Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: A BBB Year in Review (Part II)


I saw this fun end-of-the-year book survey over at The Perpetual Page-Turner and decided to try it on my own blog.  Did you do the same?  Leave me a link and I'll check it out!

1. Best Book You Read In 2012? (You can break it down by genre if you want)
Adult (any genre):  Bones Are Forever by Kathy Reichs
YA Dystopian/Sci Fi/Fantasy:  Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi and Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Ya Contemporary:  How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Middle Grade:  The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray—I was expecting more of a action/adventure and survival story and got a satire, which I would have still liked except that it got very raunchy.  The raunch really got in the way of the story for me.  Hate that.
 3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012? 
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green—I've read a million cancer stories and was expecting this to be the same kind of predictable, melodramatic tearjerker as all the rest.  It wasn't.  Not melodramatic and predictable, anyway.
 4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?
Probably The Fault in Our Stars by John Green or Cinder by Marissa Meyer
 5. Best series you discovered in 2012?
Gosh, there are so many, but here are my Top 3 (in no particular order):  Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi; The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer; and The Shades of London by Maureen Johnson 
 6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?
Maureen Johnson, John Green, Veronica Rossi, Marissa Meyer, N.C. Allen
7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
Nothing's coming to mind, although I started Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand yesterday.  It's a non-fiction book about war, which isn't something I read often, but it's really holding my interest.  
 8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
 9. Book You Read In 2012 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year:
I very, very rarely re-read books, so probably none of them.
10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?
I don't pay that much attention to covers, but I thought the one for How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr was particularly striking.  
11. Most memorable character in 2012? 
Augustus Waters from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  I adored him.  
12. Most beautifully written book read in 2012?
How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr—it made me laugh, it made me cry ...
13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012? 
Impactful?  Hmmm ... Probably The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler.  Very eye-opening book about teenage pregnancy and adoption before Roe v. Wade.  
14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read? 
The List by Melanie Jacobson
15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2012? 
Uh, does everything that came out of Augustus Waters' (The Fault in Our Stars) mouth count?
16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2012? 
Longest — Probably Nightingale by David Farland.  It was HUGE and totally not worth the read.
Shortest — The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate maybe?
 17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!
Totally the surprise twist in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  I did not see that coming!  Also, the very ending of Defending Jacob by William Landay.  Didn't see that coming either.
18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).
Augustus Waters and Hazel Lancaster from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Aria and Roar from Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
19. Favorite Book You Read in 2012 From An Author You Read Previously
Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult or Bones are Forever by Kathy Reichs
20. Best Book You Read That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:
Probably Defending Jacob by William Landay

 Book Blogging/Reading Life in 2012 (optional)


1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2012? 
Too many to name, but a few that come to mind are:  Under a Gray Sky; The Perpetual Page-Turner; Pretty Books
2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2012? 
Drawing a blank here ... 
3. Best discussion you had on your blog?
My Mormon Mentions feature often sparks some good discussion.  
4. Most thought-provoking review or discussion you read on somebody else’s blog?
Um, gosh ... I can't think of anything.  I've stayed WAY out of all the recent book blogging drama, so not that.  I guess I'd have to say the Unpopular YA Opinions post over at YA Librarian Tales.  I didn't agree with most of what Sarah said, but it was interesting to read everyone's responses.  
5. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?
Probably the LDS Storymakers Conference.  I got to spend time with awesome authors like Kimberley Griffiths Little and Melanie Jacobson.  I also attended classes/lectures by more great writers:  Elana Johnson, Kiersten White, Janette Rallison, etc.
6. Best moment of book blogging in 2012?
Getting to meet some of my favorite book bloggers in person.
(From l to r): Melissa from One Librarian's Book Review; Me (I'm about 60 lbs. skinnier in real life—okay, in my dreams); Suey from It's All About Books and Gaye from Inside A Book
7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?
This is kind of sad, but my most popular posts are those that include giveaways.  The one for Smart Move, Melanie Jacobson's newest, was especially well-visited.
8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?
Um, how 'bout all of them?  I love reading comments :)
9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?
Definitely my Kindle Fire.  I held off getting an e-reader, but I'm so glad I finally did.  
10.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?
I failed at the only goal I set (reading 200 books).  Oh well, there's always next year!

Looking Ahead…


1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2012 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2013?
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.  I started it yesterday.
2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2013?
Orleans by Sherri L. Smith.  I've got the ARC, but am waiting to read it until closer to the book's pub date.
3. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging In 2013?
Well, I really, really, really want to reach my goal of reading 200 books in a year, just so I can say I did it.  Besides that, I just want to keep writing reviews, entertaining my readers and finding awesome new book blogs to read.   
How would you answer these questions?

2012: A BBB Year in Review (Part I)

As 2012 slowly slips away, I've been looking back at my year here at BBB.  It's been a good one and I thank all of you for that.  I appreciate all the comments, recommendations, laughs and love you've given me over the last 12 months.  You are the reason I enjoy blogging so much.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Oddly enough, this has not been a stellar year for me numbers-wise, even though I feel like I've spent every spare moment of 2012 reading.  Although I vowed to conquer 200 books this year, I only managed to read 157.  That's 29 less than last year!  I know.  It's weird.  I've been racking my brain trying to figure out what happened and I think I've figured out the problem—my Kindle Fire.  Yes, it has helped me finish books, but it's also hindered me.  Why?  In a word, apps.  I'm totally addicted to Words With Friends, Scramble With Friends, DropWords, etc.  They're very distracting.  Oh well.  They're fun and I'm not giving them up.  So there.

Here's how my 2012 reading broke down:

I read 157 books.  Of those:

  • 147 (94%) were fiction; 10 (6%) were non-fiction
  • 76 (49%) were adult books; 62 (39%) were YA; and 19 (12%) were middle grade
  • 89 (57%) were review books; 38 (24%) were borrowed from the library; 17 (12%) came from my own bookshelves; 11 (7%) were sent to me for contest judging; and 2 (1%) were manuscripts I read for friends
  • 34 (22%) were e-books; 1 was an audiobook
  • 111 (71%) were written by females; 39 (25%) by males; and 6 (4%) by teams of both females and males
  • 49 (31%) were written by LDS authors   
Reading Challenges at which I Failed Spectacularly:
  • 50 States Challenge 2012 
    • (Because I was doing this challenge, I kept track of the states where each of the books I read this year took place.  Just for fun, here's the Top 5:  California (9 books); Utah (6 books); Iowa (4 books); Tie between Arkansas, Florida, New York, North Carolina and Washington (3 books); Tie between Virginia, New Mexico, Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Arizona (2 books)
Reading Challenges at which I Totally Rocked:
Before I list all the books I read this year, I wanted to let you know what will (hopefully) be happening around here in the next few weeks.  I'm going to be catching up on reviews (I'm 13 behind—gulp!); updating my Pages (All Reviews, LDS Authors, Baby Steps, etc.); joining a couple of challenges (because I'm so dang awesome at completing them); and cleaning up my sidebars (so they'll look all pretty for the new year). I'm going to have lots of fun stuff coming up in 2013, so stick with me, won't you?  

Happy New Year!

BOOKS READ IN 2012 (ASTERISKS DENOTE FAVORITES)

  • 157. MIND GAMES BY KIERSTEN WHITE
  • 156. THE IMPLOSION OF AGGIE WINCHESTER BY LARA ZIELIN
  • 155. THROUGH THE EVER NIGHT BY VERONICA ROSSI*
  • 154.  The fire horse girl by kay honeyman*
  • 153. BAKER TOWNS BY JENNIFER HAIGH
  • 152. NUTCRACKER BY E.T.A. HOFFMAN
  • 151. LONE WOLF BY JODI PICOULT*
  • 150. SPEECHLESS BY HANNAH HARRINGTON
  • 149. IBOY BY KEVIN BROOKS
  • 148. THE LOVELY SHOES BY SUSAN SHREVE
  • 147. DISTANT WAVES BY SUZANNE WEYN
  • 146. THE MADNESS UNDERNEATH BY MAUREEN JOHNSON*
  • 145. THE 13TH DAY OF CHRISTMAS BY JASON F. WRIGHT
  • 144. THE RITES AND WRONGS OF JANICE WILLS BY JOANNA PEARSON
  • 143. ON THE ROAD TO MR. MINEO'S BY BARBARA O'CONNOR
  • 142. ALL FALL DOWN BY JULIE COULTER BELLON
  • 141. BEAUTY QUEENS BY LIBBA BRAY
  • 140. THE NAME OF THE STAR BY MAUREEN JOHNSON*
  • 139. DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE THIRD WHEEL BY JEFF KINNEY
  • 138. THE RENT COLLECTOR BY CAMRON WRIGHT
  • 137. NIGHTINGALE BY DAVID FARLAND
  • 136. THE EPIC TALES OF A MISFIT HERO BY MATT PETERSON
  • 135. SCARLET BY MARISSA MEYER*
  • 134. CINDER BY MARISSA MEYER*
  • 133. IDEAL HIGH BY VALERIE IPSON (MY FRIEND'S W.I.P.)
  • 132. BREATHE BY SARAH CROSSAN
  • 131. NINTH WARD BY JEWELL PARKER RHODES
  • 130. OUT OF THE EASY BY RUTA SEPETYS*
  • 129. BREAKING STALIN'S NOSE BY EUGENE VELCHIN
  • 128. SMART MOVE BY MELANIE JACOBSON
  • 127. ONE CRAZY SUMMER BY RITA WILLIAMS-GARCIA
  • 126. SHADOWS BY ILSA J. BICK
  • 125. STORY OF A GIRL BY SARA ZARR
  • 124. TEN BY GRETCHEN MCNEIL
  • 123. SISTER BY ROSAMUND LUPTON
  • 122. HOW TO SAVE A LIFE BY SARA ZARR*
  • 121. PRIMAL BY D.A. SERRA
  • 120. BROKEN HARBOR BY TANA FRENCH*
  • 119. VICTORIOUS WOMAN! BY ANNMARIE KELLY
  • 118. TRANSCENDENCE BY C.J. OMOLOLU
  • 117. THE TURNING BY FRANCINE PROSE
  • 116. THE INFINITY RING: A MUTINY IN TIME BY JAMES DASHNER
  • 115. THE AGE OF MIRACLES BY KAREN THOMPSON WALKER
  • 114. DITCHED: A LOVE STORY BY ROBIN MELLOM
  • 113. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS BY JOHN GREEN*
  • 112. DEFENDING JACOB BY WILLIAM LANDAY
  • 111. NEVER ENOUGH BY DENISE JADEN
  • 110. UNWHOLLY BY NEAL SHUSTERMAN*
  • 109. COME AUGUST, COME FREEDOM BY GIGI AMATEAU
  • 108. REAL INTIMACY BY KRISTIN B. HODSON, ALISHA B. WORTHINGTON & THOMAS G. HARRISON
  • 107. SULAN; EPISODE 1: THE LEAGUE BY CAMILLE PICOTT
  • 106. DON'T TURN AROUND BY MICHELLE GAGNON
  • 105. STANDING UP IN A SIT-DOWN WORLD BY MERRILEE BOYACK
  • 104. ELIZABETH AND HAZEL: TWO WOMEN OF LITTLE ROCK BY DAVID MARGOLICK
  • 103. SAFEKEEPING BY KAREN HESSE
  • 102. ARTICLE 5 BY KRISTEN SIMMONS
  • 101. THE HOMECOMING OF SAMUEL LAKE BY JENNY WINGFIELD
  • 100. WAR HORSE BY MICHAEL MORPURGO
  • 99. GONE GIRL BY GILLIAN FLYNN*
  • 98. WONDER BY R.J. PALACIO
  • 97. THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ME BY KAREN RIVERS
  • 96, THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN BY KATHERINE APPLEGATE*
  • 95. THE ART FORGER BY B.A. SHAPIRO*
  • 94. A NEST FOR CELESTE BY HENRY COLE
  • 93. TWITTERPATED BY MELANIE JACOBSON
  • 92. THE HOLLOW CITY BY DAN WELLS*
  • 91. AMERICAN GHOST BY JANIS OWENS*
  • 90. AMELIA ANNE IS DEAD AND GONE BY KAT ROSENFIELD
  • 89. THE LINE BETWEEN HERE AND GONE BY ANDREA KANE
  • 88. HOMESICK BY KATE KLISE
  • 87. THE COVE BY RON RASH
  • 86. THE DEADLY SISTER BY ELIOT SCHREFER
  • 85. THIS IS NOT A TEST BY COURTNEY SUMMERS*
  • 84. ORIGIN BY JESSICA KHOURY
  • 83. ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD BY KENDARE BLAKE*
  • 82. THE SOLDIER'S WIFE BY JOANNA TROLLOPE
  • 81. AN UNMARKED GRAVE BY CHARLES TODD
  • 80. THE KEEPER OF THE CHRISTMAS TREES BY TAMARA PASSEY (MY FRIEND'S WIP)
  • 79. BONES ARE FOREVER BY KATHY REICHS*
  • 78. BUTTER BY ERIN JADE LANGE
  • 77. THE MISADVENTURES OF MAUDE MARCH BY AUDREY COULOUMBIS (AUDIOBOOK)
  • 76. SAFE WITHIN BY JEAN REYNOLDS PAGE
  • 75. ONE BREATH AWAY BY HEATHER GUDENKAUF
  • 74. WAITING BY CAROL LYNCH WILLIAMS
  • 73. A BITTER TRUTH BY CHARLES TODD*
  • 72. SLIDE BY JILL HATHAWAY
  • 71. THE WAY WE FALL BY MEGAN CREWE
  • 70. AN IMPARTIAL WITNESS BY CHARLES TODD*
  • 69. A DUTY TO THE DEAD BY CHARLES TODD*
  • 68. SAVING RUTH BY ZOE FISHMAN
  • 67. PARTIALS BY DAN WELLS*
  • 66. BECOMING BAYLEY BY SUSAN AUTEN
  • 65. CODE NAME VERITY BY ELIZABETH WEIN
  • 64. BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY BY RUTYA SEPETYS
  • 63. MY NEW AMERICAN LIFE BY FRANCINE PROSE
  • 62. FEAR BY MICHAEL GRANT*
  • 61. KEEPSAKE BY KRISTINA RIGGLE
  • 60. PANDEMONIUM BY LAUREN OLIVER
  • 59. 13 CURSES BY MICHELLE HARRISON
  • 58. 13 TREASURES BY MICHELLE HARRISON
  • 57. ASHEN WINTER BY MIKE MULLIN
  • 56. ASHFALL BY MIKE MULLIN
  • 55. ACCEPTABLE LOSS BY ANNE PERRY
  • 54. BLOODBORNE BY GREGG LUKE
  • 53. SMOKESCREEN BY TRACI HUNTER ABRAMSON
  • 52. REARVIEW MIRROR BY STEPHANIE BLACK
  • 51. ISABELLE WEBB: PHARAOH'S DAUGHTER BY N.C. ALLEN*
  • 50. ISABELLE WEBB: LEGEND OF THE JEWEL BY N.C. ALLEN*
  • 49. IF I SHOULD DIE BY JENNIE HANSEN
  • 48. FIRES OF JERUSALEM BY MARILYN BROWN
  • 47. DAUGHTER OF HELAMAN BY MISTY MONCUR
  • 46. BEING LARA BY LOLA JAYE
  • 45. MISS DELACOURT HAS HER DAY BY HEIDI ASHWORTH
  • 44. LETTERS IN THE JADE DRAGON BOX BY GALE SEARS
  • 43. EMERALD CITY BY ALICIA K. LEPPERT
  • 42. BORROWED LIGHT BY CARLA KELLY*
  • 41. COUNT DOWN TO LOVE BY JULIE N. FORD
  • 40. NOT MY TYPE BY MELANIE JACOBSON
  • 39. CAPTIVE HEART BY MICHELE PAIGE HOLMES
  • 38. MISS DELACOURT SPEAKS HER MIND BY HEIDI ASHWORTH
  • 37. THE LIST BY MELANIE JACOBSON
  • 36. SHOWOFF BY GORDON KORMAN
  • 35. A NIGHT OF BLACKER DARKNESS BY DAN WELLS*
  • 34. I DON'T WANT TO KILL YOU BY DAN WELLS
  • 33. NO ANGEL BY THERESA SNEED
  • 32. THE ALLOY OF LAW BY BRANDON SANDERSON*
  • 31. THE WEDDING LETTERS BY JASON F. WRIGHT
  • 30. THE EVOLUTION OF THOMAS HALL BY KIETH MERRILL
  • 29. BEFORE I SAY GOODBYE BY RACHEL ANN NUNES
  • 28. GIFTED BY KAREY WHITE
  • 27. THE HERO OF AGES BY BRANDON SANDERSON*
  • 26. THE WALK: MILES TO GO BY RICHARD PAUL EVANS
  • 25. THE WALK BY RICHARD PAUL EVANS
  • 24. THE LOST GATE BY ORSON SCOTT CARD
  • 23. PRIDE & POPULARITY BY JENNI JAMES
  • 22. MY UNFAIR GODMOTHER BY JANETTE RALLISON*
  • 21. SHIFTING BY BETHANY WIGGINS
  • 20. SLAYERS BY C.J. HILL
  • 19. WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE BY TESS HILMO
  • 18. WHY I'M A MORMON BY JOSEPH A. CANNON, ED.
  • 17. GIRLS DON'T FLY BY KRISTEN CHANDLER
  • 16. BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP BY S.J. WATSON*
  • 15. CINDERELLA ATE MY DAUGHTER BY PEGGY ORENSTEIN
  • 14. THE BIRTH ORDER BOOK BY DR. KEVIN LEMAN*
  • 13. ALL THE FLOWERS IN SHANGHAI BY DUNCAN JEPSON
  • 12. FREEDOM STONE BY JEFFREY KLUGER
  • 11. MAKING BABIES BY ANNE ENRIGHT
  • 10. MICRO BY MICHAEL CRICHTON & RICHARD PRESTON
  • 9. THE SECRET SISTERHOOD OF HEARTBREAKERS BY LYNN WEINGARTEN
  • 8. THE GIRLS WHO WENT AWAY BY ANN FESSLER
  • 7. PROMISE CANYON BY ROBYN CARR*
  • 6. THE SIBLING EFFECT: WHAT THE BONDS AMONG BROTHERS AND SISTERS REVEAL ABOUT US BY JEFFREY KLUGER*
  • 5. DEMONGLASS BY RACHEL HAWKINS
  • 4. BLACK BOY, WHITE SCHOOL BY BRIAN F. WALKER
  • 3. THE CRAZY THINGS GIRLS DO FOR LOVE BY DYAN SHELDON
  • 2. UNDER THE NEVER SKY BY VERONICA ROSSI*
  • 1. LOST IN THE RIVER OF GRASS BY GINNY RORBY

Friday, December 28, 2012

Some of It I Loved, Some of It I Loathed ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I rarely pick up a book based on its cover alone, but you have to admit there's something striking about the one above.  It's really rather brilliant.  Especially considering the premise behind Beauty Queens, Libba Bray's satirical novel about the (very shallow) way we define beauty.  Here's the jacket copy because, not only does it describe the story perfectly, but it also makes me laugh:
The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream Pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.

What's a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program—or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan—or lean to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness.
Fun, right?  And it is, it really is.  It's also hilarious, strange, ridiculous and, believe it or not, thought-provoking.  Although I don't agree with all the lessons the story teaches, I get the main one loud and clear—beauty is as beauty does.  A good moral.  In the end, though, several things kept me from absolutely loving Beauty Queens, namely the (fairly) graphic and (fairly) frequent sexual scenes between (just about) anyone and everyone.  Also, while I understand why Bray chose to tell the story the way she did, I think I would have preferred this one as a more straightforward tale of survival.  Because while I love the premise of Beauty Queens and the execution made me laugh, the novel just didn't totally win me over.  Would I recommend it?  I'm not even sure.  Some of it, I loved; some of it, I loathed.  Overall, I'm kind of ambivalent.

Have you read Beauty Queens?  What did you think?  

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

Grade:  B-

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

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

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Introducing My New Favorite YA Series. Well, One of Them ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Rory Deveaux's thrilled when her law professor parents decide to leave small-town Louisiana to spend a year on sabbatical in Europe.  The 17-year-old can't wait to start her own adventure at a boarding school in London's East End.  Wexford's not exactly Hogwarts, but Rory loves the English-ness of it all.  Her roommate's sweet as can be (if a little stiff), her classes are challenging (not always a good thing), and she's learning to play field hockey (mostly with her face).  Rory's classmates find her quirky Southern background charming, so she plays up the role, entertaining her friends with zany, but (mostly) true tales from the bayou.  Even with a Jack the Ripper-like killer on the loose in her new neighborhood, Rory's having the time of her life.  

Then, Rory almost chokes to death in the dining hall and things start getting ... weird.  Like, The Sixth Sense weird.  She must be going crazy because in real life, ghosts don't float through the streets of London.  They don't show themselves to sensible teenage girls.  They don't talk.  And they certainly don't kill real, live, flesh-and-blood people.  But Rory's pretty sure that's exactly what's happening.  She saw a man near the scene of a grisly murder, a man only she could see, a man she's pretty sure is the Ripper copycat.  Rory can do what no one on the London police force can do: she can identify England's Most Wanted.  The only problem?  The killer is a ghost.  If Rory tells that to the authorities, she's sure to be locked up—in the loony bin.  She can't take what she knows to the cops, so she's going to have to solve the problem herself.  Either that, or bury her nose in her textbooks (where it should have been all along) and forget all about her freaky new Spidey senses.

Rory just wants her life to go back to normal, but when she discovers she's not the only Shade in London, she knows that will never happen.  As she learns about what she can do, what she's expected to do, Rory has to decide what she wants.  And fast, before the ghostly killer strikes again ...  

Even though I'd heard great things about The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, I held off reading it.  Why?  Since the novel's about Jack the Ripper, I figured it would be gruesome.  And depressing.  Not exactly a heartwarming holiday read.  Then, the wonderful people at Penguin sent me an awesome early Christmas gift—not just a finished copy of The Name of the Star, but also an ARC of its sequel, The Madness Underneath.  With both books just sitting there on my shelf, begging for my attention, I couldn't resist.  And you know what?  I'm glad I didn't.  Because even though The Name of the Star is a little bloody, it's a lot more lighthearted than I expected it to be.  In fact, I'd say it's the perfect blend of charming and chilling.  The story's not all that original, but it didn't really bother me—I was too busy flipping pages to worry about anything other than Rory.  Her story intrigued me so much that I didn't want to stop reading it.  So I didn't.  I devoured The Madness Underneath, too.  And guess what?  I loved it just as much as its predecessor, which means I can now say that the Shades of London is one of my favorite new YA series.  It's that compelling, that fun.  Seriously, I adore it.  

(Readalikes:  The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson; also reminded me a little bit of Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake)

Grade:  B

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Name of the Star from the generous folks at Penguin.  Thank you!   
       

Sunday, December 23, 2012

'Cause I'm Scrooge-y Like That ... (And I Like to Start Post Titles With 'Cause)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As much as I love Christmastime, with all its beautiful carols, heartwarming holiday movies, and tales of forgiveness and hope, there's one thing I can't abide:  sap.  Okay, I can take a little.  Just not a lot.  I'm not saying I don't enjoy inspirational Christmas stories (I'm not that heartless!), but I don't like holiday novels (or any other kind) that try too hard to be touching.  Give me a subtle lesson, not a saccharine one, you know?  Because I'm sort of Scrooge-y like that, I gave Jason F. Wright's first Christmas novel, Christmas Jars, a scathing review, calling it "the kind of book that sacrifices good storytelling for sentimental sermonizing."  Harsh, but true.  

Although I vowed not to, I have read more of Wright's books over the years and I have to give the man credit—he's getting better.  His newest, The 13th Day of Christmas, shows how far he's come since Christmas Jars.  Is his latest a perfect novel?  Not by any means, but at least (some of) the characters have personality.  And, although it's thin, there is a plot.  Coincidence still plays a major role in the story, which is (alas) filled with sappy moments.  Still, I enjoyed the book much more than other novels of its type (like, say, Christmas Jars).  

The 13th Day of Christmas tells a riches-to-rags story about a family who's going through some hard times.  Financially, they're in trouble.  Emotionally, they're spent.  As a unit, they're struggling.  Looking for a chance to start over, the Alexanders move into a double wide at the 27 Homes trailer park in a town where no one knows them.  None of them are happy about their new situation, but 9-year-old Charlee decides to see what the neighborhood has to offer.  Her explorations lead her to Marva Ferguson, an 81-year-old widow who lives in a real house on the edge of the trailer park.  Charlee's drawn to the elderly woman, with her kind smile and gentle ways.  She's entranced by Marva's expansive apron collection as well as her charming Christmas house (which the widow begins decorating in October).  Marva loves Charlee's enthusiasm, her sweet innocence.  Before long, the two are inseparable.  

Then Charlee receives a shocking diagnosis (okay, it's cancer—it's always cancer in these kinds of stories).  Faced with not just the threat of a critical illness, but also with the bleak prospect of spending the Christmas season in the hospital, the girl's spirit sags.  Until, on December 12th, a mysterious gift appears.  An accompanying note promises Charlee more gifts and letters to celebrate the twelve days leading up to Christmas.  The child perks up as she tries to figure out who's sending the secret messages.  She'd suspect Marva, except the widow is having serious problems of her own ... 

So, yeah, the story's another exuberant-child-and-elderly-person-ease-each-other's-pain kind of thing, but at least it's got a little spunk.  The characters are likable, if not unique, and the whole 12 Days of Christmas thing is sort of fun.  It gets silly fast, but yeah ... once again, Wright is offering up one of his own family traditions and encouraging his readers to adopt it as their own.  Will it catch on like the Christmas Jars have? Only time will tell.  As far as the actual story goes, it was pretty much what I expected—predictable, sentimental, tearjerker-y, etc.  Once I looked past all that, though, I found The 13th Day of Christmas to be a quick, enjoyable read that really did help me get into the spirit of Christmas.  My verdict, then?  Holidays novels will never be my cup of cocoa, but in small amounts, I can tolerate them.  Maybe even enjoy them.  Who knew? 

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other holiday novels like Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright)

Grade:  C

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The 13th Day of Christmas from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain (a division of Deseret Book).  Thank you!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

'Cause Nothing Says Christmas Better Than a Toy Soldier Slaughtering Mice in Front of a Little Girl ...

I've never understood why other December babies complain about celebrating a birthday at Christmastime.  I never have because I love this time of year.  Having been born a few days before Christmas, a time when, all over the world, people are focusing on joy and love, only makes turning another year older more special.  Plus, I arrived on my dad's birthday, in the middle of a swirling snowstorm, without the help of the doctor (whose car couldn't make it up the steep hill to the hospital)—it all makes for a pretty good story, if I do say so myself!

Another great thing about my Christmastime birthday is the traditions surrounding it.  I can't remember how old I had just turned (11, maybe?), but one year, my mom gave me a wonderful gift—she took me to see a professional production of The Nutcracker in Portland, Oregon.  I still remember how sophisticated I felt sitting in a plush theater seat, watching the ballet.  The magic of the performance just carried me away.  To commemorate the occasion, I was given my very first nutcracker (seen above).  My parents didn't have the money to take me to the ballet every year, but they did give me a nutcracker on all subsequent birthdays.  Still do, in fact.  And I carry on the tradition started by my mom by seeing The Nutcracker each December with my husband, my daughters, my sons, or whoever else will go with me.  It simply wouldn't feel like Christmas if I didn't—at the very least—place my collection of nutcrackers around my house.  They remind me of my childhood, my family, and all the happy memories I associate with both.  

Many people love The Nutcracker; now you know why I do, too :)


Considering my love for all things Nutcracker, I was thrilled when the folks at Crown Publishing Group offered me a new book on just this subject.  I knew it would be a perfect Christmas read for me.  And it was.  Sort of.  I had never thought much about where the story behind the ballet came from, but it was inspired by a "long short story" written by a German man named E.T.A. Hoffman in 1816.  A director of the Imperial Theater in St. Petersburg adapted the story (using a French version written by Alexandre Dumas) for the stage in 1891.  Tchaikovsky then wrote the famous score.  The result is a narrative that bears little resemblance to Hoffman's original tale.  The aim of this new book, then, is to give modern readers the real story, the authentic story, the story that Hoffman gifted to the world, never knowing that, one day, it would be the inspiration for a beloved ballet known as The Nutcracker

If you ever thought the story of little Clara receiving a nutcracker from her creepy godfather was a little, well, strange, you're going to think it doubly so after reading Hoffman's version.  Because, let's face it—the story's a bit odd.  Translated from the German by Ralph Manheim (now deceased) and illustrated by the late Maurice Sendak (who also designed costumes and sets for the Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of The Nutcracker), the story told in Nutcracker goes a little something like this:  Seven-year-old Marie Stahlbaum (her doll is the one named Clara) and her siblings receive Christmas gifts from their godfather, a celebrated clockmaker who crafts elaborate toys for them every year.  Because these creations are so fragile, they're locked away in a glass cabinet so that the children cannot break them.  So, while the children are amazed by this year's offering—a magnificent castle with figures that walk and dance—they quickly lose interest, knowing it to be another look-don't-touch kind of present.  Then, Marie notices another of Drosselmeier's gifts—a nutcracker.  She loves the "droll little man" the moment she sees him and vows to care for him always.  Unwilling to leave him, Marie settles near the toy cabinet instead of going to bed as she's been told to do.  As the clock strikes midnight, the girl begins to hear noises.  First, she hears shuffling, giggling and squeaking.  Mice pour into the room, squeezing through every hole in the woodwork.  A battle between the hideous rodents and an army of toy soldiers, led by Marie's nutcracker, ensues.  

When Marie wakes up the next morning, she's sure she dreamed the whole thing.  Then, Godfather Drosselmeier tells her a tale about a beautiful princess, a cursed prince and the mouse monster who vows to bring them down.  Now she knows the truth: the battle wasn't a dream.  Or was it?

I'll tell you the truth right off:  I wasn't as charmed by Hoffman's story as I wanted to be.  It's unique to be sure, but it also struck me as ... well ... weird.  The stage version makes more sense to me.  Still, Sendak's illustrations lend the original version a whimsical air, even when the tale turns dark, as if often does.  I don't see kids actually reading this one, as it's not just scary, but also confusing.  I do, however, think Sendak's artwork will fascinate them with its bright, dreamlike interpretations of the text.  

So, overall, what did I think of Nutcracker?  Meh.  Even though I enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at the story, I think I'll stick with the stage version.  To me, it's less confusing and more entertaining.  'Cause, you know, nothing says Christmas better than a soldier slaughtering a bunch of mice in front of a little girl and then taking her on a trip through a magical Wonderland, all of which turns out to be nothing more than a magical dream.  Well, it does to me, anyway.     

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

Grade:  C

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for violence and scary images

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The One Where A Wimpy Non-Fan (Finally) Begins to Understand the Allure ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I know people love Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but I'll tell you the truth (unlike every other day, when I tell you LIES), I don't.  Like it?  Yes.  Love it?  Nope.  My response to the first book baffles my children, who think the whole series is the best thing since commercial-less cartoons (we love you, Netflix!).  Maybe it's because I'm an old fuddy-duddy, but I just wasn't that impressed with the book (in fact, here's my review).  Although my kids have read every story in the series—at least twice—I never got beyond the first installment.  Until my 10-year-old daughter came home from school one day in November, handed me The Third Wheel and said, "[School librarian's name] wants you to write a test for this book.  Tons of kids have been asking for it.  Including me."  Because I can't say no to my daughter, let alone "tons of kids," I got right on it.  And guess what?  Much to my surprise, I rather enjoyed The Third Wheel

The Third Wheel is the sixth book in the series (not including The Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book and The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary).  Usually, I wouldn't read Book Six without reading Two, Three, Four, and Five, but in a library emergency, sacrifices must be made.  So, I'm not sure how old Greg Heffley is in The Third Wheel or what grade he's currently suffering through (and where is Rodrick, by the way?  Military school?), but he hasn't changed a whole heck of a lot.  He's still trying to fit in at school, still dealing with his embarrassing best friend, and still picking on his kid brother, Manny.  New adventures await around the corner, however.  Soon, he's learning to cope (as only he can) with another round of student elections, having his deadbeat uncle as a permanent roommate, the scratchy school toilet paper, and finding a date to the school dance.  Becuase it's Greg Heffley, the mundane soon becomes the hilarious.

One of my beefs with the first book in the Wimpy series is that it has no real plot.  The various anecdotes made me laugh, but the fact that they didn't come together to create a connected story irritated me.  Since I knew what to expect coming into The Third Wheel, the plotlessness of the book didn't bother me.  I just enjoyed it for what it was—belly laughing, nose snorting, knee slapping fun.  Maybe these books aren't great literature, but they are quick and funny, perfect for handing to reluctant readers or anyone who could use a giggle.  I'm not ready to gush incessantly about this series the way my kids do and, yet, I'm starting to understand the allure.  Millions of kids can't be wrong.  Can they?

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney.  Also reminds me of the Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renèe Russell)

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for some bathroom-type humor

To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed The Third Wheel from my kids' elementary school library as part of my volunteer work with the school's reading program.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Need a Reminder of How Blessed You Are? Read This Book.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In shanties at the edge of Stung Meanchey, the largest municipal waste dump in Cambodia, lives a community of "pickers."  Every day, the people sift through Phnom Penh's garbage looking for anything of value, anything that can be sold to pay for their most basic of necessities.  It's a risky business; pickers are routinely crushed by bulldozers, pricked by dirty syringes, or robbed of their meager finds by gang members who patrol the area looking for easy targets.  Then, there's the ever-present stench, the rivers of polluted waters that stream through the place when it rains, and the trapped methane gas that creates always-burning fires.  Danger lurks in every corner of the monstrous junkyard.

As if there's not enough to worry about already at Stung Meanchey, 29-year-old Sang Ly has another problem—her only child is sick.  Sixteen-month-old Nisay suffers from constant diarrhea, a condition which leaves him both constantly dehydrated and perennially cranky.  Sang Ly has tried everything to help him, from experimenting with traditional cures to buying medicine from foreign doctors.  The pills help—until Sang Ly's supply runs out.  If only she and her husband, Ki Lim, could make enough money to buy enough medicine, then maybe Nisay would be cured.  But money's not an easy thing to come by in a place like Stung Meanchey.  Especially when The Cow, their demanding landlord, takes her fair share and more.

Sang Ly doesn't dare to dream of a life beyond the garbage dump where she's lived for so long, but when she's given a battered, yet still beautiful picture book, hope surges into her heart.  Hope for Nisay, for the future she might still be able to give him in spite of her bleak surroundings and meager resources.  Surely if the child can learn to read, he can leave Stung Meanchey's trash mountains behind.  He could go to school, find a good job and make a better life for himself.  But how to accomplish such a task when no one Sang Ly knows can read well enough to pick out the letters of their own names?

When the desperate mother discovers her landlord's shocking secret, she sees a miraculous solution to her problem.  If only Sang Ly can convince the hardhearted woman to help her.  The Cow has never helped anyone but herself, but stranger things have happened at Stung Meanchey and, with the life of her child hanging in the balance, Sang Ly knows she must do anything she can.  Even begging for aid from the most unlikely of sources.

Based on the experiences of a real Cambodian family, The Rent Collector by Camron Wright tells an incredible tale.  It's a story of survival, hope and a mother's refusal to give up on her child's present or future.  From its hard-to-stomach setting to its memorable characters to the powerful messages it imparts, The Rent Collector is touching without being sentimental.  Sure, Sang Ly's narrative voice sounds a little too American, but still, the book opened my eyes, moving me to tears—of gratitude, of appreciation, of empathy.  I read the novel at Thanksgiving time and nothing, perhaps, could have made me more grateful for the many advantages and blessings I've been given.  If you're feeling low this holiday season or if you just need a story that entertains and inspires, buy a copy of The Rent Collector today.  You'll enjoy the read and your purchase will help a Cambodian child in need (10% of the book's royalties will be donated to the Cambodian Children's Fund [CCF]).  Talk about a win-win.

I don't love book trailers, but this one offers a peek into a world that just boggles my mind:



This one, which was filmed by Camron Wright's son, shows more of the reality behind the fiction:


For more information, please visit the book's website as well as River of Victory.

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

Grade:  B

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Rent Collector from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain.  Thank you!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Who Needs Rock Stars When You've Got Authors? (With a Giveaway!)


My name is Susan and it's been seven days since my last confession post.  Neglecting my blog does sometimes feel like a sin, but that's kind of what happens this time of year.  I forgive myself.  Which doesn't mean I won't be trying my best to catch up before 2012 disappears for good, it just means I'll do what I can.  In the meantime, I wanted to share some fun, bookish things that have happened in the last couple months: 

1.)  My 10-year-old daughter, who is at least as big a bookworm as her mother, loves author events.  So, when I heard that Shannon Messenger, a debut middle grade author, would be signing books in our area, I decided it would be a wonderful occasion for a little mother/daughter bonding.  And it was.  Changing Hands is a fabulous indie bookstore in Tempe, always an enjoyable place to visit.  We would have had a great time just browsing, but we were excited to listen to and meet Shannon Messenger, too.  Before signing copies of Keeper of the Lost Cities, the engaging author talked about writing and her path to publication.  Then she answered questions from the audience, several of which came from my little budding author, who (unlike her mother) fears nothing.  If she wants to know something, she asks.  Shannon answered all the inquiries very graciously.  Then, she signed books and chatted with everyone in line.  It was lots of fun. 


I haven't read Keeper of the Lost Cities yet, but my daughter has.  Several times, in fact.  She loves it and can't wait to see what Shannon Messenger does next!

2.)  A few weeks ago, MG fantasy author Brandon Mull visited the Phoenix area as part of his book tour for Arcade Catastrophe, the newest installment in his Candy Shop Wars series.  My daughter (the same bookish young lady I talked about above) came home with amazing news: not only would the author be visiting her school, but she had been picked to introduce him when he spoke to the student body.  Thrilled does not begin to describe her reaction to this fabulous opportunity.



I had planned to join her on the Big Day, but a monster cold was kicking my butt, so I ended up at the doctor's office instead.  My daughter said the whole thing was awesome.  She had lots of fun listening to and visiting with the very, very nice Brandon Mull.  Our whole family had actually gone to see him at Deseret Book the previous year (see photo above), but she was excited to spend more time with him.

The good folks at Shadow Mountain asked me to post the book trailer for Arcade Games (which I haven't read, but my daughter says is great) a few weeks ago.  I'm a little late, but here you go:



Pretty fun, right?

3.)  I abhor Black Friday shopping, let me say that right now.  But, when my mom and sister are visiting and want to chase deals at Deseret Book (since neither of them have one close to where they live), who am I to spoil the fun with my I-hate-Black-Friday attitude?  There weren't very many people at DB, thank goodness, plus there were some good deals going on, plus we finished our little excursion at Tia Rosa's, the best Mexican restaurant around, so it was all good.

Anyway, while I was in the store, I noticed Mark S. Nielsen sitting at a table signing copies of his book, I Believe in Jesus Too.  The title will probably sound familiar because I reviewed it not long ago.  As we chatted, Mark asked about doing another giveaway on my blog, just like the one I ran back in May.  Of course, I agreed.  It's a lovely book and I'm happy to help someone win a copy of it.  Although it's not preachy, I Believe in Jesus Too is about children who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Obviously, you don't have to be LDS to enter the contest, but I wanted to make sure you all know that it is about Mormonism.

Okay, so, up for grabs is one hardcover copy of I Believe in Jesus Too.  The giveaway IS open internationally.  Here's what you need to do to enter—just leave a comment on this post by midnight on January 1st saying that you're interested in winning the book.  For fun, why don't you tell me what you're looking forward to most this holiday season.  And ... that's it.  Easy cheesy.  Good luck!

Let's see, I think that's all I've got for you today.  Watch for more reviews to come, but if they don't happen right away ... forgive me, yeah?

Friday, December 07, 2012

Happily Ever After Has Never Been This Exciting

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

You know how it is when you're sorta reluctant to read a book, then someone whose opinion you trust totally raves about it, so you read it and fall head over heels in love and then you feel dumb for your initial hesitation?  Yeah?  Well, that's exactly what happened with Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  The ARC sat on my shelf for over a year before I wised up and (with a gentle nudge from Sarah over at Sarah's YA Blog ) gave it a try.  Turns out, it offers everything I've ever wanted in a novel—an inventive plot, compelling characters, solid writing, and strong voice.  Not surprisingly, I adored it.  

The story takes place in the not-too-distant future in the crowded city of New Beijing.  Here, as in other parts of the world, humans and androids live and work side-by-side.  Sixteen-year-old Linh Cinder is neither human nor robot, but a cyborg.  Her mixed composition makes her an outcast, a second-class citizen.  Even at home with her step family, Cinder's treated like a servant.  The only place she feels comfortable is in the marketplace, where she spends her days fixing broken 'bots.  Her stepmother keeps 100% of the profits from Cinder's popular market stall, but at least Cinder's allowed to spend most of her time away from home. That small freedom makes the long hours of work worth it. 

A vicious plague is sweeping through the land and a cunning lunar queen watches with interest from the moon, waiting for just the right moment to attack.  Despite the tumult, Cinder's life goes on as always—until a handsome prince stops by her booth.  Cinder's shocked to her core to meet the gorgeous king-to-be.  She's even more surprised when he treats her like an actual human and not just any human, but one he wants to know better.  There's only one problem—Prince Kai doesn't know Cinder's a cyborg.  If he did, he wouldn't be talking to her, let alone inviting her to the royal ball.  

Cinder knows better than to trust this fairy tale turn in her life.  She vows to put all thoughts of Kai out of her cyborg brain, a feat which turns out to be much more difficult than she ever imagined.  Especially when she's recruited to be a guinea pig for the king's royal scientists, who are desperately searching for a cure to the plague that's decimating what remains of the human race.  As the citizens of New Beijing prepare themselves for annihilation—either by pestilence or war—one of them makes the startling realization that she's their secret weapon.  Will Cinder sacrifice her meaningless cyborg life to save the people who have always scorned her?  Can she come clean about who she really is if it means losing the man she loves?  And, most importantly, what will happen when she discovers the alarming truth about her mysterious past?  

I know, right?  Not only does the premise sound intriguing, it is intriguing.  Meyer does everything right in her debut novel, the first in a quartet of "rebooted" fairy tales that tell the story of Cinder's struggle to find her place in a panicked, dying world.  Our heroine is entirely sympathetic, mostly because she doesn't whine about her situation, but endures it with grace and fortitude.  Still, she's no simpering Disney Cinderella—she's strong and funny, a kick-A heroine if I ever saw one.  Although Cinder's story mirrors the classic fairy tale, it's got so much more to offer than the original.  An exciting blend of dystopian, sci-fi, romance and adventure, Cinder should not be missed.  Just see if you don't agree—Happily Ever After has never been this exciting.      

(Readalikes:  I'm sure there are other clever Cinderella retellings, but I can't think of any.  Besides Scarlet, Cinder's sequel, I'm drawing a blank here.  Help?)

Grade:  A

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Cinder from the generous folks at Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan).  Thank you!




Thursday, December 06, 2012

Decent Writing Helps Same Ole Same-Ole Plot Along

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I must be tired because, for the life of me, I can't write a coherent plot summary for Breathe, a new YA dystopian by Sarah Crossan.  How 'bout if I cheat a little?  All in favor, say "Aye!"  Look at that—a unanimous vote.  Sweet.  Here you go:

Inhale.  Exhale.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe ...

The world is dead.

The survivors live under the protection of Breathe, the corporation that found a way to manufacture oxygen-–rich air.
Alina has been stealing for a long time. She's a little jittery, but not terrified. All she knows is that she's never been caught before. If she's careful, it'll be easy. If she's careful.
Quinn should be worried about Alina and a bit afraid for himself, too, but even though this is dangerous, it's also the most interesting thing to happen to him in ages. It isn't every day that the girl of your dreams asks you to rescue her.
Bea wants to tell him that none of this is fair; they'd planned a trip together, the two of them, and she'd hoped he'd discover her out here, not another girl.
And as they walk into the Outlands with two days' worth of oxygen in their tanks, everything they believe will be shattered. Will they be able to make it back? Will they want to?
Although the premise isn't anything we've never seen before, Breathe at least delivers with some solid writing.  Not exceptional writing, but decent enough that I didn't spend the whole book wanting to claw my eyeballs out.  The story's also pretty action-packed, which helps to move its not-so-original plot forward.  So, while Breathe never really surprised me or made me swoon, it definitely kept me entertained.  I'd recommend it to YA dystopian lovers who don't mind reading the same ole same ole.    

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi)

Grade:  B-

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

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

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Haunting Ninth Ward A Vivid Tribute to NOLA's Survivor Spirit

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Lanesha can see ghosts.  It's an ability the 12-year-old has had since the day she was born.  Her guardian, an 82-year-old midwife named Mama Ya-Ya, attributes Lanesha's "sight" to the unusual circumstances of her birth.  Lanesha figures it's because her entrance into the world caused her mother's exit.  Now, she can see not just the ghost of her mother, but also those of the other unsettled spirits who walk the streets of New Orleans.  The apparitions don't scare Lanesha—they're just there, gazing at her with confusion in their blank, empty eyes.  Still, she's learned not to mention the ghosts to other people.  She gets mocked enough as it is.

Mama Ya-Ya also has The Sight.  As Hurricane Katrina gathers strength, preparing to bear down on New Orleans, she's beset by visions of destruction and death.  Lanesha's frightened by Mama Ya-Ya's predictions, but what can she do?  She has no money, no place to go.  Even if she could convince Mama Ya-Ya to evacuate, the elderly woman wouldn't last long in the overcrowded Superdome.  The only solution is to prepare for the monster storm as best she can and pray that Katrina will have mercy on their poor souls.

As the hurricane blows and the levees break, drowning her home in foul floodwater, Lanesha will be in for the fight of her life.  It's up to one terrified girl to save not just herself, but also her frail guardian.  In Ninth Ward, one of the areas most devastated by Katrina's brutality, the indomitable Lanesha will experience terror, sorrow, and ultimately, the will to go on in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

Ninth Ward, a new middle grade book by adult author Jewell Parker Rhodes, captures the horror unleashed by Hurricane Katrina in a vivid, atmospheric story that will haunt readers long after they finish reading it.  Lanesha's a wholly sympathetic character, one who earned not just my pity, but my admiration.  I rooted for her from the first page of her harrowing story to the last.  And she did not disappoint.  Although the ending of Ninth Ward isn't as happy as I wanted it to be (all too realistic, unfortunately), I found the tale as a whole to be an engrossing, inspiring and very fitting tribute to all the people who defied Katrina by resisting, rebuilding and restoring hope to a devastated city ironically called The Big Easy.

(Readalikes:  Although I haven't finished Salvage the Bones, a gritty YA novel by Jesmyn Ward, it's similar [in subject matter, anyway] to Ninth Ward.)

Grade:  B

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


To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed a finished copy of Ninth Ward from the library at my children's elementary school as part of my volunteer work with the school's reading program.  

Monday, December 03, 2012

The One Where I Learn My Lesson About Romantic Suspense


When a Navy SEAL battling PTSD kidnaps his former squad mate, Detective Claire Michaels insists on handling the hostage negotiations.  Her brother died while fighting in Afghanistan—she won't let more soldiers die.  Not on her turf.  What Claire doesn't realize is how much more complex the situation is than it seems.  One of Osama bin Laden's top dogs is behind the kidnapping and he's as deranged as his late boss. It's not just the soldiers that need saving, but the entire country.  If Claire and her team can't catch the maniacal terrorist before it's too late, there's no telling what could happen.  

Rafe Kelly never expected to run into his old enemy, Bez Ruhallah, in his hometown of Hartford, Connecticut.  But it's happened and, now, the madman has Rafe's brother hidden away in some unknown corner of Afghanistan.  If Rafe doesn't bring a secret encryption key to Bez Ruhallah in three days, his brother will die.  And the country he's worked so hard to protect will, once again, be vulnerable to attack by a power-hungry al-Qaeda operative.  Rafe doesn't want to involve Claire—who's obviously dealing with her own issues—in such a dangerous mission, but he's not sure who else he can trust.  Can he and the pretty detective really match wits with a man like Bez Ruhallah?  Or will they, along with Rafe's brother and every other American, become victims of the terrorist's wrath? 

I should make it clear right up front that romantic suspense really isn't my thing.  Outside of Whitney Award judging, I don't read it.  At all.  But, when Lexi over at The Book Bug offered a copy of Julie Coulter Bellon's new novel, All Fall Down, for review, I wavered.  The novel's plot sounded engrossing enough to keep me interested.  And it was, more or less.  Enough bombs exploded throughout the novel that I never really got bored.  Still, the characters never developed into anything more than empty cliches, the plot seemed very far-fetched, the insta-love romance bugged, and the poor copyediting kept pulling me out of the story.  The writing itself was better than I expected it to be, but considering all my other issues with the book, I just couldn't give All Fall Down anything higher than a C.  It's entertaining, sure, I just wanted more substance, more polish, more development.  Since I say this exact thing every time I read a book of this kind, I should probably face the facts—romantic suspense is not my genre.  Never has been, never will be.  Lesson learned.   

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other romantic suspense novels by LDS authors, although no specific titles are coming to mind.)

Grade:  C

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of All Fall Down from Julie Coulter Bellon via Latter Day Books Blog Tours.  
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