Thursday, June 30, 2011

Accomplice: So Much Potential, So Little Follow-Through

(Image from Indiebound)

Ever since freshman year, best friends Finn Jacobs and Chloe Caffrey have been joining clubs, volunteering for committees, even raising goats - anything to make sure their well-roundedness stands out on college applications. So, when a guidance counselor suggests the usual paths to getting noticed by the Ivy League are no longer good enough, the girls are shocked into coming up with a new plan. A bold plan. A plan that will grab the attention of not only admissions officers, but also the entire state, maybe the whole country.

Staging a faux kidnapping (of Chloe), complete with a heroic rescue (by Finn) isn't an easy thing to do, even for two honor students. Almost as soon as Chloe gets situated in her nice, safe, junk food-stocked hidey hole, things start to go wrong. As committed as Finn is to the plan, she's getting tired of acting the part of the bereaved best friend, lying to Chloe's frantic family, and hanging out alone all the time. She wants to get into a good college, but she's starting to wonder if the brilliant plan she and Chloe cooked up isn't one big, stupid mistake. If only Finn could convince Chloe, maybe they could sto this thing they started. But Chloe's changing, their friendship's changing, everything is changing, and Finn doesn't know how to salvage it all. Can she stop the madness before someone really gets hurt? Can she risk Chloe's friendship and both of their reputations by confessing what they've done? Or is Finn brave enough to see the kidnapping through to the end? If she can just hold on, she gets to be a hero, someone everyone will notice. That's what she wants, after all, isn't it?

Yes, that's it. The complete plot summary. You'd think there would be more to it, wouldn't you? I totally thought so, too, but ... nope. That's it. Accomplice by Eireann Corrigan is a very straightforward story that doesn't take any of the twists and turns I thought - and dearly hoped - it would. Without that kind of surprise or subtlety, the novel just kind of sputters. It gets predictable, dull and not at all realistic. I could maybe have gotten behind the story's premise if the "heroines" had some kind of altruistic motive for creating this huge hoax, but they didn't. Characters with that kind of selfish immaturity aren't sympathetic, let alone likable or admirable. Fact of the matter is, I couldn't stand either Finn or Chloe. Or this book, really. It's a bummer, too, because it had a lot of potential to be a rich, gripping psychological thriller. If only.

(Readalikes: I'm sure there are other teens-come-up-with-a-dumb-plan-that-goes-horribly-wrong stories, but I can't think of any right off the top of my head. Can you?)

Grade: C-

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

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

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How to Find A Creepy-Good YA Novel in 4 Easy Steps

(Image from Indiebound)

Step One

Watch this:



Step Two
Read this:

A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

A strange collection of very peculiar photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that Miss Peregrine's children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow - impossible though it seems - they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photographs, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

- From the front flap of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs


Step Three

Beg, borrow or buy the book. Stealing it is not recommended.

Step Four

Read it. Love it. (Okay, that's two steps. Whatever.)

See how easy that was?

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

Grade: B+

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

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children from the generous folks at Quirk Books.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Provocative Jenna Fox Intriguing, Haunting, Fascinating and Lots of Other Great Adjectives

(Image from Indiebound)
When 17-year-old Jenna Fox wakes up from a year-long coma, she can't remember anything. Not even her name. No matter how much her parents tell her, no matter how many home videos she watches, no matter how hard she tries, her memories aren't coming back. Not all of them anyway. And the ones that have surfaced don't make any sense. Come to think of it, not much about her current situation does make sense. Why does Jenna live in California now when she grew up in Boston? Why won't her mother let her leave the house? And why does the grandmother who used to be Jenna's biggest confidant suddenly hate her?

The more questions Jenna asks them, the more convinced she becomes: Her family is lying to her. Something about the story they've told her - the car crash, the coma, her recovery - just doesn't add up. And then there are the whispers in her head, haunting voices that stir up chilling memories of the accident. As Jenna probes deeper into her fuzzy mind she comes to the startling realization that her parents' lies just might be the least of what's been done to her.

Mary E. Pearson's fascinating short novel, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, is one of those books that's difficult to describe. Overexplaining will ruin it, underexplaining won't do it justice. So, I'll just say it's a contemporary story with a sci fi bent that makes it both unique and thought-provoking. Its fast-paced, suspenseful plot makes it even more intriguing. Although I consumed the book in a few hours, it's been on my mind ever since. It's that provocative. If you haven't read it yet, do (then pre-order the sequel - it comes out on August 30). I can't wait to discuss this one.

(Readalikes: Reminds me of Unwind by Neal Shusterman)

Grade: B

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

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Saturday, June 25, 2011

High School Drama Keeps It Real

(Image from Indiebound)

Senior Brooke Dempsey is rich, beautiful, and one of the most popular girls at William O. Douglas High. Kathryn Pease, on the other hand, is not. Considering all their differences, a friendship between the girls never should have worked. But it did. Once. Back in junior year, the two music lovers bonded over their shared passion. With Kathryn, Brooke can be real, embracing her inner choir geek without fear of being mocked. Kathryn's surprised by Brooke's sudden attention, but thrilled when it turns her into an overnight A-lister, bringing her instant acceptance from a group of people who never gave her the time of day before. Riding high on the wave of her new-found popularity, Kathryn ignores Brooke's warnings about the fickleness of the in crowd. Until Homecoming night, when a spectacular betrayal shows her just how treacherous tango-ing with high school royalty can be.

A year later, Kathryn's dwindling in social obscurity once again. She goes out of her way to avoid Brooke, but there's one place where she can't hide from the wrath of her former friend - chamber choir. Especially now that the girls are competing against each other to win a prestigious vocal competition. Kathryn's in it less for the honor and more for the prize money and scholarships - without them, she won't have the funds to go to college. Brooke doesn't need the money, but she's anxious to prove herself to everyone who dismisses her dreams of singing professionally as a silly fantasy. Beating each other would just be icing on the cake.

As the contest creeps closer and closer, the rivalry between the girls reaches fever pitch, forcing them to confront each other about the closeness they once shared and the stunning betrayal that ripped their friendship apart. When all is said and done, only one question remains: Who is the better singer? Soon they'll find out. But as the competition gets underway, both begin to wonder - Does it really matter?

Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer, brings all the drama of high school to vivid life in a debut novel with surprising depth. It's a story that examines the ups and downs of teenage friendships without discounting them as frivolous or childish. By letting us inside the heads of both heroines, Wealer tells an impactful she said/she said tale that reminds us that friendships - like rivalries, like betrayals - are not always what they seem. And that truth will always set you free. Authentic and hopeful, Rival might not blow you away, but it will make you root for two girls with so much to lose, and so very much to win.

(Readalikes: The music part of it reminds me a little of Sing Me to Sleep by Angela Morrison. Other than that, I can't really think of anything.)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language (2 F-bombs, plus milder invectives), sexual innuendo, and scenes depicting underrage drinking/partying

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

Friday, June 24, 2011

Patchett's Ode to the Jungle As Intriguing As the Amazon Itself

(Image from Indiebound)

Like the river itself, Ann Patchett's ode to the Amazon is a lush, meandering affair full of unexpected twists and intriguing surprises. Sometimes placid, sometimes alive with danger, State of Wonder mimics its exotic setting to perfection, ensuring an exciting, one-of-a-kind adventure.

The story begins with the delivery of an Aerogram from Brazil, announcing the passing of Dr. Anders Eckman. Details are sketchy, but the short letter attributes his demise to a raging fever, a malady not uncommon in the wilds of the Amazon jungle, where he was traveling on a work assignment. His lab partner, 42-year-old Marina Singh, receives the news with shock. She knew Anders' journey to South America could be dangerous, but she never expected him to perish in the wilderness, so far away from his wife and three sons in Minnesota. Shaken with grief over the death of her friend and colleague, Marina accompanies her boss (and lover) to the Eckman's home to deliver the news to his widow. Karen Eckman crumples at the news, insisting Anders can't possibly be dead. With such scant information and no body to confirm Anders' death, the widow refuses to accept the fact that he's really gone. Stricken with her own grief, Karen begs Marina for answers or, at the very least, for her husband's body.

To her surprise, Marina's boss, Mr. Fox, agrees that Marina's just the person to investigate Anders' mysterious death. He sends her to Brazil with two objectives: figure out what happened to Anders and scour the jungle for Dr. Annick Swenson, an elusive American researcher who's supposed to be developing a potent new fertility drug for Vogel, the pharmaceutical company for which they all work. Marina's not exactly the explorer type, but she is submissive and obedient and it's simply not in her nature to refuse. All her life, she's been "a very good student and a very good doctor and a very good employer and lover and friend and when someone asked her to do something she operated on the principle they had asked because it was important. She had succeeded in life because she had so rarely declined any request that was made of her" (47-48). Thus, she travels to the teeming port of Manaus, where she hopes she'll be able to quickly locate Dr. Swenson and just as quickly, return to her nice, safe lab job in Minnesota.

But this is chaotic, unpredictable Brazil, where very little proceeds in the orderly, efficient way to which Americans are accustomed. Instead, Marina's stuck in a strange land, being eaten alive by bugs while waiting around for information that's not exactly forthcoming. When she decides to take matters into her own hands, Marina's flung into a perilous Amazonian adventure that will change her life forever. The truth behind Anders' death is only the beginning of the strange, mind-boggling secrets she will uncover in the heart of the world's most intriguing rainforest. The most surprising revelations of all, however, come not from the Amazon's rare plants, animals and people, but from within the murky depths of Marina's own heart.

With vibrant characterization, meticulous plotting, and a vivid setting, State of Wonder truly does it all. It's a mystery, a meditation, a moral-twisting look at the miracles of science. Mostly, though, it's just a good, old-fashioned survival story. The tale moves at a steady pace, never plodding, always offering tantalizing glimpses of the mysteries squirming below the surface to keep things interesting. Like the jungle, it's bursting with life, death, and everything in between. I can't describe it adequately so, really, you're just going to have to read it yourself. Trust me, you won't be sorry.

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

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language (a few F-bombs, plus infrequent use of milder invectives), depiction of illegal drug use, some violence and a small amount of non-graphic sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of State of Wonder from the generous folks at Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours, for whom this review was written. Thank you!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Season of Secrets: Plenty of Potential, Not Enough Wow Power

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

More than anything, young Molly Brooke wants her mother back. If she could turn back time, erase the brain anueryism that stole her mother's life, and return everything to normal, Molly would do it in an instant. Since she can't, she's stuck living at her grandparents' house while her father "figures things out." It's not supposed to be a permanent situation, but it's certainly starting to feel that way. While Molly's not as miserable as her older sister, who expresses her displeasure over the whole situation by complaining and throwing tantrums, she's still not happy about being abandoned by her father.

When Molly meets a mysterious man who lives in the forest, things begin to look up. Even if no one else can see her new friend, she knows he's real. He also has a special gift for making things grow, come alive, sometimes right in the palm of his hand. This otherworldly talent convinces Molly that she's found the mythical Green Man, the pagan god of summer. No one in the world knows more about bringing dead things to life than this magical being. Molly must convince him to help her - it's the only way to reverse her loss, to heal her fractured family, to restore the happiness and security she once felt.

Only one thing stands in the way of Molly's plan: the Holly King. As the temperature drops, his power grows, and the bloodthirsty god of winter hunts the Green Man, determined to end his rival's reign. Can Molly save her friend? Can he save her?

Season of Secrets by Sally Nicholls uses the myth of the Green Man to explore the grief-cycle of a young girl. It's an original idea, one I wish had been developed a whole lot more. The story has so much potential to be unique, magical and effective in a subtly moving way and it just didn't live up to what it could have been. It's not an unenjoyable story, it's just doesn't have enough wow power to make it anything more than ordinary. Bummer.

(Readalikes: Reminds me of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness)

Grade: C

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

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

He Draws. They Die. You Read. Like Now.

(Image from Indiebound)

Do you ever wonder why so many mediocre books generate all kinds of buzz while other, more phenomenal titles get completely ignored? I do. Especially when I read a novel like Ilsa J. Bick's Draw the Dark. Because, seriously, this one should be getting a lot more attention.

The story revolves around 17-year-old Christian Cage, a troubled misfit living with his uncle in tiny Winter, Wisconsin. Ever since his parents disappeared, Christian's drawn obsessively - in his sketchbook, on his bedroom walls, everywhere. Not pretty landscapes either, but the dark, disturbing images he sees in his nightmares. He calls his creepy dreamworld "the sideways place" and he's convinced his parents are somehow trapped inside it. Christian's even drawn a door, a knobless gateway he knows will lead him straight into his nightmares, maybe to his parents. If only he could suck up enough courage to step through it.

Or maybe he's just crazy, like everyone says. All he knows is that when he draws, his illustrations have a strange way of coming true. And killing people.

When an old barn belonging to the most powerful man in town is defaced with graffiti, Christian's blamed for the crime. No surprise there. Except that, while he can't actually remember spray painting the barn, he's pretty sure he did it. He's also fairly certain that the swastikas he drew on the structure mean something. The barn pulses with a strange energy, a sinister thrum that pulls Christian in, assaulting his mind with voices, images and memories that don't belong to him. Secrets hide in the structure's rotting wood, long-buried truths begging for release. But exposing them will mean traipsing through hidden memories, whispering with ghosts, drawing the dark. And, as Christian knows all to well, nothing good has ever come of that.

I can't do justice to the brilliant intricacy of Bick's plotting. Suffice it to say that Draw the Dark offers an original premise, a compelling mystery and an overall story that's as riveting as it is satisfying. To say the book entranced me isn't enough - more like it swalllowed me whole. The second it spit me out, I lunged toward my computer, desperate for news of a sequel and fully prepared to beg for one. According to Bick, one's in the works, although as she says, "My book ideas line up like 747s on a runway; the sequel just has to wait its turn for take-off." Ahem. Did I say beg? I meant plead. And grovel. And bribe. Because while Draw the Dark concludes in the most perfect, satisfying way possible, I'm not quite ready for Christian's story to end. Not even close.

(Readalikes: Reminds me a little of The Body Finder and Desires of the Dead by Kimberly Derting)

Grade: A-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language (a few F-bombs, plus other, milder invectives), violence and some sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Draw the Dark from the generous folks at Carol Rhoda LAB. Thank you!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cayman Summer: A Satisfying, If Tidy, End


(Note: While this review will not contain any spoilers for Cayman Summer, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from the first two books in the Taken By Storm trilogy. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Leesie Hunt and Michael Walden are all wrong for each other. Have been since they met as high schoolers in tiny Tekoa, Washington. Somehow, though, their love has survived. It's persisted through graduation, Leesie's first year at college, Michael's world travels, and everything in between. But now, it faces the toughest test of all. Is it strong enough to withstand the tragedy that's slowly crushing Leesie - her body, her spirit, her faith - into tiny little pieces? Is it strong enough to piece her back together, to bring her back to herself, to Michael? Or will the unlikely romance finally crack under all the pressure?

At the end of Unbroken Connection, the second book in the trilogy that started with Taken By Storm, Leesie lies in a hospital bed, consumed by grief and guilt. She's so shaken up she can hardly breathe. While the car crash Leesie caused battered her body, it stole her brother's life. She stole her brother's life. She's the reason he's dead and she will never, ever forgive herself. With her body bruised, her spirit wrecked, her faith totaled, Leesie finally allows Michael to whisk her off to the Cayman Islands like he's wanted to do all along. It's the perfect place to hide from her pain. Away from her parents' accusing eyes, she can lick her wounds, throw her prudish, Mormon rules out the door and be with Michael 24/7. Murder's as unforgivable as it gets - who cares about a little illicit sex? Not Leesie. Not anymore.

Michael's not sure what to make of the new Leesie. He's got her where he always wanted her (with him in paradise) and how he always wanted her (willing), but the more time he spends with this broken version of Leesie, the more he's realizing a shocking truth: without her staunch faith and crazy rules, she's not the girl he fell in love with, not the girl he wants. He knows she's hurting. He also knows he needs to bring the old Leesie back, no matter what it takes. As he struggles to nurse her back to health, he can't help wondering if it's worth it, if she's worth it, if the love that's sustained them can weather the worst storm it's ever encountered.

Despite an ending that's a little too tidy for my tastes, I found Cayman Summer to be a satisfying conclusion to Angela Morrison's romantic Taken By Storm trilogy. It gets cheesy in places, true, and Leesie's selfish moping gets old pretty quick, but, all in all, I think the novel provides an honest look at what it takes to keep a relationship together against all odds. Like the previous two books, it makes a case for morality, for abstinence, and for the kind of deep, abiding mutual respect that's necessary in a healthy relationship. Leesie's crisis of faith adds an interesting dimension to the story, even if it's solved in a pretty predictable way. Still, I appreciate this series because it deals with Mormonism in a realistic, but faith-affirming way. It depicts LDS teens as the confused, conflicted, yet committed kids they are. I love that honesty and I hope to see a whole lot more of it from this very talented author.

(Readalikes: Taken By Storm and Unbroken Connection by Angela Morrison)

Grade: B

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

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Cayman Summer from the always generous Angela Morrison. Thank you!

Author Chat: An(other) Interview with Angela Morrison

Today, I'm happy to welcome YA novelist Angela Morrison back to Bloggin' 'bout Books. She and I chatted back in 2008 (read the interview here) when her first book, Taken By Storm, was published by Razorbill. Since then, she's published Sing Me to Sleep and finished the TBS Trilogy. Morrison's currently in the middle of a blog tour for the last book in the series, Cayman Summer. As part of the M + L Forever tour, she's hosting a huge contest over on the book's blog. You can win books and the yummiest swag ever, so click here now.

Okay, now that you've done that, read on:

Me: Hi Angela! Welcome back to BBB. I know you address this in depth on your website, but tell me the Cliff's Notes version of how the TBS trilogy came about - how it started, what happened with the publisher after you finished the first book, how you ended up self-publishing the last two books, etc.

AM: Wow, that's a long story. I'll try. Michael's story was inspired by a dive tragedy I heard about scuba diving off the coast of Cozumel, Mexico. I developed the story under the guidance of amazing mentors at Vermont College. Leesie came in to the picture when I sent Michael to live with his frail Gram who lived in my grandmother's house in the rural Washington town where I grew up. I sent him to my old high school. I let Leesie live on the farm where I grew up. Michael was devastated. Leesie couldn't keep her eyes off him. How could they help falling for each other?

It took me three and half years of revisions, editor's showing interest, more revisions, and rejections before I finally sold TAKEN BY STORM to Razorbill/Penguin. They signed me for two books. Michael and Leesie's sequel, that I'd mapped and started working on because they wouldn't stop talking in my head, was supposed to be the second book. Razorbill's publisher decided he didn't want the second book to be a sequel. They loved UNBROKEN CONNECTION's plot but wanted me to write it for different characters. I refused. UNBROKEN CONNECTION is Leesie's story and no one else's. So I emptied out my idea box, brainstormed with my editor, and wrote SING ME TO SLEEP (March 2010).

That was an incredible experience, I adore that book and feel honored Amabile Choirs and Matt's family cheered on my efforts, but Michael and Leesie were still talking in my head. I owed Razorbill my next YA novel to fulfill my option clause. My agent sent them an updated proposal for UNBROKEN CONNECTION. We heard nothing from them. I needed to write their story and my contract specified I submit a complete manuscript to fulfill the option, so I gave in and wrote it. A week before SING ME TO SLEEP, my editor called me to tell me her last day with Razorbill would be Friday. I lost my advocate at Penguin. I flew up to London, Ontario to celebrate SING's launch and Amabile's 25th Anniversary. The morning after their festival concert--where "Beth's Song" stole the show--Razorbill's publisher emailed me that they were passing on UNBROKEN CONNECTION. And then my agent decided to bail on me, too.

My wonderful readers and all those fantastic YA bloggers out there didn't bail on me. They told me they wanted more Michael and Leesie. I had a book ready for them. So I swallowed hard, released it as an ebook, and then we released a print on demand version via CreateSpace.

Me: What do you, yourself, find so compelling about Michael and Leesie's story? Why did you feel so passionate about finishing it, even if it meant publishing some of it yourself?

AM: Their voices haunted me all the time. I'd wake up in the middle of the night with them talking in my head. And I was dying to find out what they were going to say or do next. I know their story is at last complete because they're quiet now. I miss them.

Me: This is a similar question, but why do you think readers - LDS and non-LDS - find Michael and Leesie so irresistible? What about their story makes them universally appealing?

AM: There's both a desperation and a beauty to the way they love each other. They aren't perfect--they hurt each other, forgive each other, make sacrifices for each other. They are teenagers, but I don't discount how truly they love each other. Romeo and Juliet were even younger, right? Shakespeare didn't discount how impossible it was for his couple to give each other up. I followed his lead. I suppose there's enough R&J in M&L--and maybe enough of everyone's first love--to make them appealing to all kinds of readers around the world.

Me: You wrote CAYMAN SUMMER in a very different way than you did the other books in the series. Tell me about that.

AM: As a thank you to my readers who encouraged me to release UNBROKEN CONNECTION independently, I decided to write Michael and Leesie's third and final journey,CAYMAN SUMMER, on a blog. My most devoted readers became my critiquers and editors. You can read three version of the manuscript--including the final revised version that we published--for free at http://caymansummer.blogspot.com/. It's also available as a Kindle ebook and on Amazon in paperback.

Me: How did writing a novel that way differ from writing one in the traditional manner? What worked better? What was more difficult? What did you learn from the experience?

AM: The blog journey became a thrilling collaboration. I tried to post a new scene every day. Knowing I had readers waiting for it was great motivation. Their comments fed the next scene I needed to write. They even named the new characters. I wish I could write every new novel like that. I felt sick to my stomach the first time I posted my rough scratches, but I came to love the interaction and owe those readers so much. The drafting process worked great on a blog. The revision process was hard to share. To complete the final revision, I had to go off-line for a few weeks.

Me: Michael and Leesie's story is all about compromise. You've been married for a long time - in your opinion, what can be compromised in a relationship and what can't? How did your personal beliefs influence Michael and Leesie's story?

AM: My personal beliefs are the framework for Michael and Leesie's story. Free of editors and publishers, I allowed them to surface even more in CAYMAN SUMMER. Some readers didn't like that. But most appreciated that my truths are the bones and sinews of my art. I can't clothe it in anything else.

Marriage and compromise? Fidelity can't be compromised. The intimate parts of your relationship are private and shouldn't be bandied about with others. You've got to be honest with each other. My marriage and our family is built on our faith, so that is not open to compromise. I think about everything else is. But the word 'compromise' sounds too much like 'combat.' He wins this one. You win that. After being married for close to thirty years, it's not him and me. It's us. He has his work, and I'm grateful he works so hard to support our family. He makes my work possible. We disagree about lots of stuff, but big decisions are discussed over time and then we pray about them. We get to the same page. I guess you could call that compromise, but we work together to figure out what to do. Maybe the word I want is cooperation. That sounds a bit mundane, but I think that's what a relationship is truly about.

Me: One of the things I admire most about your books is their honesty, especially concerning the realities of Mormon teens dealing with everyday struggles. Some adult readers, especially LDS ones, find this honesty too edgy for the teens in their lives. As an LDS parent (and grandparent!), how do you respond to that?

AM: They are honest, accurate, and I fought Penguin to keep them PG-13. Steamy, but not explicit. Sex, love, abstinence are all treated frankly. They are about an LDS girl dating a non-member guy. And she's not perfect. She makes mistakes. Half of the book is in Michael's point of view. He's not creepy, but he wants to love Leesie like he's loved other girls. And she has to make clear why she can't. And try to keep those boundaries. (Maybe that explains their "universal appeal"!)

They very well could be way too edgy. My original manuscript for TAKEN BY STORM had more relationship building and Michael grieving than steamy kissing scenes. We had to cut 30,000 words out of that manuscript. My editor chopped so many tender scenes. And I ended up writing more steamy scenes. Before TAKEN BY STORM released, I wrote several anguished blog posts. (See "Steaminess Issues," "Corrupting the Beehives," and "Mormon Mom Review") I think it's impossible to generalize. Whether my books are too edgy or exactly what an LDS girl needs to read, depends on the teen. I tell LDS moms to read them first and then discuss the issues raised with their daughters. My books are Standards Nights they won't put down. Dating a nonmember guy is a universal experience for LDS girls living outside of Utah. Too many LDS novels romanticize that. I've seen too many young women get their hearts broken or, even worse, leave the church because they fall in love with a nonmember guy. I made TAKEN BY STORM as honest as I could for them.

Me: Since scuba diving has such a large place in the series, I just have to ask: How/why did you start diving? What do you love about it? What (where?) are your favorite dive locations? And how do you feed the need to dive while living in this hot, dry desert? [Angela lives near me in Arizona's very arid Sonoran Desert.]

AM: My husband snorkeled when he was growing up. We got interested in scuba diving on a trip to the Bahamas when we booked a snorkel trip on a boat with real, live scuba divers. We bought SCUBA DIVER magazines and dreamed. When I stopped having babies, we got certified. Swimming is the only sport I actually like, so anything to do with the water I get excited about. I love how otherwordly the underwater world is. When you ride around on a boat, you have no idea what is hidden underneath the surface. It's like a secret planet, and only divers know how to get there. I love diving on Grand Cayman--especially the East End where Michael and Leesie are in CAYMAN SUMMER. The most spectacular dive we ever took was Little Cayman's Bloody Bay Wall. Best wreck? There's this amazing World War II wreck in the Red Sea that is still full of jeeps and motorcycles. Amazing. Surviving in the desert? We have a big, deep pool and my hubby and the kids fill up dive tanks and go in. We try to take trips where we can dive. This summer we're going to Bermuda for a family reunion. There's supposed to be good wrecks there.

Me: Now that you've completed Michael and Leesie's story, what are you working on?

AM: I signed with a new agent, Erzsi Deak at Hen & Ink, who I adore. We've been revising my books that had to sit on the shelf during my Penguin contract. Two very different projects. MY ONLY LOVE is a tragic historical romance based on my Scottish forebears. I turned my great, great, great, great grandmother's big brother into the hottest collier (coalminer) lad ever to come out of Scotland. It's set in the early 19th Century and written with a gloss of a Scottish brogue. That's in submission as we speak. I'm working on the finishing touches of a YA time-travel romantic suspense novel, SLIPPED. If you took Mad Max and Jane Eyre and stuck them in Medieval Europe, you get SLIPPED. My hero, Jag, is more like Mad Max's great-great-grandson. But he's just as hot. Maybe hotter. SLIPPED began live as a middle grade boys novel, but when I finished the first draft, Jag had turned out way too hot to waste on middle grade boys. I'm also collaborating on a musical stage adaptation of SING ME TO SLEEP with Harriet Bushman, the incredible composer who wrote the music for "Beth's Song" and "Take me Home." And, of course, I've got a couple new contemporary YA love stories I want to write. I'm eager to find new voices to take Michael and Leesie's place in my head.

Me: I know you're a voracious reader - what books are you loving right now? Which up-and-coming titles are you excited about?

AM: I got to indulge my taste for all things Bronte to research SLIPPED. I absolute adore JANE EYRE. There is so much spirit in that book that gets left out of the movie versions. And have you read VILLETTE? It is haunting. Right now I'm reading Jean-Jacques Rousseau's JULIE, THE NEW HELOISE. It had me in tears this afternoon--despite all the long philosophical passages.

I'm not even reading books written in this century let alone the newest releases. I've been so busy that I haven't even kept up reading some of my Vermont College mentor's new books. Tim Wynne Jones just won the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Fiction. I have signed copies of all of his other books. I highly recommend him. The new book I'm most excited about doesn't come out until next year. My sister-in-law (I claim to be her mentor because she's so brilliant), Jennifer Shaw Wolf's amazing, amazing YA novel, BREAKING BEAUTIFUL, comes out early 2012 from Walker. Oh, my, it is good. I was clutching my heart and saying, "Oh, no . . . no!!" all the way through the first read. She had five agents fighting over it. I don't know when ARCS will be available, but I promise to let you all know.

Me: Wonderful! Thanks so much, Angela.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ooey-Gooey Meets Edgy at ... BYU?

(Image from author's website)

(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for Unbroken Connection, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from the first book in the series, Taken By Storm. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Remember when I gushed about Angela Morrison's debut novel, Taken By Storm? The one about Molly Mormon Leesie Hunt, who lives on a pig farm in teensy Tekoa, Washington and falls in love with Michael Walden, a sexy, scuba-diving non-Mormon? Yeah, that one. Well, the star-crossed couple is back. Unbroken Connection, the second book in the series, continues the story of their unlikely romance. The relationship, which should never have worked in the first place, grows more complicated with each page.

When the novel opens, Leesie's trying to navigate her way through her first year at Brigham Young University. Her attempts at juggling homework, roommate drama, and "pity" dates with eligible LDS men, aren't quite enough to keep her mind away from Michael, who's working on a dive boat in Thailand. Although she knows keeping her distance from him is the only thing that will keep her chaste (one of her unbreakable rules), just chatting on the computer with him sends Leesie's hormones into overdrive. She misses Michael with a fierceness that scares her.

As much as Michael would like to forget Leesie with all her prude, Mormon rules, he can't. Diving can't distract him. Other girls don't shift his focus. Nothing can erase her. If only he could convince her to join him in Thailand. They could get married - whatever - as long as they're together. There's only one problem: Leesie won't settle for a courthouse wedding. She'll only marry in one of her Mormon temples. Since Michael hardly believes in God, let alone all Leesie's religious crap, he doesn't stand a chance with her. He wishes he could just accept that and move on. Except he can't.

At a hopeless impasse with Michael, Leesie tries to concentrate on her studies, tries to reconcile herself to loving the returned missionary whose worthiness is what she knows she deserves. But when Michael shows up in Utah, everything changes. And when tragedy strikes, things shift again. Can Leesie and Michael weather the storms that howl around them? Or will their differences yank them apart for good?

If you've read any LDS fiction, you know that most novels written for Mormon teens tend to completely ignore pesky little issues like hormones, sexual attraction, naughty thoughts, making out, bodily reactions to making out, etc.. The result? Storylines that bear no resemblance to the reality of being an LDS teenager. You know why I like Angela Morrison? She tells it like it is without getting too graphic. Through Leesie, she describes the plight of "good girls" everywhere who struggle to remain pure when temptation looks so darn good. Michael's perspective will resound with all the "good guys" out there who fight their bodies and minds daily out of respect for their girlfriends. As much as we want to believe that LDS kids don't wrestle with these issues, they so totally do. I'm glad at least one author out there isn't afraid to admit it. She does it well, too, with polished prose and an edginess that always surprises - and delights - me.

That being said, I have to confess that Leesie and Michael started to really nauseate me in Unbroken Connection. Some of their chat sessions made me want to gag. Sorry, but it's true. What made me want to gag even more is that when my husband read the cheesiest passages, he said, "This reminds me of us." And, embarrassingly enough, I had to agree with him. Despite some ooey-gooey moments, Morrison's descriptions of BYU life made me laugh, and the story had enough conflict to keep me interested. I didn't enjoy it as much as I did Taken By Storm, but still, I appreciate Morrison's candor, her sense of humor, and her ability to write meaningful, realistic fiction. Cheesy or not.

(Readalikes: Taken By Storm and Cayman Summer by Angela Morrison)

Grade: B-

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

To the FTC, with love: I received a ARC of Unbroken Connection from the always generous Angela Morrison. Thank you!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Desires of the Dead A Clamor-Worthy Sequel? Um, Not Quite.

(Image from Indiebound)

(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for Desires of the Dead, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from The Body Finder. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Reading back over my review of The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting makes me laugh. To say the book made me excited for a sequel would be a bit of an understatement. My exact words were, "Please, God, tell me there's a sequel in the works ..." I was seriously clamoring, which is funny considering Desires of the Dead really isn't all that clamor-worthy. Not that it's terrible or anything, it's just not as riveting as its predecessor.

Desires of the Dead starts three months after The Body Finder ends. By now, 16-year-old Violet Ambrose has come to terms with her little "talent" of recognizing the imprints left behind by the dead. Sort of. It's not like she's ready to broadcast her freakishness to the world, but at least she's learning to control the sensations that cloud her mind every time she's near a dead body or someone who's been responsible for another's death. She's relieved that life's returning to normal, or at least this new version of normal. Violet may never get used to the fact that adorable Jay Heaton's no longer her best friend, but her boyfriend. Not that that's a bad thing.

Violet's tentative hold on normal shatters one day when she's wandering along Seattle's waterfront and hears the faint strains of a harp. From the way her body tingles with anticipation, pulling her toward the sound, she knows the music's not coming from the radio or a street performer. It's an echo. Violet's anonymous, phoned-in tip leads police to the body of a missing child. And grabs the attention of the FBI. An agent wants her help to find the little boy's killer.

As much as Violet wants to use her skill for good, she doesn't want it to take over her life. But ignoring the FBI agent's calls doesn't bring normal back. Someone's sending Violet disturbing messages, she's seeing a weird imprint at her high school, and Jay's spending more time with the new kid than he is with her. As if all that's not quite enough to deal with, Violet's being trailed by Rafe, a guy with "talents" that seem all too familiar. Overwhelmed by all the mysteries, she doesn't know where to turn, whom to trust. Only one thing is really clear: Violet's running out of time to figure it all out.

Even though I didn't like Desires of the Dead as much as the first book, I still love the premise behind this series. The idea of imprints - not so much that dead people have them, but that the souls of those who killed them (whether on purpose, in the line of duty, or by accident)are stained with matching "echoes" - seems kind of profound to me, really. It's what sets this series apart from all the others featuring psychics helping troubled souls find rest. Derting's story people are likable enough, without being anything special. A little character depth would have been nice, especially in Jay's case. I still like him, but he's getting a little boring. That's not my main complaint with Desires of the Dead, though. Mostly, I was bugged by how predictable it became. The plot hummed along in a very straightforward way, with no subtlety, no real complexity. I kept hoping for red herrings, clues that led nowhere, or anything to add a little originality and ... nope, didn't really happen. Still, the book's quick pacing kept me interested, making the story enjoyable if a little humdrum. Am I clamoring for the next book? Not exactly, although there is the intriguing matter of Rafe ...

Oh, and speaking of clamoring, have you read the plot summary for Derting's newest, The Pledge (available November 2011)? Now, that one's got me clamoring. Not to mention salivating. And praying to the ARC gods.

(Readalikes: The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting, The Sight by Judy Blundell and Imprints by Rachel Ann Nunes)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus other, milder invectives), violence and some sexual content

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dark, Compelling A Monster Calls A Ness-Ish Original

(Image from Indiebound)

One of the greatest bookish discoveries I've made this year is English author Patrick Ness. You might recall me gushing about his YA dystopian books, The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and The Answer and Monsters of Men (all of which make up the Chaos Walking Trilogy). Considering my adoration for the man, you won't be surprised to discover that I actually squealed out loud when I learned Ness had a new book coming out. Then I read a little about A Monster Calls. It sounded ... odd. Creepy, but not dystopian. Still, if Ness wrote it, I knew I wanted to read it. So, I did. And, while it didn't rock my world like his other books, A Monster Calls still exudes enough Ness-ish originality to make it both compelling and memorable.

Since the book is so hard to describe and I can't discuss it in detail without being spoilerish, I'll give you the summary from the back of my ARC:

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting. He's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming ...

This monster, though, is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

I know - it doesn't give you much to go on, does it? Suffice it to say, A Monster Calls is a book about a 13-year-old boy dealing with the shock and grief of watching his mother wittle away from cancer. It's about anger and guilt and sadness and coming to terms with the cruel blows life deals to all of us, even the very young. Conor's a sympathetic character, one whose feelings are so familiar they'll strike a chord with anyone who's ever experienced a loss, be it large or small. The story itself is told in a dark, compelling way that keeps readers guessing, even as it barrels toward a not unexpected ending.

As I mentioned, I didn't love the book like I wanted to. I liked it, though, and found it to be quite profound in its simplicity. Perhaps even more so because the idea for the short novel (novella?) actually came from British writer Siobhan Dowd, who died of breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 47. After Dowd passed away, Ness was asked to develop Dowd's story idea into an actual story. Since trying to imitate her voice would have been a "disservice to her, to the reader, and most importantly to the story" (from Author's Note), he told it his own way. Enhanced with illustrations by Jim Kay, A Monster Calls becomes a familiar tale told in a new and different way. With its distinctive Ness polish, it's a book to be proud of, one that pays homage to a beloved writer whose life ended much, much too soon.

(Readalikes: Theme-wise, it reminds me of Season of Secrets by Sally Nicholls; style-wise, of some of Neil Gaiman's stories)

Grade: B

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

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of A Monster Calls from the generous folks from Candlewick Press.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Upbeat Disease Novel Affecting Without Being "Issue-y"

(Image from Indiebound)

Thanks to the mighty gods of alphabetical order, 15-year-old Payton Gritas has spent a lot of time staring at the back of Sean Griswold's head. She's sat in the desk behind his every year since third grade. So, when the school counselor suggests Payton try an unorthodox exercise involving a focus object, Payton chooses something with which she's very familiar - Sean's extra-large noggin. It's a strange assignment, for sure, but it seems to be working. As long as Payton's zeroing in on Sean, she can forget about the thing that's really bugging her: her dad's multiple sclerosis (MS).

The more time Payton spends observing Sean, the more she realizes that, for all the time they've spent sitting near each other, she doesn't really know him. When she decides to broaden her research to include more than just Sean's head, Payton discovers the boy's totally stalk-worthy. Not only is he nice, but he's cute, interesting and even a little mysterious. As Payton gets to know him better, Sean becomes less of a science experiment and more of a friend, a friend with a whole lot of potential to be more.

While focusing on Sean distracts Payton from her problems at home, it doesn't erase what's happening to her dad. She still can't deal with that. It's only when things really start to fall apart that she's forced to face everything she's been avoiding. Now she'll have to focus on the one thing she's been trying to avoid all along: the truth.

Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt is one of those issue novels that doesn't necessarily feel like an issue novel. It's about an issue, yes, and a serious one, but it manages to stay upbeat and funny while still addressing a teen's very real feelings about her dad's illness. It avoids cheesy melodrama, dealing with Payton's emotions in a way that remains authentic and true. Since I can't say it any better than this, I'm going to sum it all up with a line I stole from Melissa's excellent review over at Book Nut: "[Sean Griswold's Head is] sweet without being cloying, a disease book without being issue-y. Gotta love that." See what I mean? And, for the record, I completely agree.

(Readalikes: Sort of reminded me of After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Friday, June 10, 2011

I'm Not Hopping, But I Am Following

Since most of the blogs on the Book Blogger Hop this week look familiar to me, I'm going to skip it this time. You should participate, though, especially if you're new in the book blogosphere and looking to connect with other bloggers. It's usually hosted by Jen at Crazy For Books, but this week, Lori's guest-hosting, so head over to her blog for all the details.

I haven't participated in Follow Friday for awhile, so I think I'll play along this week. If you're not familiar with FF, it's a fun book party hosted by Parajunkee's View. Click over to her blog for all the info.

This week's question, asked by Nicki J. Markus, is: The magic book fairy pops out of your cereal box and says, "You and your favorite character (from a book, of course) can switch places. Who are you going to switch with?"

My answer: I'm going to assume this means switching for a day, not forever. In that case, I'm going to be really generic and say Hermoine Granger. I mean, who wouldn't want to spend all day practicing magic and hanging out with people like Harry, Ron and Hagrid?

How about you? Who would you switch with?

--

If you're new here, welcome! I'm so glad you stopped by. Feel free to explore a little, make comments, leave me book recommendations, subscribe to my feed, Follow me - whatever. And don't forget to leave a link to your blog so I can do the same.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Why, Yes, I Do Love Divergent! Thanks For Asking.

(Image from Indiebound)

So, I've been wanting to read Divergent by Veronica Roth ever since I first heard about it. I mean, it's dystopian, it's YA, it's being compared to The Hunger Games. Totally up my alley, right? One of my Canadian readers even sent me a special e-mail suggesting I read it ASAP. So anxious was I to read the book that I didn't even wait for a review copy to come in the mail, I just headed down to my good, ole, neighborhood Borders store (thankfully, it survived the bankruptcy closings) and bought me a copy. And you know what? I shouldn't have waited as long as I did. I should have snapped one up the day it came out. That's how much I enjoyed the read. Don't get me wrong now - there's only one Hunger Games - but Divergent gives a similar story its own, unique twist. And it works, my friends, oh how it works!

In a battered city once known as Chicago, residents have divided themselves into factions, all of which work together to maintain an uneasy sort of peace. Each group embraces a certain value almost to the exclusion of all others: Abnegation preaches selflessness, Candor honors truth, Amity lives for peace, Erudite seeks knowledge, and Dauntless champions courage. Members of the different sects don't mix, really, but they cooperate enough to keep civil war at bay. It's not a perfect world, but it works. Most of the time.

For 16 years, Beatrice Prior has lived with her parents and brother in the Abnegation's section of the city. She's been taught to put others before herself. Always. Pursuits that don't serve her fellow man are discouraged - even looking in a mirror or wearing bright clothing or asking too many questions is forbidden. Beatrice is used to this simple life, but she's always felt different from her family and peers. She struggles every day to exhibit the same magnanimity that comes so easily to every other person in the faction. As her Choosing Day approaches, Beatrice debates the decision she has to make - does she please her parents by sticking with Abnegation or shed their expectations and join the faction she really admires? It's her choice, but it's the most important one she'll ever make.

When Beatrice's pre-Choosing Day testing produces abnormal results, she's even more confused. If she's not wholly Abnegation, what is she? Who is she? She becomes a girl with a secret - a secret so dangerous she's been warned never, ever to reveal it. As Beatrice (now "Tris") goes through the brutal initiation in her new faction, she tries to forget the compassion she's been taught, she tries to forget that she's not what she seems, she focuses only on survival. But when things in her city go awry, it's Tris who'll have to step up, acknowledge her unusual strengths and use them to save the people - and the place - she loves.

Although it's definitely got a Hunger Games feel to it, Divergent does its own thing. Tris is no Katniss Everdeen - she's tougher from the get-go, a fact that makes her less sympathetic, but still compelling. Her world's not quite as bleak as Katniss', but it's rough enough to give Tris' story the same kind of white-knuckle tension that makes HG so fun to read. The subplots woven through the book add both depth and conflict, rounding out the novel, and giving Tris a much-needed vulnerable side. Better character development would have made the rest of the cast more memorable in the same way that a little more originality in plot would have really set Divergent apart. Those are minor complaints, though, since neither kept me from totally eating this one up. Even though it didn't entrance me quite as much as Hunger Games, I still gunned through Divergent, whipping through the pages so fast it's amazing my fingertips remain intact. It's that good. Maybe not Hunger Games-good, but still pretty darn good. Oh, and in case you couldn't tell from all the gushing, I loved it.

(Readalikes: The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins [The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay]; Enclave by Ana Aguirre; and Delirium by Lauren Oliver)

Grade: B

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

To the FTC, with love: I bought Divergent from Borders with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Council of Dads An Honest Yet Tender Ode to Fatherhood

(Image from Indiebound)

Since it's June, the month when we formally celebrate fathers, I think now's a good time to do a little bragging. See, I happen to have an incredible dad. Also, an amazing husband. And a wonderful father-in-law. Add in some pretty awesome brothers, brothers-in-law, uncles, uncles-in-law, cousins, etc. and you start to see my point - I'm surrounded by men who take their responsibilities as fathers very seriously. Not only do they love their children, but they prove it every day by talking to them, listening to them, playing with them, encouraging them, supporting them, teaching them and, most of all, giving them a solid example to follow. In a world as turbulent as ours, this is no small thing.

Considering the powerful influence of fathers, it's no wonder writer Bruce Feiler panicked when he discovered he might not be around to nurture his children into adulthood. One of his first thoughts upon learning he had a rare, aggressive form of bone cancer was of his twin daughters. Who would teach them, support them, father them if he wasn't around? They had a kind, loving mother to guide them, but what about a strong male influence? If Feiler died, who could the girls turn to when they needed a man's perspective?

As Feiler began fighting his disease with surgery and chemo, he set about forming a support group - not for himself, but for his daughters. This Council of Dads included men from all stages of Feiler's life, men he loved, men he respected, men who knew Feiler well enough to bring him to "life" for his girls in the event of Feiler's death. Each member of the council brought different philosophies, different lessons to the table, lessons Feiler wanted his children to hear. The formation of this intimate club turned into a profound experience, one that strengthened Feiler in his time of need and convinced him that, whatever happened, his children would be in good hands.

The Council of Dads chronicles the year cancer stormed into Feiler's life, changing him forever. In candid, but tender prose, he talks about family, friendship, fatherhood and the frailty of life. As he muses over the lessons he collected from the men in his life, adding what he's learned along the way, Feiler offers a warm, hopeful view of the world to the daughters he's terrified of leaving behind. The advice he offers them will resound with anyone who desires to live a fuller, more courageous life. His own life lesson, the one he learns from battling a devastating, soul-sucking disease, reminds us all of what's really important. With humor and a whole lot of heart, Feiler proves not only why fatherhood matters, but why it is, in fact, crucial for all children. While the book's a little too edgy for me to pass out to the fathers in my life, I still found it touching. I'd recommend it for tender-hearted dads who don't mind a little color in their inspirational reading. I'd also recommend having a tissue handy. Maybe two.

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

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language (2 F-bombs, plus occasional, milder expletives), and vague sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of The Council of Dads from the generous folks at Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours, for whom this review was written.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Unique Adoption Story Doesn't Do Quite Enough to Live up To Its Potential

(Image from Indiebound)

Hazel Snow's learned not to expect much out of life, not even on her 18th birthday. And certainly not from her "sort-of-stepdad" Roy, who's more interested in watching sports on t.v. than shopping for birthday gifts. So, she's stunned when Roy offers her the most unexpected present of all - the answer to the question she's been asking her whole life. Ever since she discovered she was adopted, Hazel's wondered about her birth mother. Now she knows. Not only does she have the woman's name, but a quick Internet search reveals that Rosanna Scott never left the San Francisco Bay Area. When Hazel sees that Rosanna will be hosting a charity event at a restaurant in the Ferry Building, Hazel decides to attend.

Since the only dress she owns has a large tear in it, Hazel hunts down a seamstress in the city. While Posey, the owner of Mariposa of the Mission, insists she can fix it, Hazel's visit to the shop turns her little problem into a full-blown crisis. Hazel's devastated when she sees Posey's mistake - instead of returning Hazel's dress, she's given her someone else's order. Except that when, out of pure desperation, Hazel slips on the gown, it fits as though it's been custom made for her. The dress is soft, silky, stunning. Hazel's never felt more beautiful. The experience feels to miraculous, so magical, that when Hazel makes a crazy wish, she actually sees the little butterly embrodiered on the skirt take flight.

When Hazel wakes up the next morning, she realizes with a shock that something magical has happened. Her wish from the night before - her verbalized yearning to know her birth mother - is coming true. And the garment bag that held Posey's enchanted gown now holds two more. Two dresses, two wishes. Suddenly, Hazel, for whom nothing's ever been easy, has the opportunity to answer every question she's ever asked, fulfill every fantasy she's ever dreamt up, be anyone she wants to be. But wishes, as Hazel's quickly finding out, are tricky things and truth, even more so. As she searches for herself in the days of her past, Hazel must decide how to deal with her past and her present so that she'll still have a future.

Wishful Thinking, the second book in Alexandra Bullen's series about Posey and her magic dresses, didn't enchant me quite as much as the first did (see my review of Wish here). Still, it's an uplifting story with an interesting twist on the subject of adoption. The idea of an adopted child being able to go back in time, get to know her birth mother, witness her struggle with the questions that arise from an unexpected pregnancy, even offer advice and input - well, it's a device I'm not sure I've ever seen used. It definitely captured my interest and imagination. Unfortunately, the novel as a whole never developed enough richness to really blow me away. I wanted it to, but the plot had some big holes, the characters didn't come alive for me, and they didn't seem to connect enough to one another either. Overall, Wishful Thinking is a quick, upbeat kind of story, just one that didn't do quite enough to live up to its potential.

(Readalikes: Wish by Alexandra Bullen)

Grade: C

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

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

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Haigh's Newest Dissects Faith, Family

(Image from Indiebound)

Although the two have never been close, Sheila McGann has always felt great affection for her older half-brother, Arthur Breem. She admires his quiet kindness, his even temperament, and his steadfast devotion to the Catholic Church. As a brother, as a person, as a priest, he's always been above reproach. Which is why Sheila's so shocked when Art's accused of molesting the young grandson of a woman in his suburban Boston parish. Despite the constant headlines accusing other priests of similar acts, Sheila refuses to believe her brother's capable of such a thing.

The accusation causes a rift in the already turbulent McGann Family. Tim McGann's so ravaged by alcoholism he barely remembers he has a stepson, let alone that Art's been accused of such a heinous crime. But the news shatters Mary, who's so pious she arrives thirty minutes early to every Mass so she can "say a rosary and frown at the late-comers" (182). She's always been so proud of her oldest son, the priest. Now, she can hardly show her face in public. Mike McGann's never felt comfortable with his half-brother and Abby, his wife, has never taken to the Church or the McGanns. The scandal adds fuel to both arguments, causing so much tension that Mike can't stand to be at home, a fact that leads to even bigger problems. Sheila's caught somewhere in the middle. She doesn't want to believe her gentle brother would hurt a child. However dysfunctional her family is, Sheila's sure they're not that far gone.

In an effort to prove Art's innocence, Sheila starts digging into her brother's life, examining every minute detail - the thoughts he so often keeps to himself, the actions that look so pure on the surface, the every intention of a man who has pledged his life to the service of God. Mostly, she questions Art's interactions with Kath Conlon and her 8-year-old son, Aidan. Art claims he was counseling Kath, trying to help her beat a fierce drug addiction. He says he looked after the boy like a doting father would. But is it true? Or did Art have a more sinister purpose, as Kath claims? As Sheila combs through the evidence, desperate to exonerate her brother, she finds herself confronting the deep, dark secrets her family's been concealing for years.

Faith, Jennifer Haigh's newest, tells the compelling story of one family's refusal to see what's right in front of them. It's about the corrosive nature of secrets, of lies, and the healing, if painful, path to the truth. Haigh uses flawed characters, few of whom are even likable, to spin her tale. Despite their churlishness, they somehow make us care. Still, the story lacked a little something for me. I'm sure I missed some of the novel's subtle complexities because of my unfamiliarity with Catholicism, but it's more than that - I found the book so depressing, so sad really, that I can't say I enjoyed it. Faith held my attention, it just didn't do much more. In the end, it was just okay for me.

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little bit of Faithful Place by Tana French.)

Grade: C+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language, sexual content and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Faith from the generous folks at Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours, for whom this review was written.

Friday, June 03, 2011

A Summery, Mouse-Free Blog Hop


So, I spent the morning celebrating (?) the onset of summer by floating around in my swimming pool. After my 12-year-old son fished a field mouse out of the water, chased me and his little brother around with it, then tossed the corpse over the fence, that is. It took me awhile to get used to the *chilly* water (especially since I kept imagining what else might be bobbing around beneath me), but the warm sun/cool water combo felt awfully nice. Now that I'm all refreshed, though, I feel like Hopping around inside my nice, air-conditioned house. If you feel like joining me (and you know you do), click on over to Crazy For Books to get all the details on this fun, weekly event.

Since I don't like this week's question - it has to do with choosing your favorite blog post and explaining why it's dear to your heart - I'm going to ask you one of my own. It's a little bit generic, but I really am curious: What are y'all reading this summer? Which upcoming titles are you most excited about?

- I've got all kinds of books to read for tours, but as soon as I have a spare minute, I'm going to delve into City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare, Crossed by Ally Condie (as soon as my ARC gets here, anyway), and Carol Lynch Williams' new one, Miles From Ordinary.

Whether you're coming by from the Hop or you hang out here all the time (God bless you!) or you just happened to stumble across my blog, thanks! I hope you'll stay, look around and leave me a comment or two. I promise to return the favor.

Have a fabulous weekend, everybody!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

As With Fairies, So With McMahon: Stay Away. Far, Far Away.

(Image from Indiebound)

I've probably mentioned this before, but Jennifer McMahon's novels creep me out. From the freaky covers to the chilling plotlines to the haunting details - everything about them makes me want to dive into my bed, pull a blanket over my head, and chant, "It's not real. It's not real. It's not real." Seriously. Every time I finish one of McMahon's books, I vow not to pick up another one. Not to even look at another one. Because if there's one thing I've learned about this author, it's that if I so much as glance at one of her books, I will pick it up, I will skim the first page, and I won't stop until I finish the story. Even though it will give me nightmares for a week. That's how compelling they are.

McMahon's newest, Don't Breathe A Word, might just be the most compelling of all. It's my favorite of the three books I've read by her, not because it's less creepy than the others, but because it's got a clever bent to it that kept me guessing through the whole book. I love me a psychological thriller, even if it's one I have to read only in the daylight. With the doors locked. And the shades drawn. When I'm surrounded by people. Ahem. It's not real. It's not real. It's not real. Okay, moving on ...

Don't Breathe A Word takes place in a small Vermont town called Harmony. It's a green, peaceful hamlet that should be an idyllic spot for children to grow up. And it would be, maybe, if it weren't for the woods. In the middle of the trees sits the ruins of an old village, the inhabitants of which - it is said - were whisked away by the King of the Fairies in 1918. When, some 70 years later, a 12-year-old girl goes missing from the same spot, it confirms the rumors about the haunted woods. The fact that Lisa O'Toole Nazzaro told her younger brother she planned to step through a magical door in the woods that would take her to Fairyland, just before she disappeared without a trace, sounds crazy - except to long-time residents of Harmony. The ones who know about the woods. The ones who hear sounds out there, who see strange things, who stay far, far away from the forest and all its secrets.

Fifteen years after Lisa's disappearance, 35-year-old Phoebe is dating sweet, steady Sam Nazzaro. Although she's always been fascinated with the story of little Lisa traipsing off to join the fairies, Phoebe doesn't, at first, know about Sam's connection to the missing girl. When she discovers that he's her younger brother, the same boy to whom Lisa confided about the fairies in the woods, Phoebe's even more intrigued. She doesn't dare ask Sam about the disappearance since she knows he's determined to put the past behind him, but she wonders what really happened the night Lisa vanished into the woods. Does Sam believe the fairy story? He won't say. Even when a series of strange, unexplainable occurrences shakes the couple's world, rocketing the past right into the present, Sam remains tight-lipped. Maybe Sam doesn't believe, but Phoebe can't explain the eerie happenings any other way - if it's not the King of Fairies messing with their lives, then who is it?

It took me all of a chapter to be thoroughly spooked by Don't Breathe A Word. And a lot less than that to be totally and completely hooked. The whole fairy plotline makes this missing girl story different, lending it a dark kind of charm. I wanted to believe in Lisa's fairy world, so much so that I almost skipped the last, everything-is-revealed section of the book. I'm glad I didn't, though, because then I would have missed the book's final, brilliant scene, the one that made me question everything.

Intrigued yet? See what I mean about that darn Jennifer McMahon? She drags you into her macabre little stories whether you like it or not. I'm going to give you the same advice about McMahon that Lisa was given about the fairies: Stay away. Far, far away. And if you ignore this advice, beware - nightmares will ensue.

(Readalikes: Island of Lost Girls by Jennifer McMahon)

Grade: B

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

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Don't Breathe A Word from the generous folks at Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours, for whom this review was written. Thank you!

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