminded me of The Loop by Nicholas Evans)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for some language (no F-bombs), sexual innuendo, and mild violence

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Little Late to the Party ...

I'm a little late to the party this week, but then again, I've never been big into parties :) Except this one. Because it's actually fun. If you haven't joined in the Book Blogger Hop before, do it. It's a great way to find new blogs. Your Google Reader won't thank you, but you'll have a good time checking out all the great book blogs out there. If you're here because of the Hop, welcome! Enjoy your stay and have a fabulous weekend. Looks like it's going to be a rainy one for us, which is just fine with this reluctant desert dweller.

This week's question is: Do you ever wish you had named your blog something different?

- Funny question because, yes, I always wish I had named my blog something else. Way back when blogging was new and I started this grand adventure, I didn't realize that the name I choose would become my "brand." I just typed in the first thing I thought of since I only ever intended for the blog to be my personal reading journal. Funny how things change. When I became more serious about spreading the word, I realized how clunky the title was - I kept having to tell people, "It's bloggin', no g, and 'bout, no a. You know what? I'll just right it down for you." So, yeah, I wish I'd chosen something more clever and something with no missing letters. *Sigh*

Interestingly, when I redesigned my blog a year or so ago (okay, when Jerilyn redesigned it), I figured it was a great opportunity to change the name to something I actually liked. Funny thing about that: all the good titles were taken. I also came to the realization that "Bloggin' 'bout Books" is how I'm known. If I changed it, I changed the blog. It would confuse my readers as well as the authors/publishers/publicists, etc. with whom I work. So, it's "Bloggin' 'bout Books" for better or worse.

More info than you wanted, right? Well, that's kind of the way it goes around here. How about you? Have you ever wished you named your blog something different? Have you changed it? How did that go for you?

Thanks, again, for stopping by. Please leave me a comment so I can drop by and visit you as well. 'Til then, Happy Reading!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Mormon Mention: Heidi Ayarbe

In Heidi Ayarbe's YA novel Compromised, a teenage girl travels from Reno, Nevada to Boise, Idaho, in search of her aunt. She spends part of that time living on the streets of the city, sleeping in alleys, shelters, etc. Interestingly, given Idaho's large LDS population, Mormons are only mentioned once. Near the end of the story, Maya Sorenson tells her friend:

"'I've been to a synagogue, Luthern, and Methodist churches, even a Mormon temple. But they wouldn't let me in the temple, so I sat outside and looked at it,' I said" (427).

Since there are 134 LDS temples in the world (with 23 more on their way), you've most likely seen one before. Temples are beautiful buildings with unique architecture and lush, beautiful grounds. The insides are clean and serene, as befitting a house of the Lord. The walls are decorated with religious paintings, depicting scenes from the scriptures. Everything about temples - from the plants outside to the art inside - is designed to make it a peaceful, calming place to be. Even if you just spot a temple's spires from the freeway, you can tell that it's a special place.

Because Mormons believe the temples to be sacred buildings, only members of the church are allowed to enter. Even then, they must hold a "temple recommend," which signifies that they're worthy (meaning they abide by the laws of the church and are honest, morally clean, etc.). Those who meet the requirements are able to go to the temple whenever they please. Inside, members can be married for time and all eternity. They can also worship the Lord, make covenants with Him, learn more about the Gospel, and serve each other. Going to the temple is a spiritual experience, cleansing, peaceful and inspiring.

If you want to know more about the purpose of temples or just want to see more pictures like the one above (which is the Boise Temple), check out LDS Temples.org.

Dark, Difficult Compromised Won't Get Outta My Head

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When 15-year-old Maya Sorenson comes home from school to find repo men carting out her belongings, she's not really surprised. Things have been too good for too long. Obviously, it wasn't going to last. If there's one thing she's learned from her con man father it's not to get too attached to anyone or anywhere. She's followed his advice so well that leaving Reno behind won't be a big deal. Maya and her dad will pick up the pieces and move on. Just like they always do.

Only that's not how it goes this time. This time, Maya's father is sent to prison. And she ends up at Kids Place, a temporary shelter for wards of the state. It's a bleak place, where newbies - especially those prone to spouting random science facts when nervous - become unwitting targets for the older, tougher residents. According to the others at Kids Place, foster homes aren't much safer. Maya knows she has to get out of there, even though she hasn't the vaguest idea where to go. It's not until her dad points her to an old shoebox full of letters from an aunt Maya never knew she had, that she's finally able to make a plan.

As Maya flees the orphanage, setting out on the 400-mile journey from Reno, Nevada to Boise, Idaho, she finds herself with an unlikely travel companion. Together, the two girls hitchhike, steal food, fight off predators, sleep on the streets, battle hypothermia, and even protect a little boy as they slowly make their way north. It's a journey that will open Maya's eyes to the cruelty of the world, forcing her to rely on the last person on Earth she thought capable of saving anybody - herself.

Compromised by Heidi Ayarbe is a bleak, but (unfortunately) realistic portrayal of a girl failed by both her parents and the system designed to protect her. It's also a desperate, depressing story about troubled kids just trying to survive in a world that seems designed to keep them down. I kept waiting for a Good Samaritan to come along and save them all, but that never really happened. Instead, Ayarbe shows the kids fighting their own battles, finding their own solutions, and making their own futures. Like I said, it's realistic. And depressing. It's also a very compelling story and, although ultimately hopeful, a sad one. The book is so harsh, so grim, that I can't say I liked it. It's thought-provoking, for sure; it's also a dark and difficult read, one that I wasn't sorry to bid farewell. I'm sure the author intended for the story to get under the reader's skin, to make us all aware of the plights of abandoned kids, but it was a little much for me to digest. Now, I need to read one of those nice, cheesy fantasy novels that bear no semblance whatsoever to real life just to get this one out of my head ...

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

Grade: B-

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

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Compromised from the generous folks at Harper Teen. Thank you!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Overreaching Premise Leads to Something's-Missing Story

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Jay Thacker knows exactly what people think of Native Americans - they're dirty, drunken, lazy Indians. He's heard it all in his 12 years. But no one talks about Indians who are strong, brave and heroic. Indians like his dad. Someday, Jay knows, his dad's going to come home from the war decorated with all kinds of medals. Then, everybody will see. They'll forget all the jobs from which he was fired, all the times he drank too much, all the bruises he left on his wife's body, and they'll remember that his dad isn't like they think - he's a hero.

In the meantime, though, Jay's got to tough it out in the Utah desert. He and his mom are living with her parents in the tiny town of Delta, which seems to offer little more than rattlesnakes and relentless heat. Jay just wants to go home to Salt Lake City. With both of his parents. But his dad's Missing in Action and his mom's acting like her husband's already dead. It's up to Jay to keep the faith.

Playing baseball with the guys from town keeps Jay's mind off his troubles, even though the boys like to call him "Chief" and razz him about all things Indian. Still, having friends to hang out with makes life a whole lot more bearable. Which is why he can't tell anyone about Kenji Tanaka. Ken is a 17-year-old Jap who lives at nearby Topaz internment camp and works with Jay on grandpa's farm. Jay's not sure what he thinks of the loudmouth Californian, but he knows one thing: Ken's a force to be reckoned with on a baseball diamond. As the two work together, practice together, even learn to dance together, Jay realizes that maybe Japs aren't so bad after all. Maybe the things people say about them are as wrong as the things people say about Native Americans. There's only one problem: Lots of people in town, including Jay's mom, don't see it that way. They don't want him hanging out with anyone even remotely associated with the monsters who attacked Pearl Harbor. Even Jay's not sure he wants to be public friends with Ken. When someone discovers the boys' secret friendship, Jay's forced to make a tough decision - stand up for his buddy or risk losing one of the best friends he's ever had.

Missing in Action, a historical novel for middle graders by Dean Hughes, rides on an ambitious premise. Probably too ambitious. It tackles stereotypes, prejudice, abuse, faith, discrimination, war, friendship, family and more. Because of this overreaching goal, the story slides here, there and everywhere, so unfocused that it never reaches its grand potential. And it does have potential. The setting, for instance, is unique, as is the bi-racial narrator. With all the subplots meandering through the story, it could have been a very rich, affecting book. As is, the characters don't develop enough, there's no real plot, and the whole story lacks the oomph I was hoping it would have. It's not a terrible read, it's just not anywhere near as good as it could have been. I hate that.

(Readalikes: Reminded me of Under the Blood-Red Sun by Graham Salisbury and The Fences Between Us [Dear America series] by Kirby Larson)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for several references to naked girls

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Amor Deliria Nervosa: Yeah, I've Kinda Got It

(Image from Indiebound)

Love makes people crazy; everybody knows that. That's why scientists worked so hard to find a cure, to eradicate the disease that leads to so many other evils - anger, jealousy, emotion, heartbreak, depression, even rebellion. Now, everyone living in the fenced-in city of Portland, Maine, receives the cure for amor deliria nervosa on their 18th birthday, rendering them incapable of love or passion or disobedience or dreaming or really, anything that requires independent thought. Erasing these things makes society predictable, safe.

Seventeen-year-old Lena Haloway can't wait to be Cured. She's tired of feelings constantly ping-ponging around inside her. There's sadness over her mother's suicide 11 years ago, shame for her uncle's defection, anxiety about her upcoming tests, and disappointment with her older sister, who hasn't been the same since getting Cured. Lena doesn't want to feel any more. She wants to be Cured. All she has to do is make a good impression on the judges at her evaluation, then as soon as her birthday comes, she'll undergo the procedure, be assigned to attend college, then pair with a boy with equally high marks. Predictable. Safe. That's all Lena desires.

The under eighteens are not allowed to speak to members of the opposite sex any more than is absolutely necessary. Lena sees why as soon as she meets mysterious Alex Warren. Athough the marks on his neck indicate he's been Cured, Alex has more passion than anyone she's ever met. He's funny, carefree, daring. Just talking to him makes Lena's heart race at a speed that's definitely not predictable or safe. In fact, it feels downright dangerous. And yet, somehow, she can't get enough of him. Soon, Lena's sneaking off every chance she gets to be with Alex. She knows the allure will fade in 95 days when she receives the Cure, but until then, she'll get as much of him as she can. Even if falling in love means jeopardizing everything.

When Alex reveals shocking truths about the Cure and its effects, Lena realizes just how much she really is jeopardizing. Suddenly, she's surging with anger, fear, paranoia, which only shows her how safe it feels to be with Alex. Can she really let the government stop her from ever feeling again? Especially now, when she finally understands what it means to love, to live? As her 18th birthday races closer and closer, Lena has to decide what she wants before her superiors take away her power of choice forever.

So, it seems like the hundreds of book bloggers who've reviewed Delirium by Lauren Oliver lately either love the book or hate it. Maybe I'm going soft, but I'm with the former. I mean, yes, the book's pretty typical dystopian, with only a smidgen of true originality. And yes, the characters needed some serious developing. And, okay yeah, the plot's pretty contrived. And then there's the tell-not-show-iness of the writing. Still, I kind of loved Delirium. It's got the post-apocalyptic creepiness factor (even though it's not the end of the world), plus lots of danger, romance, and heart-stopping (if predictable) action. So, si, I enjoyed it. Do I think the plot has some holes? Yep. Do I think Oliver's dystopian world needs some structural aid? Yeah. Do I wish the story had some Matched-esque subtlety? Absolutely. Will any of this stop me from reading Delirium's sequels? Not a chance.

(Readalikes: Reminded me a lot of Matched by Ally Condie, also of the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, Birth Marked by Caragh O'Brien, and a little of The Line by Teri Hall)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language (two F-bombs plus infrequent use of milder invectives), violence and brief (not graphic) sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Delirium from the generous folks at Harper Teen. Thank you!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Generic Thriller Fails to ... Thrill

(Image from Indiebound)

For New Yorker Lake Warren, summer usually means relaxing in the Catskills with her family. Not anymore. Newly separated from her husband of 14 years, she's facing divorce proceedings and a vicious custody battle. Nothing relaxing about that. In fact, her lawyer suggests, she needs to be as vigilant and nunlike as possible until the divorce is finalized. It's not as if Lake's knocking back admirers with a stick, but the new doctor at the fertility clinic for which she's consulting has been dropping some not-so-subtle hints. Desperate for some male attention, Lake finally succombs to the charms of the very sexy Mark Keaton. A few hours later, she finds him dead, blood pouring out of the open gash in his throat. Shocked and terrified, Lake flees the scene. She can't risk losing her kids over a one-night stand, let alone a murder investigation.

When two detectives come nosing around, Lake does the only thing she can think to do: lie. While the police buy her story for the moment, she knows it's only a matter of time before they discover she was one of the last people to see Keaton alive. If suspicion leads to accusation, what chance does Lake have of keeping her kids? None. The only way to save herself is to find out who killed the handsome doctor.

As Lake investigates the crime, she turns up all kinds of motivations for Keaton's murder; the question is which one led to his death. Did an angry loan shark kill him because of unpaid debts? Or did Keaton discover something about practices at the clinic that put him in danger? Lake knows just how much of a player the guy was - did he tick off the wrong woman this time? As Lake edges closer and closer to the truth, the killer creeps closer and closer to Lake. Can she solve the murder in time? Or will she become the next victim?

Sound pretty generic? That's because there's nothing original about Hush, the newest thriller from Cosmopolitan's editor-in-chief Kate White. The writing's dull, the plot's been done, and not one of White's characters would recognize a personality if it walked up and slapped them across the face. So colorless is this cast that I could hardly tell one player from another - forget actually caring about any of them. Our heroine is no exception. I really didn't give a darn whether she solved the murder, got stuffed into a freezer, or rotted in jail. She never, not once, felt human to me. Likewise, the plot didn't grab me, didn't make me care at all. The fact that I didn't abandon this book after the first chapter says something, I guess, because I did tear through it pretty fast. Still, if I hadn't agreed to review Hush for my friends at TLC Book Tours, I wouldn't have bothered sticking around for Chapter 2.

(Readalikes: Think Mary Higgins Clark, but with a lot more edge and none of the charm.)

Grade: D

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

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Hush from the generous folks at Harper Collins. Thank you!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mermaid Tale (Tail?) Atmospheric, Absorbing

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Everyone on Windwaithe Island knows the story of Lady Lauretta Durran, the young woman who vanished into the sea one hundred years ago. Lured by the song of a mermaid, they say, she climbed out on the rocks at the edge of the ocean and slipped into the water, never to be seen again. Everyone knows it's just a story, like all the other superstitious tales that circulate on the island. Everyone knows there's no such thing as mermaids. Until one stormy night when the creature reappears, intent on stealing another island girl. That's when some finally begin to believe.

Fourteen-year-old Adrianne Keynnman doesn't have time for such nonsense, not when there's a cow to milk, eggs to gather, and stalls to muck. With her father dead, she's in charge of her family's survival. She gets little help from her mother, who's still weakened with grief, or her surly aunt, who holds Adrianne accountable for the family's abrupt reversal of fortune. So, it's her who toils, day after day, to provide for the two older women and her younger sister, Cecily. Adrianne knows she's too plain to attract a wealthy husband, but she's determined to help pretty Cecily rise above their poverty-stricken island life.

When Cecily runs off in a rainstorm one night, Adrianne races to the rocky shore, desperate to find her sister. What she discovers there shocks her: a beautiful, shimmery mermaid watches over Cecily's limp body. Though Adrianne's sure she must be dreaming, she fights the creature, who scratches Adrianne's arm in outrage. When she wakes up three days later to find Cecily perfectly safe, Adrianne puts thoughts of mermaids firmly out of her head. Obviously, the mermaid was some strange vision brought on by her feverish mind. But if the creature isn't real, then why do the marks on Adrianne's arm burn every time she thinks of it? And why does she hear a whisper on the wind beckoning her to the water? Can Adrianne break the mermaid's hold over her? Or will she be dragged under the sea just like Lady Laurette was a century ago?

Forbidden Sea, a debut novel by Utah librarian Sheila A. Nielson, is a wonderfully atmospheric story aimed at tween fantasy lovers. With the voice and pacing of an old-fashioned fairy tale, its prose echoes the poetry of the sea - gentle at times, turbulent at others. The first 3/4 of the book enchanted me thoroughly; the last quarter not so much. Nielson rushes the final bits, especially Adrianne's underwater experience, so that the finale seems too different, almost unanchored, from the rest of the story. Also, although the main storyline comes to a satisfying conclusion, Nielson leaves all the subplots dangling, making the book feel unfinished. A sequel is in the works, which will no doubt tie up loose ends, but still, I think all the plotlines could have been weaved together better. All in all, though, Forbidden Sea kept me entertained. When it came to a choice between going to bed and staying up until midnight to finish it, let's just say I was a little tired the next morning.

(Readalikes: A tiny bit like Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs)

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Forbidden Sea from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lifeless Prose Sinks Sedgwick's Watery Dystopian

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As global warming slowly melts the ice on the Earth's poles, the planet begins to flood. People move to higher ground, waiting for the water to recede. But, year after year, the seas continue to rise, sinking cities, swallowing dry land, and forcing survivors to crowd together on the tiny islands that are all that remain of the old world's continents. On Norwich, the settlement where 10-year-old Zoe Black lives, supplies are dwindling. The ships that once brought food to the island and shuttled away anyone who wanted to go to the mainland no longer come. Without them there's no escape, no hope of hiding from the rising tide.

Zoe, who was mistakenly left behind when her parents fled on the last supply ship, lives on her own, keeping away from anyone who might do her harm. Plenty of people would, too, if they knew what she was hiding. Unlike anyone else on her island, Zoe has a boat. The small vessel, which washed up on the shore during a storm, is finally seaworthy, finally ready to help Zoe get to the mainland and find her parents. She knows the same storm that washed her little boat ashore might have sent her mother and father to a watery grave, but she won't rest until she knows for sure.

Out on the open ocean alone, Zoe searches desperately for land. The spires of a crumbling cathedral beckon her to Eels Island, a place ruled by a ruthless teenager who steals her boat but offers her his protection. Not knowing who to trust, Zoe must figure out a way to survive in a world where civilization can be just as perilous as the wild waters that surround it. As Eels Island crumbles into the sea, Zoe knows she must escape. She has to find her boat, row like mad for the mainland and search for her parents. Before it's too late. Leaving will mean challenging a brutal gang leader, making a dangerous ally, and risking her life - again - on the perilous seas. The prospect's terrifying, but Zoe Black has to try, has to survive.

Even though Floodland by Marcus Sedgwick is probably the mildest dystopian book I've ever read (it's geared toward middle graders), there's just something inherently eerie about water devouring the Earth. It provides an excellent backdrop for this kind of novel, even one as poorly written as Floodland. The premise of this book intrigued me, obviously, but the writing drove me to put it down twice before I finally decided to plow through it, anyway (it's only 148 pages). The dialogue is cringe-worthy, as is the constant telling-not-showing style and the awkward prose. What I can appreciate about this novel is that, unlike most dystopians, it never gets too bleak for its young audience. I still wouldn't hand it to anyone under 10, but, despite the blah writing, Floodland does provide a good introduction to the genre for young readers. It's positive, hopeful end makes it especially appropriate for middle graders. If they can wade through the lifeless prose, that is.

(Readalikes: The subject matter reminded me of Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, X-Isle by Steve Augarde and a little of Dark Life by Kat Falls.)

Grade: C-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I Can Read 'Em All. Can You?

If you read this blog regularly, you've probably heard me talk about my love/hate relationship with LDS fiction (meaning books written by members of the church for other members of the church). So much of it is cheesy, overwritten, unrealistic and just ... not good. But, I believe that it's improving. And I believe in supporting the crafting of books that are clean, uplifting and celebrate the unique lifestyles of LDS people. I also love how LDS authors are taking the mainstream publishing world by storm. One glance at the YA shelves at your local bookstore proves the popularity of writers like Stephenie Meyer, Shannon Hale, James Dashner, Brandon Mull, Ally Condie, Bree Despain and many more.

Since there are so many LDS authors out there, it makes sense to have a literary award just for them. This is where the Whitneys come in. Named for Orson F. Whitney, an early church apostle who prophesied that we would have Shakespeares and Miltons of our own, the Whitney Awards honor LDS writers who excel in their field. Awards are given every year to the books/authors who receive the most votes from a large panel of experts including authors, booksellers, book bloggers and more.

To encourage people to read the finalists for this year's competition, the lovely ladies over at LDS Women's Book Review are hosting the Read 'Em All Challenge. The challenge involves reading all 35 of the books which are in the running for awards. It's a lot, but the hostesses are making it worth it - members of the Whitney Academy can enter to win a $100 Amazon gift card, while those who are not are in the running for a $50 card. Nice, right? Even if you don't win the big prizes, there are lots of fun books on this year's list and you may be surprised by how many you've already read (Matched, Paranormalcy, The Scorch Trials, etc.). To sign up for this fun contest, click here.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dark Family Drama Refuses to Be Put Down. Or Forgotten.

(Image from Indiebound)

The Slepys may look like an ordinary family, one of the many who spend their summers by the lake in Danish Landing, Michigan, but they've never been average. They've never really fit in. And now, in the long, hot days of 1976, their family ties are unraveling like the threads on a cheap sweater. Dick Slepy, who's got his own sins to atone for, can't help noticing the way his wife retreats further and further into her Greek myths, abandoning reality for the safety of fantasy. Or the way beautiful Mary Grace uses her looks to keep no-good Rocky Rasmussen sniffing around. Then there's selfish, mocking Mary Tessa and pious Mary Catherine, who's starving herself for Jesus. Last of all, little Amaryllis, the child who "sees what can't be seen and smells what can't be smelled and knows what can't be known - who has never seemed quite right, even as she seems the sanest of them all" (77). Like Yliss' all-knowing eyes, the family's dysfunction stares Dick in the face, challenging him to act before the ties that bind the Slepys come undone for good.

Following the advice of his minister, Dick whisks his family off to West Africa. Although he's a pathologist used to dealing with dead patients not live ones, Dick trains as a bush doctor in preparation for operating a clinic in a rural village. With dreams of redemption dancing in his head, he steps into a nightmare of constant need, desperate want, and the ever present specter of death looming over it all. The flagrant lack of every needful thing inspires Dick to labor with a passion he's never felt before, even as it angers his wife and grips his daughters in very different ways. Amaryllis, who's always been different, feels the call of the land most keenly, knowing that she's finally found the answer to the mystery of her otherness. With the vibrant colors, smells, tastes and superstitions of Africa swirling all around them, each of the Slepys must make sense of this new land, this new life, and this fragile, crumbling thing that is their family.

As the scarred hands of Africa enfold each member, the Slepys experience dark days of tragedy, triumph, superstition, faith, lies and the staggering, naked truths that will ultimately bring them out of themselves and home to each other.

Amaryllis in Blueberry, the sophomore novel by Madapple author Christina Meldrum, is a dark family drama that twists and turns in so many directions it's difficult to keep up. Or describe. As each of the Slepys adds their story, the tale becomes ever more complex, ever more compelling. Sumptuous, haunting, and evocative, Meldrum's prose brings every character, every emotion, every detail to vivid life. You can't help but feel it all expanding inside you - the hope along with the heartache - resonating, staying with you whether you want it to or not. It's a depressing story, make no mistake, but one that refuses to be put down. Or forgotten.

(Readalikes: Um, nothing really comes to mind.)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), violence and sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Amaryllis in Bluberry from the generous folks at Gallery Books and Inkwell Management (for whom this review was written).

Bloggers Behaving Badly? (Updated)

So, Springtime lurks right around the corner, which means the beginning of the end of decent weather here in the Arizona desert. While many of you probably shivered your way through yesterday, I was out re-teaching my 6-year-old to ride a bike (the front tire of his "little" bike may or may not have had a fatal encounter with the tire of my minivan, hence the lesson in how to ride a "big" bike) and sweating. Yes, sweating. And when I got out of the spa last night at around 10, I didn't even shiver. It was that warm. *Sigh* Next thing you know, I'm going to start hankering for a dip in the pool.

These little hints of Spring also remind me that it's almost time for the LDS Storymakers Conference again. I had a great time last year, so I signed up for it again this year. Boot Camp (it's really just a critique group, much less intimidating than it sounds) was such a fun experience for me that I'm doing it again. Also, since my friend got a lot of encouraging feedback on her writing last year from entering the First Chapter contest, I decided to do that, too. Which meant I spent a week of January writing the first section of the novel that's been floating around in my head for some time. You may recall that I wrote a chapter of the same story for last year's Boot Camp. I figure a chapter a year is about all I can handle because, as it turns out, crafting a decent fictional story is kind of hard. Okay, really hard. It's almost enough to make me rethink my Simon Cowell approach to book reviewing. Almost.

As I was editing my chapter, visions of bestsellerdom dancing in my head, I happened across a discussion about how book blogging can harm an aspiring author's chances at publishing. Have you all heard about this? I became aware of the issue first from Jordyn over at Ten Cent Notes, who's taking a hiatus from book blogging because she's afraid that writing negative reviews will hurt her chances at publishing her own book. She wrote about her concerns in this post and this one. Some of her worries come from this post by popular urban fantasy author Stacia Kane, who essentially says that yes, dissing authors (not just slamming them, but even just not recommending their books) can come back to bite you in the hiney. Even though my humble little chapter may never grow into an actual book, let alone one worthy of publication, I shuddered over some of the things Kane said. I mean, I've never held back my opinions on books, but I also never realized that authors bothered to read my reviews let alone cared that much about the thoughts of little ole me.

Then, I ran across this post by an Australian author named Sylvia Massara. At the time I read it, the post had over 100 comments by irate book bloggers as well as authors warning Massara not to ruin her own career by whining about negative reviews. Predictably, the comments have since been deleted. Although I am so unimpressed by this woman that I will never, ever read a book by her, her thoughts on book blogging are really quite hysterical. Still, her remarks make it clear that some authors do read blog reviews and absolutely are affected by what we say. Who knew?

(Update) Just yesterday, I read this post by Kristi over at The Story Siren, which she wrote in response to an author criticizing In My Mailbox. If you're a book blogger, you're probably familiar with IMM, in which people "brag" about the books they got in the mail for review, checked out of the library, received as gifts or bought for themselves. Even though I don't participate in it, I love seeing "the loot" other bloggers receive. And I don't agree at all with the author's statement that "those 'in my mailbox'" posts represent everything that's wrong with the whole scene. It's all about status and swag.” Huh? Actually, it's all about celebrating and idolizing authors (not rock stars or celebrities, but writers). I'm not even going to tell you how many books I've read, let alone purchased, just from seeing them mentioned on IMM posts.

Both Massara's and Kristi's posts made me proud of book bloggers, ready to defend my "people" at all costs. Then, I read this post, in which MG/YA author Lindsey Leavitt talks about an incident she observed with a book blogger at ALA. Can you say embarrassing? Yikes! Talk about giving book bloggers a bad name.

So, given this love/hate relationship that some authors apparently have for us bloggers (which is sometimes deserved, many times not), I'm just going to say this: I love getting free books from authors/publishers. I love having contacts in the publishing world who so generously offer me books and/or happily send me books I have requested. I love reading the books, reviewing them, recommending them to friends, donating them, discussing them, analyzing them, studying them, and, occasionally, drooling over them. I love hearing from authors who say a review of mine made them so happy they smiled or laughed or cried or, once, printed it out and stuck it on their refrigerator. Book blogging excites me, I'm not going to lie. Do I sometimes feel entitled to the hottest ARC? Yes, I do. I also work hard to earn these privileges by reading as much as I can as fast as I can and writing reviews that are (hopefully) thoughtful, honest, and as eloquent as I can make them.

Part of that honesty, of course, is telling the world exactly what I think of a book. I've certainly dissed some authors in my time, some of whom I've actually run into later at conferences and signings.* And while it's created some uncomfortable situations, I'm not about to back down from anything I've said. My opinions are just that - opinions. When I review a book, I'm evaluating a product, a product into which people are going to invest both their money and their time. I'm simply letting them know if - in my opinion - that product is worth the trouble. It's not a personal attack, it's a critique of one particular product. My readers count on me to tell it like it is, to give them my honest thoughts on whether or not they should read a certain book. They know it's only my opinion. They can take it, they can leave it. Whatever.

You might, by now, be wondering what is the point of this long-winded post of mine. I'm not sure exactly what I'm trying to say either. I guess it's this: The relationship between us book bloggers and authors/publishers is a fragile one, even more so than I realized. We can't exist without them. While they can exist without us, they'd be foolish to ignore us since we pour our hearts and souls into promoting books and reading. I propose mutual respect, seeing as we're all after the same thing: we all want people to buy and read books. That being said, I don't think book bloggers should stop expressing honest opinions or resort to publishing only glowing reviews. Everybody knows that not every reader is going to love every book and I don't trust anyone who says otherwise. So, never fear, I won't be taking any hiatuses or backing down or deleting negative reviews, even if it might hurt my chances at topping the NYT Bestseller list. You can rest assured that if it ever comes to a choice between book blogging and publishing a novel (Dream on!), I will choose the former because it's what I love. Besides, at a chapter a year, the latter ain't never gonna happen nohow.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Intelligent Historical Thriller Proves Me A Lightweight

(Image from Indiebound)

I've tried writing a plot summary for Kenneth Wishnia's newest mystery, The Fifth Servant, three times and it's just not working. So, I'm giving up and letting Library Journal do the job for me:

Life in central Europe during the 16th century was daunting, especially for the Jews of Prague. Forced by papal decree to live within a walled ghetto, Jews were relatively safe from Christian persecution—but not for long. On the eve of Passover in 1592, a young Christian girl is found murdered in a Jewish shop, causing panic for Christians and Jews alike. The Jews are accused of stealing the girl’s blood, a crime that threatens to remove what little security and freedom they have. Recently arrived from Poland, the rabbi’s new sexton, Benyamin Ben-Akiva, is given three days by the Jewish authorities to find the real killer, or the entire Jewish population could face annihilation.

Sounds like a typical, high-stakes, edge-of-your-seat thriller, doesn't it? Well, it is. Except when it isn't. Clear as mud? Let me explain. The Fifth Servant features a hero typical of the genre - Benyamin is a good-hearted, down-on-his-luck underdog, a character who's both sympathetic and likable. He finds himself in a dangerous situation, racing against the clock to save an entire people. Mistrusted by almost everyone in the city and without the aid of modern forensics, Benyamin's at a distinct disadvantage, which makes his plight even more exciting. So, we have an admirable but ordinary man desperate to find a killer in a city where he has few friends. Plenty of crime writers have taken on that storyline. Where The Fifth Servant differs is in scope. The story's much denser than other murder mysteries, veering into history, theology, philosophy and science. I'll admit these tangents often confused me, sometimes bored me, and occasionally pulled me so far away from the story that I wasn't sure I wanted to continue with it. Because, really, the book is a thinking man's (or woman's) thriller and I just didn't feel like thinking that much.

Still, Wishnia writes well, describing 16th Century Prague in such detail that I had no trouble picturing it in my head. He creates a variety of complex, believable characters, all of whom are interesting in their own ways. The author definitely made history come alive for me, I just wanted the story to move a little bit faster. I hate to sound like a lightweight who gets bored without constant action, but that's kind of how I felt with this one. The Fifth Servant is vivid, it's interesting and it's thought-provoking. However, it requires a lot of patience. If you're looking for a fast-paced, exciting read, this might disappoint. If you're looking for a rich, detailed, intelligent mystery, then this is the book for you. Unfortunately, I fell into the first camp on this one. I enjoyed The Fifth Servant, but I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more if it had been about 200 pages shorter. Go ahead, call me a lightweight. I can handle it.

(Readalikes: Reminded me a lot of Mistress in the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), violence and some sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of The Fifth Servant from the generous folks at Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours, for whom this review was written. You can see more details on Kenneth Wishnia's virtual tour here.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Four Words for Ahern's Newest: P.S. I Love You

(Image from Indiebound)

In the Acknowledgments section of her newest book, Irish novelist Cecelia Ahern writes:

In The Book of Tomorrow I share my belief in the magic of books, how I believe books must contain some sort of homing device, which allows them to draw the correct reader to them. Books choose their readers, not the other way around. I believe that booksellers are the matchmakers (p. 312).

I have to agree with her, although in my case, it's usually book bloggers who set me up with great stories. Case in point: The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern. The author's best known for her debut novel, P.S. I Love You, which enjoyed bestsellerdom, then became a movie starring Hillary Swank and Gerard Butler. Despite the story's popularity, I couldn't get past its first chapter. So, I was a tiny bit reluctant to pick up Ahern's newest venture. Still, rave reviews in Book Bloggerland persuaded me to give it a go. The first page convinced me: this book and I belonged together. Really. It was love at first sight (well, first read).

The book revolves around 16-year-old Tamra Goodwin, a wealthy Dubliner whose world starts to crumble when her father commits suicide. It's not just his death that shocks her, but also the reason behind it: George Goodwin owed so much money that he died with barely a euro to his name. As the bank repossesses the family's home, Tamra's mother sells off everything she can to pay her husband's debt. Now Tamra, the girl who swathed herself in designer-ware, swung at tennis balls on her private court, and played princess in a 7,000-square-foot mansion, is homeless, penniless, and not too happy about it either. She's stuck living in a cramped cottage in the countryside, miles away from anything that's anything, with her eccentric aunt and uncle.

Aunt Rosaleen takes charge of Tamra's mother, who's almost comatose with grief, leaving the teenager to find something - anything - to do. As Tamra explores the area, she finds all kinds of wondrous things, including a ruined castle, a traveling bookmobile run by a very sexy librarian, an unconventional nunnery and a mysterious diary. While each discovery holds its own secrets, it's the last that has her completely flummoxed. Drawn to the old-fashioned book with its leather cover and gold padlock, Tamra takes it home to pry it open. When she succeeds, she's disappointed to find that it's a journal, every page blank. She's never been into writing, but these days she's bored enough to try just about anything. This time, as Tamra opens the diary, she's shocked to discover that the first few pages are already filled, covered with words written in her own handwriting, words she's sure she never penned. The entry's dated for the next day. A practical joke, she assumes, until all the things written in the diary come true.

Tamra doesn't know how the diary works, but she believes in its magic. Somehow, it's leading her, luring her to investigate the dark secrets that swirl around Kilsaney Castle. The more Tamra pries, the more confused she becomes. What happened to the castle? Why did the Kilsaneys abandon it? Why does timid Rosaleen yank the mail out of Tamra's hands, forbid her from entering the garage, and insist that Tamra's mother does not need a doctor when she so clearly does? And, most importantly, what does it all have to do with her? Something sinister's going on in the Irish countryside and Tamra's going to find out what. Even if it kills her. Which it just might.

Family secrets, a magic diary, a handsome Irish book lender - you can see why I find The Book of Tomorrow so intriguing. Add in a bit of humor, a healthy dose of teenage angst, and some good, old-fashioned mysteries and, really, what's not to love? Okay, I would have liked more depth from the male characters (Marcus and Weseley are so similar I can barely tell them apart), and some of the plot points come off as a bit contrived, but the story overall does not disappoint. Not in the least. In fact, it's one of those magical novels Ahern referred to, the kind that pulls the right reader to them, then proceeds to enchant the heck out of them. After devouring her latest novel, I have only four words for Ms. Ahern: P.S. I Love You.

(Readalikes: It reminds me of other books about family secrets, though no specific titles come to mind.)

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder invectives), some violence and sexual content (not graphic)

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of The Book of Tomorrow from the generous folks at Harper Collins. Thank you!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Slave Girl's Diary Makes History Intimate, Impactful

(Image from Indiebound)

Even though 12-year-old Clotee is forbidden from reading or writing, words thrill her, each one filling her mind with pictures. "Home" brings images of the Belmont Plantation, an elegant property near Richmond, Virginia, where Clotee has lived all her life. "Kitchen" conjures herbs hanging from the ceiling, pots bubbling over the fire, and the kind face of Aunt Tee, the best cook in the state. "Family" calls up memories of her mother, who died after being sold away by heartless Master Henley. But "Freedom"? That one's a blank. "Spelled right or wrong," says Clotee, "freedom got no picure, no magic. Freedom is just a word" (17).

Still, Clotee knows enough to take advantage where she can. For the last two years, she's been fanning William Henley while his mother teaches him to read. The young master may be the same age as Clotee, but she's a much more willing student. Unbeknownst to the mistress, who would skin Clotee alive if she knew, the slave girl can decipher enough words to read most anything and she can write well enough to keep a diary. The Henleys would beat Clotee if they knew, so she must keep her secret hidden not just from them, but from anyone who could rat her out. No matter how vigilant she is, Clotee knows she could be discovered at any second ...

When things really start getting crazy at Belmont, Clotee must decide where her loyalties lie. Should she whisper slave secrets to her mistress in exchange for pretty things? Can she sell out a man who's been nothing but good to her in order to save the boy who's the closest thing she has to a brother? And, most importantly, should she make a run for freedom when she has absolutely everything to lose?

A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl by Patricia McKissack was originally published in 1997, then reissued in 2011 as part of Scholastic's efforts to breathe new life into the Dear America series. McKissack based the story on her great-great-great grandmother, a slave woman who not only learned to read and write, but also used her knowledge to teach others. Clotee's story is similar to others about slavery, and yet it still manages to be both intimate and impactful. I did want a little more from our heroine, who is, after all, kind of the same ole clichéd slave we always find in historical fiction. Still, I enjoyed the story, easily devouring it in a matter of hours. The Dear America books continue to delight me, as they will any history lover, young or old.

(Readalikes: The Dear America books are similar to The American Girl series; this one reminded me of Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, Day of Tears by Julius Lester, and other stories about slavery.)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for violence and vague references to plantation owners sleeping with their slaves

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of A Picture of Freedom from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Italian Immigration Story a Fine First Novel

(Image from Indiebound)

Life in Opi is difficult even in the best of times. Nestled high in the mountains of Southern Italy, the tiny village offers little besides breathtaking vistas. Especially for a woman as poor and plain as 20-year-old Irma Vitale. When her brother emigrates to America, urging her to join him, Irma considers leaving, too. But her mother always warned her that people who leave Opi are destined to die with strangers, a horrifying thought for someone who's never been away from home. It takes a stunning betrayal to push her on the journey, but Irma finally flees her hometown, bound for Cleveland.

It's 1891, a time when the whole world seems to be flocking to the shores of America. Irma's heard enough stories to know that few return from this great journey across the North Atlantic. Some are robbed and beaten as they travel, others are buried at sea, and still more vanish into the vastness of America, completely forgetting to send money home to Italy. If Irma can just make it to Ohio, she knows she can make plenty of money sewing for wealthy ladies, enough to live on and send home to her family.

It doesn't take long for Irma to realize how naive she's been in her planning. Nothing - from her voyage across the sea in the cramped, smelly bowels of the Servia to her lonely arrival in New York City to her years of backbreaking sewing work in the land that was supposed to be full of grand possibility - goes the way she hoped it would. She learns much along the way about hope, about friendship, about heartache, about love. When the opportunity arises to return to Opi, it's time for Irma to decide: Should she return to her mountain home or risk fulfilling her mother's prophecy and dying among strangers?

When We Were Strangers, the first novel by playwright and short story author Pamela Schoenewaldt, is a sweeping saga written in lush, lovely prose. Even when Irma's experiences are brutal and her outlook bleak (which is often the case), Schoenewaldt's writing is tender, gentle. While the novel doesn't have much of a plot, what does happen keeps the tale moving enough that I never found myself growing bored. With rich period detail; colorful, realistic characters; and a brave, plucky heroine, When We Were Strangers is an admirable first novel. It didn't blow me away, but it definitely kept me reading. You better believe I'm looking forward to more from the talented Schoenewaldt.

(Readalikes: Reminded me of The King of Mulberry Street by Donna Jo Napoli and other stories about Italian immigrants)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for mild language (no F-bombs), violence and sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of When We Were Strangers from Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours, for whom this review was written. Thank you!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why ... You Should Read Jay Asher's Debut

(Image from Indiebound)

13 Reasons Why You Should Read Jay Asher's debut novel:

1. The format: In Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher tells the story of a teenage girl's death in a way that is both original and effective. Taking its cue from the buttons on an old-fashioned Walkman, the story plays out as Clay Jensen roams around town stopping, pausing, and playing his way through Hannah Baker's verbal suicide note. This clever technique gives a new spin to the exploration of an issue that haunts us all.

2. The voice: Books narrated by dead people aren't all that unusual, but this one takes the concept in a new direction. Through the audio tapes Hannah recorded before she killed herself, we're able to "hear" her voice, helping us understand who she was and what she became. I kept wondering why Asher chose Clay to co-narrate, since he was such a bland character, but I think Clay's there as more of a canvas. Hannah comes alive enough that she could carry the novel alone. Still, Clay's thoughts round out the story, making it deeper, more complex and, ultimately, more interesting.

3. The suspense: Unlike other issue novels, Asher's reads almost like a mystery/thriller. The pacing moves things right along, keeping the reader on edge as he flies through the story. Even though the plot didn't surprise me much or really blow me away, it kept me as engrossed as any John Grisham or James Patterson pageturner.

4. The moral: While Thirteen Reasons Why never comes off as preachy, there are definitely lessons to be learned from it. As Hannah details all the ways in which people wronged her, it becomes clear how deeply words, even those meant in jest, can wound a person. Asher doesn't knock us over the head with platitudes, but his message gets through loud and clear: Be careful with other people's feelings.

5. The debate: Asher writes about suicide with sensitivity, while still allowing Clay to play devil's advocate. While I believe the responsibility for a person's suicide should be placed solely on the shoulders of that person, others might disagree. The issue would make for interesting discussions in schools, book clubs, or on blogs/message boards.

6. The acknowledgment: In an interview included in my copy of the book, Asher said, "Some people, primarily adults, would rather there be no books dealing with controversial subjects, even if those books help start a dialogue between teens and adults." I'm not one of those adults. I think readers of all ages will recognize themselves in Hannah, which will hopefully make them feel less alone. I'm all for helping people get the understanding and support they need, especially if it prevents them from thinking suicide is the only answer to their problems.

7. The overabundance of paranormal teen lit: Maybe this type of book is what made you turn to paranormal stories in the first place. Reality can be harsh, that's a fact. However, I think well-written issue novels like Thirteen Reasons Why prove why contemporary novels are still so relevant. Who cares about broody teenage vampires when realistic books give you meaty, true-to-life issues on which to chew?

8. The acclaim: If I haven't convinced you yet, consider the many awards this book has received. Click here for a full list.

9. The blurbs: Don't believe me? Ask the experts. Chris Crutcher, Sherman Alexie, Ellen Hopkins and Gordon Korman all wrote excellent blurbs about Thirteen Reasons Why. Check them out here.

10. The reviews: Thirteen Reasons Why gets 4 1/2 out of 5 stars from Amazon reviewers, the same from Barnes & Noble readers, 4 out of 5 stars at Goodreads, and rave reviews from all kinds of book bloggers.

11. The blog: Jay Asher's funny. Just check out his posts.

12. The website: If you don't read the book, you may not understand the book's excellent website, which offers lots of extras, like videos of all the different tapes, wallpaper, an interactive version of Hannah's map, and more.

13. The giveaway: Okay, if I haven't managed to convince you yet, then read the book for a chance to earn free stuff. Everyone likes prizes, right? Well, when Jay Asher gets 13,000 reader reviews of Thirteen Reasons Why posted to his website, he'll give away copies of his books to four lucky winners. Check out the contest here.

(Readalikes: Apparently, I don't read too many books about suicide. Any suggestions?)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), sexual content, and depictions of underrage drinking/partying

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Mockingbirds Honest, Authentic

(Image from Indiebound)

Alex Patrick isn't the kind of girl who sleeps around. In fact, she's never slept with anyone at all. Which is why waking up next to some guy she barely knows shocks her to her core. She doesn't know his name, can't remember coming to his dorm room, and hopes beyond hope that the condoms in his trash don't mean what she thinks they do. Memories of their night together are so fuzzy she's not sure she'll ever remember anything, let alone the most important question of all: Did she consent to having sex with a boy whose name she can't even remember?

One thing is certain - Alex drank way too much on the night in question. Still, pieces of the evening are floating back and the more she remembers, the surer she becomes that Carter Hutchinson raped her. Now he's bragging about it to anyone who'll listen. Alex has to do something, but she can't go to the administration of her exclusive boarding school (they'd never believe one of their students committed a criminal act) or the police (who would violate her even further with their evidence-gathering). The Mockingbirds are her only hope. Themis Academy's secret justice society has its own kind of power; Alex just has to convince its judges to wield it in her behalf. But proving her case means reliving the worst night of her life, ruining another student's reputation, and enduring threats from a very angry Carter. Is it worth the fight? Does she have any hope of winning? And what will the battle cost her?

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney discusses date rape with an honesty so searing it can only come from personal experience. The author was violated while in college and, although she took a more traditional route to justice than her heroine, going through the process herself means that Whitney's book rings with an authenticity that will speak to not only rape victims but to all women. Although the writing gets awkward at times, the story moves quickly, the characters are mostly interesting, and the secret society angle gives a common topic some originality. I expected the book to blow me away. It didn't. Still, it was a compelling read. Not an easy one, but one that made me think.

(Readalikes: Um, I can't think of any, although it references To Kill A Mockingbird quite a bit.)

Grade: B-

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

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

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