Monday, August 29, 2011

Aloha Relaxation!

So, after years of saying, "We really need to go to Hawaii," my husband and I are finally doing it. We fly out tomorrow, our 14th wedding anniversary, bound for Oahu. Since it's our first time being there, we're doing all the touristy stuff - Pearl Harbor, the Dole plantation, The Polynesian Cultural Center, etc. And, of course, we'll be spending lots of time laying on the beach, just chillaxing. I can't wait.

Although I have a couple of book reviews scheduled to post in my absence, mostly it's going to be pretty quiet around here. I'll still be reading (just in HAWAII) and I'll get back to regular posting when I return. Have a fabulous week, everybody. Happy reading!

Oh, and if you've been to Oahu (Waikiki and the North Shore, specifically), what are the not-to-be-missed attractions, restaurants, activities? We'd love more suggestons.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bloody Jack: It's a Treasure, Me Hearties!

(Image from Indiebound)

"Charming" isn't an adjective oft associated with salty sea sailors, but in the case of "Bloody" Jack Faber, it's pretty much an understatement. No leading lad (er, lass) in recent memory has enchanted me quite like this one. If ye aren't familiar with young Jacky of the high seas, get thee to a library. Quick-like. Ye won't be disappointed, me hearties, 'cause Bloody Jack is a treasure indeed.

Bloody Jack, the first in a series of swashbuckling YA novels by L.A. Meyer, begins in 1797 in the grimy back alleys of London, where the newly-orphaned Mary Faber has just been tossed. Picked up by a street gang, Mary survives the way all guttersnipes do: "We begs mostly, please Mum please Mum please Mum, over and over and we steals a bit and we gets by, just" (7). But when Mary's best mate is murdered one night, she realizes she can't handle life on the streets any longer. She takes the dead boy's clothes, stuffs his shiv down her shirt, and makes for the docks. Since she's small for her age (which she estimates to be around 12), with no obvious womanly traits to distinguish her from all the scruffy young boys hanging around the shipyard, she figures finding a job can't be too hard. She figures right. And wrong.

Posing as "Jacky" Faber, Mary becomes a ship's boy on the HMS Dolphin, a man-of-war headed for North Africa to chase pirates. The finding part's easy enough, it's the keeping of the job that's tough. Mary takes her licks, sure does, but works hard and learns to handle life at sea. The one thing on which she can't get a handle, though, is her changing body - the more she grows, the harder it becomes to keep her secret, well, secret. It doesn't help that she's getting right moony over fellow ship's boy, Jaimy Fletcher.

As Mary comes of age on the high seas, she finds trouble, triumph, adventure and, ultimately, her own salty, sea lovin' self. With a voice so authentic, so thoroughly charming that it pours off the page, she's not just memorable, she's completely unforgettable. I loved every second of my time with her, so much so that before I even got to Bloody Jack's third chapter, I already had the rest of the books in the series on reserve at my library. That's how enamored I am with Ms. "Bloody" Jack Faber. So enchanted am I by this book that I can't even come up with a criticism. I just loved it. Totally. Completely. Every last page, every last sentence, every last word. Ye will, too, scurvy dog, or it'll be the plank for yer sorry self ...

(Readalikes: Reminded me of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi)

Grade: A

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

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

In A Village Where "Witches" Roam, Words Can Be Very Dangerous ...

(Image from Indiebound)

"We must repent and repair, and tread with care, for the Devil is running amok in Massachusetts" (47).

The last thing on Earth 12-year-old Deliverance Trembley needs is more problems. She's already nursing her frail older sister, completing all the chores around the farm while her uncle's away, and doing her level best to convince the nosy citizens of Salem Village - as well as herself - that she and Remembrance haven't, in fact, been abandoned by said uncle. When rumors of witchcraft sweep through the town, it makes Deliverance shudder. Hysteria's taken over people's good senses, and there's no telling who will be accused next.

Unlike a lot of girls in the village, Deliverance knows how to read and write. When she finds a blank book in her uncle's farmhouse, she starts journaling as a way to vent all the feelings she holds inside. It becomes her solace, her haven, a place to record not only her own emotions, but also her exhiliration and fear as witch hunting fever takes over the town. Deliverance has never been tight with the accusing girls. Crossing them now means risking a hanging. But as careful as she is to watch her step, Deliverance has never been good at holding her tongue. Will her skepticism about the girls' "ability" put her own head in the noose? With her uncle gone, her older brother training with the militia, and her own sister caught up in the witch hunts, Deliverance has no one to turn to, no one to protect her. Only in her diary can she express her true thoughts - dangerous thoughts, thoughts that could get her in trouble if anyone ever read them ...

First published in 2004, I Walk in Dread: The Diary of Deliverance Trembley, Witness to the Salem Witch Trials by Lisa Rowe Fraustino was one of the last novels published in Scholastic's popular Dear America series. Now it's among the first to be reissued. Available on September 1 with new cover art, this taut, well-told novel chronicles the strange events that transpired in Salem, Massachusetts in 1691. What began with a group of young girls accusing their neighbors of practicing witchcraft ended with over 100 people imprisoned and 20 dead. As Deliverance recounts it all in prose that grows from fascinated to incredulous to fearful, she draws the reader in, making her an eyewitness to history. It's difficult not to empathize with our heroine, whose courage makes her admirable while her impatience keeps her human. I Walk in Dread doesn't necessarily add anything new to the story of the Salem Witch Trials, but, with authentic narration, vivid historical detail, and plenty of nail-biting tension, it's a strong, gripping novel that truly brings history to life.

(Readalikes: Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill and Father of Lies by Ann Turner)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild violence and intense situations

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of I Walk in Dread from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Blood Wounds Not My Favorite, But My SBP Love Persists Anyway

(Image from Indiebound)

Not all blended families work as well as Willa Coffey's. She's lucky and she knows it. Her stepfather Jack is a kind, involved parent who treats Willa like his own daughter. His girls, 17-year-old Brooke and 14-year-old Alyssa, might wear designer clothes and fly off to Europe whenever they feel like it (all courtesy of their mother), but they're down-to-Earth enough to be likable. Willa's mom runs the household, making sure things stay organized, calm. And it does. Most of the time.

Although Willa harbors her own secrets, she's content with the life she lives in quiet, rural Pennsylvania. Until a violent crime rocks her peaceful world. After murdering his family in Texas, the father Willa never knew is coming for her. As Willa watches her safe little life crumble all around her, she grapples for understanding, for answers. Digging through the rubble of her mother's lies, Willa uncovers some shocking truths - about her mother, her father, and her perfect blended family, who, as it turns out, isn't so perfect after all.

It's no secret that I love Susan Beth Pfeffer - just take a gander at my left sidebar and you'll see she's one of my favorites. I adore her dystopian "Moon" series, her blog, her silly cats, and just ... her. Still, I'm not sure how I feel about Blood Wounds, her newest YA novel (available September 13). The structure of the book surprised me since it took the story in a completely different direction than what I was expecting. Because of what happens to Willa's father after he leaves Texas, what should be the most exciting part of the novel becomes rather anticlimatic. In fact, the first third feels too rushed. I would have liked a more intense, detailed setup before Willa starts searching for all her family secrets. That being said, I did enjoy Blood Wounds. It's an honest, thought-provoking novel full of interesting characters, skilled prose, and mostly realistic plot turns (I still think Willa should have run off to Texas without telling anyone - I don't get why her parents let her go with so little protest). So, I didn't like the book as much as I wanted to, but that's okay. I won't be taking Susan Beth Pfeffer off my favorites list anytime soon, especially seeing as how she just finished writing a new Moon book. Squee!

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

Grade: B-

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

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Blood Wounds from my wonderful book blogging friend, Amanda, who presumably received it from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thanks!

Monday, August 22, 2011

fathermothergod a Fascinating Look at An Unfathomable Doctrine

(Image from Indiebound)

Lucia Ewing learned a lot of things from the Christian Science religion in which she was raised: She learned that she was created in God's image, she learned to love Him, to feel His presence all around her, to learn of Him by studying the Bible, and to pattern her life after that of Jesus Christ. She also discovered that because God made her, she was perfect. Germs and disease were man-made problems that should be "cured" not with doctors or medicine, but with faith and prayer. It's this last issue that bugged her. Especially when it meant suffering excruciating pain after a nasty fall off her bike or battling her father over something as ordinary as a pair of eyeglasses. So glaring was the hypocrisy surrounding the issue that Lucia could no longer stand it - for that and other reasons, she left the church, even though it tore her parents' hearts out.

It's not until cancer invades her mother's body, though, that Lucia discovered what it really meant for a person to seek only spiritual healing in the face of a vicious, life-threatening disease. For her, it meant watching her mother waste away before her eyes and being powerless to stop it. It meant doing constant battle with her father - crying, pleading, begging him to open his eyes. It meant guilt, plaguing, overwhelming guilt as she wondered if it really was her unbelief that halted her mother's progress, even though she knew it couldn't possibly be her fault. For Lucia, honoring her mother's religious beliefs meant standing by, doing nothing, while she died. Slowly and painfully.

In fathermothergod, Lucia Ewing Greenhouse reflects on her mother's fight with cancer, the medical intervention on which 23-year-old Lucia insisted in spite of her father's adamant refusal, and the catastrophic clash of beliefs that made the whole ordeal even more diastrous. It's an honest, heart-wrenching memoir that asks critical questions: What say does/should an adult child have in her parents' decisions, if any? Is there any truth to the idea of "spiritual healing"? What role does faith play in fighting illness? Should the government intervene when religious fanaticism threatens a person's life? When - if ever - should a person's wishes be ignored in order to save their life? As Lucia discovers, these are all difficult questions with very complicated answers.

I know very little about Christian Science (until I read this book I thought it was the same as Scientology, which it isn't), but I do understand growing up in a conservative religion that preaches doctrine which sounds ludicrous to non-believers. However, I don't get the Scientists' refusal of medical intervention at all. I do believe faith plays a role in healing, I just don't think it's the only method that should be used. For instance, I know God can give me the strength to deal with my insulin-dependent diabetes, but I know He's not going to control my blood sugars for me. I have to do my part. Given my own beliefs, maybe it's weird that I sometimes found myself agreeing more with Lucia's parents than with her. I mean, if Joanne Ewing, being of sound mind, refused medical attention, shouldn't her wishes have been honored? If she were a child, subject to the whims of her parents, it would be a whole different ball of wax, but she was a mature adult - deluded though she may have been - when she got sick. That's the beauty of this memoir, though: it makes the reader consider every angle of the drama, empathize with each of the players, and draw her own conclusions.

I'm not naive enough to think I know everything about Christian Science from reading one book, especially when it's written by a bitter former church member, but I find the things I did learn completely baffling. Fascinating, just unfathomable. Lucia obviously feels the same. Still, fathermothergod explores those beliefs in a tell-it-like-it-is manner that is surprisingly sensitive. She honors the good she found in the religion while exposing the hypocriticism that defined her experience with Christian Science. What results is a compelling memoir that is as intriguing as it is uncomfortable, as convincing as it is thought-provoking. If you're interested in these types of issues, you don't want to miss this book.

An aside: I kept thinking that the refusal of medical attention for religious reasons would make an incredibly compelling novel, especially if it concerned a child. You listening, Jodi Picoult? I just found your next best-selling idea.

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

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language (a handful of F-bombs plus moderate use of milder invectives) and one depiction of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of fathermothergod from the generous folks at Crown Publishing. Thank you!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Got A Junior J.K. Rowling On Your Hands? Want One? Either Way, You Better Read This:

(Image from Indiebound)

"But children especially love, love the power of words and stories. And they are, so naturally, living a writer's life. A life of observation, of wondering, of memory and imagination. A life where by writing down something you can make it happen" (2)

Some girls pretend they are princesses. Or rock stars. Or supermodels. Not my daughter. She plays "famous author." I had to smile when I spied her sitting at a high counter recently with her like-minded cousin, the two of them sipping hot chocolate, nibbling on muffins and writing in their notebooks, a la J.K. Rowling. Mark my word, those two will be bestselling authors some day. What has made the two of them so keen to write? How have my sister and I fostered this love for the written word in our girls? Um, yeah, your guess is as good as mine. Okay, there are things I've done - reading to her since she was little, making sure she was always well-supplied with books, praising her writing, etc. - but I never set out to create a writer. A reader, yes. The writing? It just kind of happened.

Should you worry if the writing bug doesn't "just happen" to bite your child? Literacy advocate Pam Allyn says no. She insists that not only is the desire to tell stories innate in children, but a love of putting pen to paper can be taught, fostered and encouraged. In her new book, Your Child's Writing Life, she shows parents how. Allyn begins by describing the different stages of writing development - from an infant's cooing to a toddler's endless questioning to an elementary scholar's simple stories to a high schooler's more complex and skillful word usage. For each stage, she suggests simple activities parents can use to make the language acquisition and writing development processes more effective and fun. She also provides helpful tips, like 5 fundamental keys for "Setting the Stage for Forever Writers," ways to aid uninterested/frustrated writers, and 50 prompts to use when writer's block descends. My favorite part of the guide, though, is the section in which Allyn recommends 20 excellent children's books, along with correlating exercises to encourage kids to use what they've just read to enhance their own writing.

As someone who enjoys writing and has a child who loves it as well, Your Child's Writing Life makes perfect sense to me. I understand the joy of watching a child find her passion, discover her voice, and thrill at the sound of her own words. If I didn't enjoy the craft, though, or my child had no interest in writing, I'm not sure the book would be as meaningful to me. Allyn's nothing if not encouraging, but I can see how her enthusiasm could overwhelm a parent whose child couldn't care less about reading or writing. Fortunately, I'm not that parent and I found Your Child's Writing Life wonderfully enlightning and instructive. I haven't read anything else on this subject and I'm only now wondering why not. It's a good thing, I guess, that my kids seem naturally inclined toward reading and writing (or perhaps they've been conditioned by their bookish mother?) because I now fear I'm not doing enough to help them. Dang it! Now I feel totally overwhelmed.

Seriously, though, Your Child's Writing Life is a wonderful resource for parents, teachers, and anyone else who spends time aorund children. I highly recommend it. It's worth the read just to access Allyn's list of recommended reads, many of which will soon be hopping into my Amazon shopping cart. After reading this book, I'm even more interested in another of Allyn's titles: What to Read When. *Sigh* So many books, so little time ...

(Readalikes: I'm not sure there's anything else like this on the market.)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: G

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Your Child's Writing Life from the generous folks at Penguin and Pasta Queen PR, for whom this review was written. Thank you!

Quotes were taken from uncorrected proofs and may have been changed in the final version of the book.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Nerds Rule. Or Do They?

(Image from Indiebound)

Eighth grader Maureen Saunders is far from the most popular girl at Grover Park Middle School. Far, far from it. In fact, if it wasn't for honey buns and cupcakes, she'd have no friends at all. She's so low on the totem pole of popularity that even the geekiest kids want nothing to do with her. Until the day she stands up to the ThreePees, a trio of pretty, popular, perfect girls who delight in torturing lower life forms like herself. Maureen's heroics endear her to Allergy Alice and Beanpole Barbara, two girls who are as dorky - if not more so - than Maureen. Together, they form their own clique, the Nerd Girls.

The geek squad has one goal: to steal the ThreePees' thunder by beating them at the school talent show. Their only problem is talent. They have none. Unless you count Barbara's ear wax-cleaning skills, which Maureen certainly does not. When an unlikely source presents Maureen and her friends with the perfect showstopping act, it looks like the girls might finally get their revenge through pure nerdy awesomeness. But, The ThreePees never lose, especially to social nothings like the Nerd Girls. Can Maureen, Alice and Barbara win against Grover Park's reigning queens or are they destined to wallow at the bottom of the social food chain forever?

What sticks out most about Nerd Girls: The Rise of the Dorkasaurus by Alan Lawrence Sitomer is Maureen's very authentic voice. Kind of weird considering her creator is a middle-aged (I don't actually know how old Sitomer is - he looks youngish - so hopefully I'm not insulting the author by calling him "middle-aged.") man. A teacher man, well-acquainted with the way kids speak/act, but still, creating such a vivid, real character is no small accomplishment. Maureen's snarky, but she's also honest, quirky, and sympathetic. It's kind of impossible not to like her. I didn't love every twist the plot took, but I still enjoyed this funny, upbeat read. My 9-year-old (who read the book on the sly - it's recommended for ages 11+) thinks the book's hysterical. I'm not quite as enamored, although I liked Nerd Girls: The Rise of the Dorkasaurus. I just didn't love it.

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little of the N.E.R.D.S series by Michael Buckley)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for some crude humor

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Nerd Girls: The Rise of the Dorkasaurus from the generous folks at Disney/Hyperion. Thank you!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Warm, Gentle Rachel Spinelli Totally Smile-Worthy

(Image from Indiebound)

Zachary Beatrice has never felt that connected to the Colorado desert where he and his father live in an old, aluminum-sided trailer. After his mother takes off, determined to finally realize her dream of working on a cruise ship, Zachary's even more unmoored. So, when his dad suggests moving, Zachary's all for it. Falls, Connecticut, is a quirky little town, and it doesn't take long for the Beatrices to feel right at home.

One of Falls' most notorious residents lives right across the street from Zachary. Like him, Rachel Spinelli is 14. Unlike him, she has a fearsome reputation as a scrappy, hot-tempered fighter. Zachary really doesn't want to get on her bad side, but it soon becomes apparent that anything can happen during the long, hot summer in Falls, Connecticut.

Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face (available August 30), a new middle grade novel by Paul Acampora, is one of those gentle stories that always put a smile on my face. It's warm, funny, and touching in a subtle, melodrama-free kind of way. There's not much of a plot going on in Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face, but I really couldn't have cared less. I loved it.

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little bit of the Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall; also, the relationship between Rachel and her big brother reminded me of the one between Anya and Leo in All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face from the generous folks at Macmillan/Roaring Press. Thank you!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Original, Dystopian Romp Leaves Me Begging For More

(Image from Indiebound)

It's 2083 and the mean streets of New York City haven't gotten any kinder. Gangs rule the buroughs, making violent crime a daily battle. With water rationing, food shortages, constant changes in the law, and few police officers left to enforce them, the bankrupt city's become a bleak, dangerous place to live. Residents can't even turn to chocolate for consolation, since that's been outlawed along with caffeine, cell phones with cameras and a million other things. Still, it's not like 16-year-old Anya Balanchine's being forced to hunt other teens in a treacherous arena or marry a stranger against her will - her life really is fairly routine.

As routine as life gets for the teenage daughter of New York City's most notorious crime boss, anyway.

Anya's life has already been ripped apart by her association (however innocent) with "the family." Her parents are dead - both murdered by hitmen - leaving Anya to deal with her ailing grandmother, her brain-injured older brother, and her vulnerable younger sister pretty much on her own. Her mafiya relations have done quite enough damage; she wants nothing more to do with them. Ever. She'd like to shuck the whole Balanchine legacy, go to college in some faraway city, and live happily ever after in some anonymous place where no one knows her. If only her siblings didn't need her so much. If only she wasn't next in line to inherit her family's chocolate-manufacturing business. If only she wasn't Anya Balanchine.

But she is.

So, she'll deal with her siblings, her lowlife mafiya relatives, and the fallout from being a mobster's daughter. Which means that when her jerky ex-boyfriend lands in the hospital after illegally consuming Balanchine chocolate, Anya takes the blame. But she's not as guilty as her surname would suggest. In fact, she's perfectly innocent, she just has to prove it. To clear her name, she'll have to take on the most feared family in New York City - her own.

All These Things I've Done (available September 6), the first book in a new YA trilogy by Gabrielle Zevin, introduces a gutsy heroine with an irresistible voice. It's impossible not to root for Anya as she takes on the tough-as-nails world of organized crime in an effort to save herself and what's left of her family. I had a few issues with the book (Don't I always?), but mostly I just enjoyed this romp through one of the scariest dystopian societies I've ever enountered (No chocolate? Terrifying.). Seriously, though, I loved the originality of the novel's premise, most of the characters, and even the forbidden romance between Anya and the assistant DA's son (although Win could use some roughing up - he's a little too perfect). All These Things I've Done hasn't even come out yet, but I'm already aching for a sequel. Write like the wind, Gabrielle!

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little of Heist Society by Ally Carter and The Good Girl's Guide to Getting Kidnapped by Yxta Maya Murray)

Grade: B-

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

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of All These Things I've Done from the generous folks at Macmillan/Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Thank you!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Tense Pro-Life Dystopian Shows Serious Potential

(Image from Indiebound)

In the not too distant future - 2065 to be exact - Earth's natural resources have dwindled due to overpopulation and wasteful usage. Inside the gated city where Ransom Lawe lives, laws govern everything from how much water comes out of the faucet at one time to how many children a woman can birth. With frequent blackouts, little food, no fuel for travel, and few reasons to get up in the morning, it's a hard, bleak existence. Still, it beats living out in the wild. At least in the city people have food. Sometimes.

As a recycler, Ransom makes barely enough money to support his wife and two young sons. Working long hours, plus wasting precious minutes trying to navigate the city's unreliable tram system, means he barely sees his family at all. Perhaps that's how he misses the fact that his wife is pregnant - with an illegal third child. Some people can afford to buy an extra child credit, but Ransom can't. Since Teya's insistent on keeping the baby, Ransom investigates every option available to them. To no avail.

With each passing week, Teya's pregnancy becomes harder to conceal. If anyone discovers her secret - a nosy neighbor, a cold-hearted snatcher, or Teya's sister, the Population Director - she will be taken, the child forcefully expelled from her body. The more desperate Ransom's situation grows, the more insane it seems. Should their tainted government really have this much control over people's lives? Disillusioned as he is, Ransom still can't imagine leaving the city. Where would he go? How would he even make it out in the wild with young children and a pregnant wife? He'd rather sacrifice his baby. Wouldn't he?

Grappling with doubt, fear and outright desperation, Ransom must choose what to believe in, whom to trust. In a world where one wrong move could cost him everything, Ransom needs to be very, very careful where he steps ...

While the plotting and character development in The Third by Abel Keogh leave something to be desired, it's not a bad debut novel. Not at all, really. The idea of population control makes Keogh's dystopian world unique (although Margaret Peterson Haddix also has a series about illegal third children), since most end-of-the-world societies have the opposite problem. It's also an issue rife with tension, making the story both intense and relevant. I actually loved the whole idea of it. Keogh makes some rookie mistakes, though - characters that don't exactly leap off the page, info-dumpy dialogue, and plot devices that hinge entirely on coincidence - all of which distract from the story. Still, the novel commanded my attention, propelling me through its pages in a matter of hours. Did I love every word? No, but I think Keogh's got some serious potential and, just for the record, if he happened to write a sequel to The Third, I would totally read it. Hint, hint.

(Readalikes: Reminded me of lots of other dystopians, but especially the Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien and Delirium by Lauren Oliver.)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for violence and intense situations

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of The Third from the generous folks at Bonneville Books and Tristi Pinkston Book Tours, for which this review was written. Thank you!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Like Hoot? Try Scat.

(Image from Indiebound)

Have you read Hoot by Carl Hiassen? Then you can probably go ahead and skip Scat, his newest (2009) eco-thriller for middle graders. Seeing as the two books have very similar characters, plots and themes, you really aren't going to miss much. Unless, of course, you just couldn't get enough of Hoot. In that case, you'll want to grab yourself a copy of Scat. Stat.

The story begins with the mysterious disappearance of Mrs. Starch, a strict, not-so-well-loved biology teacher at a private school in Naples, Florida. After a face-off with an unruly student in the classroom and a brave rescue during a field trip gone awry, Mrs. Starch vanishes. Her excuse of a "family emergency" seems fishy, especially considering the fact that she has none. Neither Nick nor Marta are particularly fond of Mrs. Starch, but they're still concerned about what's happened to her. Could Duane Scrod, Jr. (a.k.a. "Smoke") have made good on the threats he lobbed at her after the confrontation? It seems plausible seeing as he's been absent, too.

As Nick and Marta launch an unofficial investigation into their teacher's whereabouts, things get awfully weird awfully quick. And that's just in biology. The two eighth graders encounter all kinds of wacky things - a collection of stuffed, dead animals; a multilingual parrot; a rare, almost mythical panther; a reclusive millionaire hippie; and more - in their quest for answers. When the kids discover the truth, the biggest question becomes: How far are they willing to go to stand up for what's right?

With Hiassen's trademark zany humor rippling through its every page, there's no doubt that Scat's an entertaining read. Despite flat characters, bumpy prose, and an unoriginal premise, it really is fun. Just not fun enough to make it anything more than an okay, average read for me.

(Readalikes: Hoot by Carl Hiassen)

Grade: C

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

To the FTC, with love: I borrowed a copy of Scat from my children's elementary school library. Thanks, Lori!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

And We Have A Winner ...

Congratulations go out to Trish, who blogs about books, writing, weight loss, CHOCOLATE, and lots of other things over at Pecks and Bushels. She won my giveaway for a boxed set of Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. Yay! Go on over to Trish's fun blog, won't you, and give her a little love? Trish, if you'll send your snail mail address to me - blogginboutbooks AT gmail DOT COM - I'll get your books out to you ASAP.

Thanks to everyone for entering the contest. I appreciate your enthusiasm and your willingness to support this blog. I know you were bribed into chatting it up on Twitter, Facebook, etc., but still, thank you!

If you didn't win this time, don't despair. More giveaways will be forthcoming. Promise!

Is It Just Me? Yeah, Probably.

At thirteen years old Lynda's life comes to a disastrous halt when her mother and two younger sisters are killed in a plane crash. Her father, overcome by despair, simply continues to exist in a state devoid of hope. After burying a wife and two young children at the age of 44, the overwhelming responsibility of raising a daughter alone completely immobilizes him.

Teetering on that tender brink between childhood and adolescence, Lynda faces the responsibility of a father in a complete state of shock, a house to take care of and hundreds of decisions about how to proceed with their shattered lives.

In Repairing Rainbows, she candidly describes the agonizing memories, deafening silence and endless hardships that ar the fallout of incredible loss. As we follow her through marriage, motherhood and her own spiritual journey. Lynda reveals her complex feelings of hope, anger, pity and determination. Most importantly, she learns the crucial difference between truly living and the existence that is so often mistaken for being alive.

A true story, written by a woman whose normal and abundant life hides a terrible past, Repairing Rainbows is loaded with lessons that will undoubtedly touch the hearts of its readers.

- Back cover blurb

Normally I like memoirs, especially those featuring people who have overcome great obstacles to become happy, successful human beings. So, Repairing Rainbows by Lynda Fishman should have been right up my alley. Unfortunately, after 50 pages, I just didn't feel a compelling need to read any further. To me, the book lacked focus, meandering along with too much detail and not enough structure.

Just because Repairing Rainbows didn't appeal to me doesn't mean it won't be the perfect read for you. It gets rave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Book bloggers also seem to be enjoying it (you can check out their reviews on the author's website). More opinions about the book will be forthcoming as Fishman's virtual tour with Tribute Books continues. Considering all these glowing reviews, it's possible my impatience with the book is just a me thing. That happens. A lot.

Oh well.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sharks & Boys Not Quite As Gripping As It Sounds

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Enid's got issues. First, there's her philandering father, who's pressuring her for a heart-to-heart. Then, there's Wick Jarboe, who's decided that after a year of dating Enid he feels stuck and wants to take a break. Whatever that means. And, of course, there's her pathetic, co-dependent, stalkerish tendencies, which convince her that following her now ex-boyfriend on a guy's trip to Maryland is a good idea. Which leads to a major storm, a sunken yacht, and Enid stranded in the middle of the ocean on a life raft with seven not-very-happy teenage boys. Oh, did I mention the sharks? Yep, 16-year-old Enid's got some serious issues.

As if fighting hunger, thirst, sunstroke, and bloodthirsty predators isn't quite bad enough, Enid's stuck doing it with some of her least favorite people. There was a point when she counted all of them - Sov, Manny, Skate, Burr, Wick, and Dale - as her best friends. Now, the boys from her twin studies group, the guys she once leaned on for support, are barely recognizable. Ever since Skate and Burr's parents died in an accident, things have changed, they've changed. The only person in the raft who's still on Enid's side is her twin brother, Landon. Not that that matters, not that anything matters now that they're all doomed to a watery grave.
Funny thing, though - the closer Enid gets to death, the more she wants to live. It's a problematic hope, considering that with every passing hour the possibility of rescue becomes less likely, a shark attack seems imminent, and the chances of survival grow slimmer and slimmer ...
Sharks & Boys, a new YA novel by Kristen Tracy, tells a straight-up survival story. Its mainstreamed plot leaves little room for subtlety or real depth, but the life-or-death nature of it all does keep the story moving. Our heroine comes off as whiny and clingy, a double whammy that makes her both authentic and annoying (albeit in a funny way). I didn't feel a lot of connection to her or to any of the other characters, really - probably because there are way too many to keep track of (even on the raft, there were eight). What I really wanted from this book was complexity, good character development, and a little bit of psychological drama since, believe it or not, the story actually grew a little boring at times. Since it didn't have much of any of those things, I found myself more disappointed by Sharks & Boys than intrigued.
(Readalikes: Reminded me of Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith, Trapped by Michael Northrop, and Life of Pi by Yann Martel.)
Grade: C
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), depictions of underrage drinking, and sexual innuendo.
To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Sharks & Boys from the generous folks at Disney/Hyperion. Thank you!

Mormon Mentions: Kristen Tracy

Normally, I don't include LDS authors in my Mormon Mentions, but since YA novelist Kristen Tracy no longer practices the religion (at least as far as I can tell), I figure she's fair game. Besides, she mentions Mormonism quite a bit in her newest novel, Sharks & Boys, so really, how can I resist?

If you haven't got a clue what a Mormon Mention is, allow me to explain: When I see a reference to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as the Mormons) in a book which was not written by a member of the church, I post it here. With commentary from Yours Truly. I'm no theologian, but I try to explain doctrinal issues as well as debunk myths and clear up misconceptions. Speaking of, I should probably make this crystal clear: My dad only has one wife. As does my husband. And, yes, people really have asked me those questions. Just FYI: mainstream Mormons haven't practiced polygamy for more than 120 years.

Everybody got that? Great. Let's move on ...

In Sharks & Boys, the main character has two Mormon friends, twin guys named Skate and Burr. They're high schoolers, not saints, but the way Tracy portrays them is, um, interesting. I thought so, anyway. Let's see what you think.

Even during the good times Skate and Burr were hopelessly immature. They wore stupid T-shirts with juvenile messages printed across their chests. Burr's: I'VE UPPED MY STANDARDS, SO UP YOURS. And Skate's: I CAN'T, I'M MORMON. Skate and Burr talk about being Mormon quite a bit. But they don't behave like they come from a conservative religious persuasion. Presbyterians, maybe (21).

- Personally, I think this passage is hilarious. Burr's fashion statement is a little too bold for me, but I'd totally buy Skate's shirt for my almost-teenager. It would make that whole resisting-peer-pressure thing a lot easier.

If you're at all familiar with the LDS Church, you probably know about the "I Can't"s to which the shirt is referring - no drinking (includes alcohol, coffee, even caffeinated pop), no smoking, no swearing, no sex outside of marriage, etc. Seems like a lot, but, really, it's not that bad.

Burr: "If I weren't Mormon, I think I'd own a bar."

Landon: "Yeah, I've noticed that your faith totally seems to be stifling your lifestyle."

Burr: "And my future."

Dale: "It would be awesome if you owned a bar. What would you name it?"

Burr: "The Thirsty Manatee."

Dale: "I'd drink there."

Munny: "If you don't want to be Mormon, why don't you quit? Take your life into your own hands while you're still young."

[Long pause.

Skate: "It's our heritage. It's who we are" (48)

- Plenty of people attend the LDS church simply because it's what people in their family have always done or, if they still live at home, because it's what their parents expect/demand from them. Unlike a lot of religions, Mormonism requires a whole lot more from a person than just attending a meeting every now and then. It truly is a heritage, a lifestyle, an all-encompassing, life-altering thing. That kind of committment doesn't fly with a lot of people. Mormon teenagers, especially, struggle with accepting their parents' beliefs over their own developing attitudes. That's where gaining a personal testimony of the church's doctrine comes in.

On pages 51, 52, and 53, there are references to the LDS boys drinking beer.

- Even though drinking alcohol is prohibited by a health code we call the "Word of Wisdom," lots of people (especially teens) try it. It's not something that will get you excommunicated from the church or anything like that. Still, drinking is definitely frowned upon.

Under an arm, Skate and Burr are each carrying a brown paper sack. I can't believe that they're both going to attend Brigham Young University in the fall. Maybe that's the whole point of drinking now. Once they enter Utah, they won't be getting inebriated again for quite some time (58).

- First off, there are certainly bars in Utah, so finding a drink in the Holy Land isn't as impossible as Tracy makes it sound. Second, I've said that Mormon teens have been known to try a drink or two - so, the author's description of the boys drinking is realistic, if not flattering. My problem with this passage is that, usually, the kind of kids who spend their weekends sucking down booze as nonchalantly as Skate and Burr aren't the kind that attend BYU, a college that's won the distinction of being the most "stone-cold sober" for 14 years in a row. Now, I'm not naive enough to think that no one at BYU drinks - I mean, there very well could be a huge underground drinking movement there that I don't know about (after all, lots of crazy things happen at the Y) - but the majority of BYU students really and truly are stone-cold sober.

Burr goes next and he really comes to life. He sits up straight and speaks with an energetic enthusiasm that I haven't heard come out of him in a very long time. "I want to go on a mission someplace cool. I hope I get sent to Russia."

Neither Skate nor Burr have talked that much about going on missions, but Skate sure seems jazzed about it right now. "The suits. The Missionary Training Center. The companions. The bicycle. The name tags. I'm ready for it."

Skate looks up and smiles. "Me too. Russia. France. Brazil. A faraway place. I want to learn a language" (137).

- Again, I think this is a realistic portrayal of Mormon teenage boys, especially those who've faced as much hardship as these two characters have. While they're still struggling to find themselves, still grappling with their testimonies, still figuring out what to do with their lives, they're excited about the possibility of serving church missions. If they're out boozing on the weekends, then they're not "ready" as Skate states, but at least they're headed in the right direction.

As you may or may not know, worthy (meaning they follow the rules of the church, including the no-drinking thing) Mormon boys go on missions at the age of 19. Girls can go at 21. Older married couples may also serve missions. Missionaries are sent all over the world to preach the gospel. Since missionaries represent the church, talking about God pretty much 24/7, they are required to be morally clean, spiritually-minded, and 100% committed to the church and its teachings. There's definitely a stigma involved with not going, so sure, some kids go for the wrong reasons. Some of these missionaries find their faith in the field, others stick it out to avoid the shame of coming home early, and still others return home, unable to complete two whole years (or 18 months, in the case of the women) of proselyting.

To avoid spoilers, I'm not going to give you the last quote verbatim. Let's just say it involves beer drinkers and heaven.

- Drinking alcohol is against the Word of Wisdom, therefore, most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints don't indulge. At all. However, we don't believe that drinking alcohol is a mortal sin or anything like that. In other words, a sip of alcohol won't keep you out of heaven. A keg - well, that's another matter :) Kidding, kidding. In all seriousness, problems with the Word of Wisdom are brought up with an individual's bishop (local clergy). In the case of addiction, counseling is provided via LDS Family Services.

So, interesting Mormon Mentions, right? If you've read Sharks & Boys, how did you feel about Tracy's portrayal of Burr and Skate? Realistic or not so much? Even if you haven't read the book, any thoughts on the quotes I included? BTW: They are from an ARC of the book and may have been changed in the final version of the novel.

Thoughts?

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

MG Survival Story Brings Excitement, Not A Whole Lot Else

(Image from Indiebound)

A storm is always brewing somewhere, just waiting for the right moment to take down 13-year-old Chase Masters. That's how it feels, anyway. First, there was the car accident that killed his mother and younger sister, shattering Chase's world into tiny pieces. Then, his father got struck by lightning, turning the quiet builder into a weather-obsessed survival expert. Now, the two spend their days racing across the country in pursuit of violent hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods, all in the name of helping disaster victims. It's exciting work, sure, but Chase wouldn't mind sticking around for once, maybe even completing a whole year at the same school.

That idea flies right out the window the moment John Masters hears about Hurricane Emily. As the storm hurtles its way across the Gulf of Mexico, father and son head to Florida. While his father travels to Saint Petersburg, the spot he's predicting the hurricane will touch down, Chase is stuck at a rural farm, far away from any action. The "farm" has its own intrigues - namely pretty Nicole Rossi - but Chase can't concentrate on anything but Emily. His father always tells Chase to trust his instincts and right now, they're telling him the hurricane's coming. Not to Saint Pete's, but here. Not at midnight, but now. When the storm of the century strikes, it's up to Chase to save himself and his new friends. He knows what to do - theoretically. What will happen when the survival skills that have been drilled into Chase's head are put to the test? Will they be enough to save him from the biggest, baddest hurricane he's ever seen?

It's sort of a given that a story about storm-chasing will be exciting, and Storm Runners, the first book in a new middle grade series by Roland Smith, is most certainly that. The whole disaster-tracking thing, along with some other story elements (*ahem* circus folks), makes for a unique, interesting plot that will appeal to even reluctant readers. Smith focuses mostly on action, though, which makes for potentially complex, but ultimately flat characters as well as mediocre writing. All in all, I liked the concept, wasn't so wild about its execution. Kids will probably eat this one up, though, and I have to admit that I'm liking the series enough to keep reading. I just hope Smith fleshes out his characters a little more, spruces up his storytelling a lot more, and keeps bringing the excitement.

(Readalikes: Reminds me of the I Survived ... series by Lauren Tarshis and a little of The Storm Chasers by Jenna Blum)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for intense action

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

Monday, August 08, 2011

Lee's Delightful Victorian Spy Series Continues to Be a Breath of Fresh Air

(Image from Indiebound)

(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for The Agency: The Body at the Tower, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from The Agency: A Spy in the House. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

After successfully completing her first assignment as an operative for The Agency, a secret, all-female detective organization, 18-year-old Mary Quinn is eager for more. Even if it means acting the part of a grimy young street urchin. To investigate the mysterious after-hours death of a bricklayer on the building site of St. Stephen's Tower, Mary will disguise herself as a boy looking for his first job as a builder's assistant. Once she secures the position, she'll lay low, work hard, and keep her eyes and ears open for any clues as to the true fate of the bricklayer. The workers may believe John Wick died at the hands of a vindictive ghost, but Mary certainly doesn't.

Acting like a boy is tough enough for Mary; getting a group of crusty laborers to trust her enough to talk freely in her presence is nearly impossible. When she spies the handsome figure of a certain engineer on the building site, she's terrified that her old nemesis James Easton will blow her cover. Instead, the two form an alliance. Once again, Mary's relying on the infuriating gentleman to help with her case. Once again, she's lying to him about who she really is and what she's really doing. As much as James sometimes irritates her, Mary hates to deceive the man who's been occupying her daydreams ever since she met him.

The more clues Mary uncovers about the bricklayer's death, the more intriguing the mystery becomes. And the more dangerous. It's not long before Mary's fighting for her own life, not to mention that of one very charming young gentleman. Can Mary survive long enough to find the killer? Or will she become the next victim?

The Body at the Tower, the second volume in Y.S. Lee's delightful The Agency series, offers another fun romp through the sordid underbelly of Victorian England. With colorful characters, a compelling mystery, and a lively romantic subplot, it's simply a good, old-fashioned tale of derring-do. After reading so much dark, depressing YA fiction, this series truly is a breath of fresh air. I'm tempted to fly to the U.K. right now, just to get my hands on the next book. Spring 2012, come soon!

(Readalikes: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee; a little like A Golden Web by Barbara Quick)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for mild language (no F-bombs) and some mild innuendo - one of which is quick, but fairly graphic (hence, the PG-13 rating)

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of The Body at the Tower from the generous folks at Candlewick Press. Thank you!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Hoppy Dreams of ARCs Aplenty

I still have reviews to write (3 and counting), but what's another day, right? They can wait while I do some Hopping. Click over to Crazy For Books to join in on my favorite Friday activity - The Book Blogger Hop.

Today's question is: What is the one ARC you would love to get your hands on right now?

My answer: Easy cheesy. Well, as long as I can choose two ARCs. It's a hypothetical question, after all, so I'm going with both Blood Wounds by Susan Beth Pfeffer and Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick.


(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I loved The Last Survivors, Susan Beth Pfeffer's post-apocalyptic YA series about teenagers scrabbling to survive in a country forever changed by violent natural disasters. Blood Wounds is also YA, but it's a contemporary mystery about a teen girl grappling to understand a violent crime committed by her father. Sounds uplifting, no? Well, no. Compelling, though, right? I've been begging Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for this one for a while now - unfortunately, my pleas seem to be falling on deaf ears. *Sniff* I may have to buy this one come September 13.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

You may recall me raving about Ilsa J. Bick's debut novel Draw the Dark in this post. It was such a riveting read that I cannot wait to see what the author does in Ashes, her about-to-be-released dystopian thriller. I don't know anyone at EgmontUSA, but I seriously wish I did just so I could get my hands on this one. It comes out on September 6 and I, for one, cannot wait.

How about you? Which ARCs are you dreaming of?

If this is your first time here, welcome! I'm so glad you're visiting BBB. Take a look around, leave me a comment (or two, or three, or ten) and be sure to enter my giveaway for a boxed set of Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls series. If you've been here before, thanks so much for coming back. Your loyalty means a lot to me.

Have a wonderful weekend, everybody!

Thursday, August 04, 2011

A Whole Lotta Random

Even though I've got several books sitting on my desk begging to be reviewed, I feel like indulging in a little randomness today. Bookish randomness, but randomness nonetheless. Just humor me, mmkay?

  • First and foremost, don't forget to enter the fabulous giveaway I have going on right now. You could win a boxed set of The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater. Nice, right? Click here for all the details. Less than 40 people have entered, so the odds of winning are still pretty good. The contest ends on August 10, so enter ASAP!

  • Book Blogger Appreciation Week is coming up fast. I love this event that celebrates book bloggers and the wonderful online book blogging community. Click here to register and start nominating your favorite book blogs for awards in a variety of categories. Nominations will only be taken through August 13, so hurry, hurry, hurry.
  • Do you love magazines? I do. Not as much as books, of course, but I still get excited about flipping through the glossy pages of a great periodical. Even better is when they include sections on books. Oprah's a famous book nerd, so naturally, books are always chatted up in her magazine. This month's issue gushes about all kinds of intriguing titles. Books added to my TBR pile because of it: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin, Among the Wonderful by Stacy Carlson, Northwest Corner by John Burnham Schwartz and FatherMotherGod by Lucia Greenhouse. The August issue of Adoptive Families includes the magazine's 2011 Best Books List. Titles added to my TBR pile because of it: Mamalita by Jessica O'Dwyer, I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla by Marguerite A. Wright, Dear Birthmother by Kathleen Silber and Phyllis Speedlin, and In On It: A Guide for Relatives and Friends by Elisabeth O'Toole. I've added other titles because of suggestions in All You, Good Housekeeping, Elle, and, of course, Bookmarks, BookPage and, interestingly enough, Costco Connection. Have I mentioned how much I love magazines?
  • Speaking of magazines, I happened by the clearance sale at my local Borders (Okay, I left my 12-year-old in charge of the younger kids and rushed off to the mall as fast as I could to hit the sale for the second time in a week). Through my tears over the bankruptcy of my favorite bookstore, I managed to find a *few* bargains, including a magazine put out by Writer's Digest called Writing for Kids & YA. I'm only about halfway through it, but there are some excellent articles about cultivating an authentic voice, writing the kinds of books agents/publishers are looking for, the e-publishing revolution and much more. My favorite article so far is one by Andrew Karre, the editorial director at Lerner Publishing Group, entitled "The YA Perspective." If you have dreams of publishing a YA novel, it's a must read.
  • If this randomness isn't quite exciting enough for you, you can read about my most memorable kiss in the comments of yesterday's guest post by Brooke Moss. Can you say, awkward?
  • If randomness isn't your thing, well, buck up little trooper - Bonus points if you can name the movie from which that little gem comes (Hint: I love me some John Cusack.) - I'll be back soon with more reviews. Watch for posts about The Agency: The Body at the Tower by Y.S. Lee, Storm Runners by Roland Smith, and Sharks & Boys by Kristen Tracy (if you're LDS, you're going to be very interested in this one ...). Stay tuned!
  • Wednesday, August 03, 2011

    History's Best Kisses: A Guest Post by Author Brooke Moss


    Because of a mix-up with the publisher, I haven't yet had a chance to read The "What If" Guy, a contemporary romance by Brooke Moss. So, we'll save the review for later and do something else. How about a guest post by the author? Good idea? I think so, too.

    Here goes:

    As an author of romance and women's fiction, I've deemed it my privilege, nay my responsibility to watch any and all chick flicks and kissing scenes out there. It's research, people. When you see me in front of the TV with a bowl of popcorn and the remote in my hand, it is all going towards my work. Really.

    Come on ... you don't really think that all romance writers write from experience only, do you? Contrary to popular belief, we are not all running around in flowing gowns and rolling around with shirtless warriors on white sand beaches while waves crash nearby. Most of us are normal chicks. Some with husbands and families, some without. Some with day jobs, some without. But I'll let you in on a little secret: We authors wear a lot of sweats.

    I love watching a good chick flick for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I love watching a couple fall in love. There is nothing that warms my heart more. Plus, in each and every chick flick out there, there are subplots and characters that usually inspire a story to blossom in my mind. That blossom quickly becomes a sapling which, unless written, will become a redwood tree that will eventually keep me up at night. I use this inspiration, these small details from these movies, to inspire me.

    There are all sorts of kissing scenes that have inspired me to write different parts in my books. Some are sweet, tender first kisses that make me want to sigh blissfully and remember my own kiss that happened in the small town of my youth, in front of the library building. Others are passionate kisses that make me blush and reach for the cigarettes I no longer smoke. Some are initiated by conflict, full of anger and rage that quickly morphs into passion. Others are brought on by acute sadness that evolves into a desperate affirmation of what is real and good on the earth.

    In my debut novel, The "What If" Guy (out today from Entangled Publishing), the characters were inspired by a kissing scene in the movie The Bounty Hunter. There is something about seeing Gerard Butler kissing a woman that makes me want to sit down and write. Call me crazy ... I prefer the term infatuated.

    What are some of your favorite kisses? Do you have an amazing kiss story to share? Let it inspire you to write, paint, sculpt, or create something. If you're not a creative-minded person, then let it encourage you to go and give someone you love a big, fat, juicy kiss. There have been some pretty amazing kisses up until now. I can only hope my book might serve as an inspiration in the romance department for some of you.

    My name is Brooke Moss and, like I said, my debut novel The "What If" Guy is available through Entangled Publishing. It tells the story of single mom Autumn Cole, who is returning to the small town of her youth to reluctantly claim her role as daughter of the town drunk. Her angst increases when she discovers that her son's history teacher is none other than the college sweetheart she left behind years ago.

    As a writer, it's my passion to find the love story within every couple's past. I like to provide stories that are equal parts hilarious and heartwarming and I am thrilled to be sharing my book with you. The "What If" Guy is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books on Board, and at your local bookseller. A special thanks goes to Entangled Publishing for their amazing prizes and giveaways. Thanks, guys!

    Find me on the web: Website, Blog, Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook

    Fondly,

    Brooke Moss

    (Note from Susan: Because I'm an idiot and couldn't figure out how to copy and paste this guest post, I had to type it up myself. Any typos/errors are my own fault. Also, Entangled Publishing and Coffee Time Romance are offering a Kobo e-reader to one lucky reader. Contest starts August 5.)

    Tuesday, August 02, 2011

    Three Reasons Why (I Liked Flashback, Even Though I Really Shouldn't Have)

    (Image from Indiebound)

    There are three big reasons why Flashback, the newest offering from Dan Simmons, really should not have appealed to me. Like at all.

    Number One: It's a gritty thriller, which is to say, not my thing. These are the kinds of books guys tend to pick up in airports and I tend to pick up not at all. Okay, I do have a slight obsession with Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme series, but other than that ... really not my genre.

    Number Two: One of the reasons I give books like these a wide berth is they're almost always filled with crude language, rampant violence and graphic sex. Flashback is no exception, although it's got a lot more of the first two than the last. Still.

    Number Three: It's by Dan Simmons. Not that I have anything against the guy, but I read the first few chapters of both The Terror and Drood and ended up abandoning them both. So, yeah.

    Given all that, I shouldn't have liked Flashback.

    Except I did.

    Why?

    I'll give you three reasons:

    Number One: It's dystopian. What can I say? I'm a junkie. The world Simmons creates in Flashback isn't postapocalyptic - not exactly - but it's most assuredly dystopian. He describes a United States brought to its knees by economic collapse, a country ruled by warring factions, a nation so indebted to foreign governments that it sends teenage armies overseas in exchange for cold, hard cash. It's a bleak, brutal world, one that teeters on the brink of anarchy, civil war and total annihaltion by any number of nuke-toting superpowers.

    Number Two: The premise. At its heart, Flashback is a murder mystery, but it's a murder mystery with flair. Think Mad Max meets Inception and you're sorta close. The story goes something like this: Denver detective Nick Bottom (yes, like the Shakespeare character) wants to find the person who killed 21-year-old Keigo Nakamura six years ago. He needs the work, or rather the money Keigo's billionaire father promises to pay, to support his drug habit. Nick's not the only American addicted to Flashback, a substance that allows users to escape the real world by "flashing" on old memories, but his overuse has cost him his job, his reputation and every single new dollar in his savings. Nick's desperate for more cash, more Flashback, more time to relive precious moments with his dead wife. To earn it, he'll have to "flash" back to the days when he first investigated Keigo's death, wander through his memory searching for new leads, and follow them in real time to solve a case that's growing colder by the second. Along the way he'll make shocking discoveries about his employer, his wife, his 16-year-old son and, most of all, himself.

    Intriguing, no?

    If you're familiar with Denver - or even if you're not - you might be interested in what Simmons does with its premiere indie bookstore, the Tattered Cover. When Nick visits the shop on East Colfax Street, he describes it thus:

    The sequestered nooks were still there, but the serenity of books had been missing for decades now. The newer TC, across Colfax Avenue from the huge flophouse for the homeless that had been the once-proud East High School, was now a combination of flashcave and all-night beer joint. Oddly enough, many of the flashback addicts who inhabited the sequestered nooks of the lower levels of the cluttered old bookstore had come there to read: after they'd lost or sold their old books, they used flashback to relive the experience of reading Moby Dick or Lolita or Robin Hood or whatever the hell it was for the first time again, somewhere on a cot here in the rotting confines of the once-great independent bookstore. "It's like that old zombie movie where the walking dead go back to the shopping malls," Dara had once said. "Their rotting brains associate the malls with a sense of well-being ... like these flashers gravitating back to a bookstore" (356-57).

    Makes sense to me.

    Number Three: The delivery. Flashback is a long book, a very long book, actually (550 pages), but it hardly dragged at all for me. The story chugs right along with plenty of action, plenty of suspense, and plenty of fascinating detours that added new layers to the plot. I'm not saying it's the best book I've ever read, I'm just saying that it was entertaining. And thought-provoking. Surprisingly so for a gritty, airport-guy thriller. I surprised myself by really enjoying it. Shocked? I am.

    (Readalikes: Even though Flashback has nothing to do with zombies, it reminded me a little bit of The Passage by Justin Cronin.)

    Grade: B

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

    To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

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