Friday, March 30, 2012

Book Review: Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey

Title: Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side
Author: Beth Fantaskey
Publisher: Harcourt
Release Date: Feb 1st, 2009
Rating: 2/5

Cover Impressions: The cover is cute but nothing special.  It falls into the cliche of pretty girl in a pretty dress.  If you read my reviews, you know that I prefer the cover to accurately reflect the character and this model is NOT the size 10 that Jessica claims to be.  In the book we watch Jessica grow to accept her curves and curly hair as signs of beauty, strength and having "a presence in the world" yet, the cover features the typical slim young girl - such a shame.

The Gist:  Jessica's has always known she was adopted from Romania but when the dark and mysterious Lucius waltzes into town claiming not only to be her betrothed but also, a vampire, she is forced to examine just how strange her heritage might be.  As Jessica grows to accept the dark past of her parents and the strange new urges of her body, she realizes that if she does not become the princess her family needs, she may lose the future that she never knew she wanted.

Review:  I found this book on the Bargain Shelf at my local book store and thought that it might be a good fit for some of the girly girls in my classes.  Because I picked up this book knowing that it was not to my taste, I was fairly forgiving while reading it.  Jessica's Guide falls into the category of "fluff", it was a quick, fairly entertaining read that did not require much brainpower.  It is not a particularly unique story (we have all read these "oh surprise I'm actually a princess" stories before and it makes use of several cliches in its 300+ pages.  
Jessica is presented as an overweight Math nerd with self-esteem issues.  Naturally, with encouragement from Lucius, she transforms into the confident and poised Princess that she was meant to be (actually she puts on a pretty dress and stops straightening her hair).  I was NOT happy that, as she began her "transformation" her math skills suffered.  What the heck Fantaskey? Can't she be pretty AND smart?  Of course, her competition was slim, blonde and (say it with me now) A CHEERLEADER!  And she was named, wait for it ....... Faith Crosse.  Seriously? In a book about Vampires you combine the words Faith AND Cross?
There was some attempt at a love triangle (though poor Jake didn't really stand a chance) that pitted the sweet, honest farm boy against the dark and dangerous vampire.  Just once, I would like to see a heroine actually choose the nice guy, come on girls, the nice guy will bring you soup and tissues when you are sick.  The bad boy will take one look at your puffy eyes and snotty nose and run in the opposite direction.  The nice guy will not understand when you sob uncontrollably, clutching The Fault In Our Stars to your chest unwilling to read another page for fear of more heartbreak, but he will hold your hand and try to make you feel better by cracking lame jokes.  The bad boy will not even be there to see your pain because he doesn't think a chick who reads is sexy.  The nice guy will be there when your best friend moves away, when your Dad gets sick or your childhood puppy passes away.  The bad boy will be off finding some other pretty young thing who he can seduce with his recipe of aloofness, brooding and danger.
Of course, Lucius is the typical literary bad boy who can be rescued from the brink of self destruction by his "true love", a woman who is not willing to give up on him, no matter what heinous acts he commits.  Again, ladies, put this particular brand of bad boy in the same category as unicorns, dragons and hairdressers that think 1inch = 1inch - they don't exist!

The writing itself was mediocre, but the sections featuring Lucius' letters were cringe-worthy.  His use of local colloquialisms were laughable and the constant reminders that his uncle hits him left me annoyed rather than appalled.  The plot was quick, if predictable, and I know this will appeal to those students who enjoy the the Pretty Little Liars series.   This is one of those YA novels that doesn't quite translate to an adult audience but would probably be a very enjoyable (and perhaps forgettable) read for many teenagers. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:
Age: 13 and up
Gender: Girls
Sex: Mentioned by several characters but not actually written about
Violence: Blood drinking, a beating, a staking, reference to child abuse
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Abuse: None

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Early Review: The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

Title: The Immortal Rules 
Author: Julie Kagawa
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Rating: 4.5/5

Cover Impressions: This cover doesn't do much for me.  Firstly, the main character is Asian, this model is .... not.  I don't like that.  If the person on the cover is meant to represent a character, then make them look like that character.  No white-washing please.  Secondly, the expression on the model's face is bland, I would prefer her to look upset, or angry or determined or ... something.  Thirdly, the tear, while eye catching, seems off somehow.  Perhaps it is because it starts in the very middle of her eye, perhaps it is because it doesn't wash away any of that heavy eye makeup.  I do like the font and am thankful that, although Kagawa is already a successful author, her name doesn't appear bigger than the book title.

The Gist:  In Allison Sekemoto's world vampires rule with an iron fist and humans are treated as no more than cattle.  Here she fights for survival alongside other scavengers, constantly aware of the threat lurking in the shadows.  When her daring leads to a deadly attack, Allison is offered a choice: die on the dusty street or become what she loathes most. 

Review:  The Immortal Rules is one of those rare YA novels which combines an interesting world, and an action packed plot with a strong, capable heroine. Allison is not your average YA female, she pulls her weight and doesn't depend on the men around her to act as her savior.  She never balks at an impossible situation and she doesn't whine.  When she is faced with a task and other issues threaten to steal her attention she says things like "I would sort all this out later" and "though I hated this, I forced myself to concentrate".  Despite her claims to own the keys to lonerville, Allison continually surprises herself, and the readers, by risking herself in order to protect that people that she is supposed to think of as nothing more than food.  

The world that Kagawa has created combines the dystopian elements of a post-plague city ruled by bloodthirsty vampires with the heart-thumping zombie-like "Rabids" who stalk the lands outside.  The rabids are terrifying, difficult to kill and can erupt beneath the very ground you walk on.  Their mindless quest for blood creates exciting battles and heart-thumping moments as we push for human survival.  As Allison travels with a pack of humans, ever conscious of their tempting vulnerability, she struggles with her hunger and fights to pull together the tattered remains of her humanity creating a sense of suspense as we wait for the inevitable.

While the second half of this novel is ruled by action, the first half does contain a certain amount of info-dumping, mostly through Kanin - Allison's maker.  I did not find this too distracting as the world Kagawa has created is a very interesting one, but I do wish that the character of Kanin had been a little more animated in his lessons.  I am very confident that, now that the world building has been established, the other books in this series will scarcely give the readers a moment to breathe.  

Teaching/Parental Notes:
Age: 16 and up
Gender: Either
Sex: None
Violence: Vampirism, swordplay, gunfights, violent attacks by "rabids"
Inappropriate Language: Whore, Bitch, Bastard
Substance Abuse: None

Books of my Childhood: Series Edition

While watching my 12 year old cousin immerse herself in the world of Panem, I got to thinking about the books that made me who I am today.  I come from a very small town (read 800 people), the nearest bookstore was a 4 hour drive away and I am old enough that I pre-date online shopping.  My options were limited to the rare (maybe once a year) trips to a bookstore and the tiny school library.  There were books in that tiny room that I read over and over and my appetite for reading so impressed the librarian that the "only 3 books at a time" limit never applied to me.  These are the books that helped me escape, they were my companions in the dark of night, cuddled under the blanket with a flashlight, they were my friends when no one else was.

1. Nancy Drew  These were the books that introduced me to the world of mystery.  Even though there was never any real fear of Nancy (or Bess) getting hurt, I was right there along with them, heart thumping as they unraveled mystery after mystery.  I haven't read any since, but I certain that if I ever have a little girl, I will immediately start collecting this series.

2. Goosebumps  Ah Goosebumps - Horror stories for kids.  I think these were pretty popular even among reluctant readers because they had such an awesome freak out factor.  These were the perfect books for the inevitable winter power outage and were probably the ones to instill my love of reading scary books by candlelight. 

3. The Chronicles of Narnia I must have followed Lucy through the wardrobe at least a hundred times.  I loved this series so much that, back when I still worked at a bookstore, I used my discount to buy the entire series in the hopes that I could read it to my children one day.  I think The Witch and the Wardrobe may have been the very first book to make me cry, peering through blurry eyes, frantically turning pages, hoping for a miracle, then turning back to re-read in the hopes that somehow I imagined it and Aslan has not really died.  I think one of the things that make series like this (and Harry Potter and The Hunger Games) is that they do not talk down to a young audience or assume that they cannot handle emotional deaths.  If you give kids the opportunity to act like adults (once in a while) they will love you for it.

4. Roald Dahl This entry is not technically a series but I couldn't post each title that I loved individually because there are simply too many.  I would re-read every Dahl book that my library carried at least once a year.  They were my first foray into absurdity and the books that paved the way for my love of Christopher Moore.  My favorites were The Witches and Matilda.  Again, the box set of these books was purchased for my future kids LONG before I even knew if I would have any. 

There they are, the series that made me a reader, I would love to hear about yours.

COMING SOON: Books of my Childhood: Stand Alone Edition

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (1)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is: Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore which is due to be released on April 3rd

Absolutely nothing is sacred to Christopher Moore. The phenomenally popular, New York Times bestselling satirist whom the Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls, “Stephen King with a whoopee cushion and a double-espresso imagination” has already lampooned Shakespeare, San Francisco vampires, marine biologists, Death…even Jesus Christ and Santa Claus! Now, in his latest masterpiece, Sacre Bleu, the immortal Moore takes on the Great French Masters. A magnificent “Comedy d’Art” from the author of Lamb, Fool, and Bite Me, Moore’s Sacre Bleu is part mystery, part history (sort of), part love story, and wholly hilarious as it follows a young baker-painter as he joins the dapper Henri Toulouse-Lautrec on a quest to unravel the mystery behind the supposed “suicide” of Vincent van Gogh.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE Christopher Moore.  If you haven't read his books, check them out.  Or come over to my house, I own them all!  Whenever I have to explain my love of Moore I usually explain that I brought home A Dirty Job and read the first chapter or so right before bed.  An hour or so later, I turned over in bed and jumped because their was an eerie green light on my nightstand.  THE COVER GLOWED IN THE DARK!  If you are so willing to enter into the realm of absurdity that you create a cover that glows in the dark then you are the literary man for me!

Moore's books make me chuckle, giggle, guffaw and sometimes close my eyes and pound the couch while tears stream down my face.  His characters are incredibly unique and twisted with quirks and flaws that make them all at once completely absurd and oddly relatable (though that may speak to my own special brand of crazy).  If you haven't read any of his books yet, and want to get a head start, try Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal - it takes a particularly disturbed (and fascinating) mind to spoof the life of Jesus and you will not regret exploring Moore's, just be sure to wipe your feet first, brain matter shows every speck of dirt. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday (1)

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.  Each week will feature a new Top Ten list .  Everyone is welcome to join.

This week features the Top Ten Books I would play Hooky with.  If these books were to show up today, I would have a hard time convincing myself to work.  These are in no particular order.

1. Grave Mercy - R.L Lafevers  This one is getting quite a bit of play on Goodreads and features The God of Death.  I am a sucker for re-imaginings of Gods and Goddesses.

2. Sacre Bleu - Christopher Moore  I LOVE CHRISTOPHER MOORE.  Doesn't matter what the subject matter is, if he writes it, I am gonna read it.

3. The Calling - Kelley Armstrong  Kelley's adult books are among my favorite and I am enjoying the foray into Young Adult novels that I can actually recommend to my students.

4. Let's Pretend This Never Happened - Jenny Lawson  I am so excited for this book.  Jenny's blog The Bloggess is HILARIOUS and I expect the same from this book.  I love a book that makes me laugh out loud.

5. Masque of the Red Death - Bethany Griffin  I am intrigued to read anything based on/inspired by classic writers.  It is difficult to live up to the masters, but when it is done right it ends up being a novel that sticks with me.

6. Thumped - Megan McCafferty I enjoyed the first novel and can't wait to see what else happens to the twins and their babies.

7. Night Beach - Kirsty Eager  I expect that this one will go to prove my assumption that nearly every YA book that comes out of Australia is a gem.

8. As Dead as it Gets - Katie Alender  I love the Bad Girls Don't Die series.  These are the perfect books for a stormy night (extra bravery points if you manage to read them by candlelight while in the house alone!)

9. Insurgent - Veronica Roth  This one is on a lot of people's radars.  Divergent was a great hit and the sequel is highly anticipated in the YA world.  I am predicting that this will be a big pick for people looking for something to read after The Hunger Games.

10. Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo  Shadow and Bone has gotten a lot of interest on Goodreads in the past few weeks.  It sounds a little more fantasy than the books I normally gravitate towards but I am willing to overlook that - hope it lives up to the hype!

Bitch Please! Moronic Hunger Games Review and Fantastic Beanie Baby Video

Some people make me shake my head.  Usually they think this means I am just exasperated, actually it means I am questioning how they manage to dress themselves in the morning.  The following video leaves me wondering what life choices led this young lady to this point.

 Firstly, I try not to judge people's style (who am I kidding, I judge people's style all the time, Judge, Judge, Judge), from the bleach blonde hair to the fake eyelashes and nails, heavy makeup and BOOBTASTIC top - seriously? Did someone publish a book on how to look like a bimbo that all these girls are following?

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Dear Young, Impressionable Females of the world, Looking and sounding like a moron is NOT ATTRACTIVE!  You will never meet a quality guy like this, you will meet men who want to have a little fun and then dump you on the side of the curb.

As for the content, Bitch Please. The underlying message of The Hunger Games is about 1) questioning how we treat our fellow human beings 2) the overwhelming strength of Katniss' convictions and Peeta's love and 3) the moral implications of fighting for survival and yes, you were too stupid to get that. 

So now, a message from the world of people who ACTUALLY READ THE BOOK

And now, just to cleanse the palate of that disgusting bile, The Hunger Games: Beanie Baby Style!

Book Review: Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross

Title: Kill Me Softly
Author: Sarah Cross
Publisher: Egmont USA
Release Date: April 10, 2012
Rating: 4.5/5

Cover Impressions: The white rose dipped in blood speaks to innocence lost and is an image that stands out among the plethora of girls in pretty dresses that make up a huge chunk of YA novels today.  However, I am not a fan of the title font.  It seems a little too weak against such a stark image.  

The Gist:  Mirabelle has spent her entire life listening to the rules and sanctions set forth by her Godmothers.  Now, as her 16th birthday draws near, she is about to break their biggest one: returning to the place of her birth, Beau Rivage.  Here, Mira encounters a world where fairy tales take a dark turn and everyone has a role to play, whether they wish to or not.

Review:  In Kill Me Softly Sarah Cross creates a fairy tale world that interposes with our own.  It lies, just beneath the surface and can be seen by anyone willing to peer through the veil.  However, these are not your disneyfied princes and princesses fending off colorful dragons and over-the-top Queens (though, don't get me wrong, Maleficent scared the CRAP out of me as a kid) instead, Cross takes inspiration from the original Fairy Tales which feature evil plot twists, casual murders, the hacking off of limbs and buckets of blood. 

Against this backdrop of Happily Ever After gone wrong, Mira meets Blue, a boy who does everything to push her away and his brother, Felix who does everything not to.  As a character, Mira is a little difficult to like.  She is often rude and ungrateful, which seems completely out of character for a person who, up until now, has blindly followed her Godmother's orders.  It feels a little unreal that a character who is so quick to anger, did not question these rules or show any sign of rebellion prior to her slipping away in the middle of the night.  Blue, on the other hand, is a character who does everything possible to make Mira dislike him but she (and the reader) cannot help but root for this wounded hero.  Whenever I hit a section where Mira was spending time falling in love with Felix, I found myself itching to turn each page, hoping that Blue would be waiting on the other side.  The "love" that Mirabelle claims to have for Felix, feels forced and wrong but shows it's importance by the end of the story (much like Romeo's "love" for Rosaline).  

The plot is interesting but more character based than action based.  Because Cross weaves together a number of fairy tales (some of which are less likely to be recognizable to most readers) we have a vague idea of where the story is headed, but are still able to be surprised by plot twists.  I do believe that the novel is a stand-alone and I hope that this is the end of Mirabelle's and Blue's story.  However, I thoroughly enjoyed my walk through Beau Rivage and would very much like to read the tales of some of the other characters.  This world is simply too interesting to let go of so easily.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age: 16 and up, this one is NOT for your 12 year old!
Gender: Female, though some males may enjoy the clever re-working of well known fairy tales
Sex: Intimate touching, talk of sex
Violence:  Loss of limbs, murders,
Inappropriate Language:  Bitch, Shit.
Substance Abuse: Underage drinking.  Smoking.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Review: Goddess Interrupted by Aimee Carter

Title: Goddess Interrupted
Author: Aimee Carter
Publisher: Harlequin
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Rating: 2/5

Cover Impressions: The cover is quite beautiful and matches well with the previous one in the series.  I like the styling of the model in a simple dress and headband with natural wavy hair.  Although a small part of me does wish it showed some reflection of the opulence of the Underworld palace.  

The Gist: After winning both her immortality and a seat as the Queen of the Underworld, Kate Winters must now fight to win the heart of her King and husband, Henry.  Just when she is ready to spend some time getting to know the man that she married, her new-found family is attacked by Chronos, King of the Titans and Kate must put her own jealousy and mistrust aside to enlist the help of Persephone, her sister and the woman who broke Henry's heart.

Review: Goddess Interrupted is one of those books that leaves me wishing I could shake the author until she agreed to go back and fix it.  I love this world.  LOVE! I enjoy the new take on the Gods and Goddesses, I love how they had to re-invent themselves and how they depend on mankind to keep them relevant.  I was really intrigued by the imagining of the Underworld as being whatever the spirit expects it to be and believe that this opened the door to explore the moral ambiguity of a person spending eternity being punished, not because they deserve it, but because this is what they have always been told to expect.  The plot itself hinges on the many instances of infidelity among the Gods and could question whether or not a person should be held accountable for their actions after having their heart broken over and over again for millenia.  Had the author chosen either of these paths, the second half of this novel could have been interesting and thought provoking.  However, she did not.  Instead, Aimee Carter choose to write page after page of an increasingly whiney girl begging a boy to love her, despite the fact that his words and action show little more than disdain.

The first half of this novel described a fascinating world in which resplendent meadows gave way to rivers of fire and back again.  Kate explores this world, enlists the aid of the sister she never wished to know and is part the battle against the King of the Titans.  The characters showed major flaws, but we still had half the book to go in which they could grow - I was hungry for more.  Then things quickly fall apart.  We spend the second half of the book listening to Kate as she laments that Henry doesn't love her.  *Knock, knock "Hello Kate? Just thought I would remind you that the world is about to end.  Yeah, this big mean dude made of fog is going to kill everyone in the ENTIRE WORLD, could you maybe concentrate on the big picture for one, teeny, tiny moment?"  Nope.  She didn't listen.

Kate goes on and on about Henry's lack of interest and, normally, I would chalk this up to her being an annoying, self-deprecating character who is unable to see the truth, but no, based on Henry's behavior, I don't think he loves her.  He treats her like garbage, refusing to speak to her, refusing to be alone with her and comparing her to his first wife at every turn.  At one point I found myself yelling at Kate to get angry, start throwing things, storm out of there, do ANYTHING but cry on your bed and make excuses for why you should overlook his behavior and "give him time".

Goddess Interrupted gets a 2/5 because the world is wonderful and interesting.  It is also redeemed by the last couple of pages which leaves me considering reading the next book in the series.  But please, no more sycophantic teenage girl characters who are willing to overlook not only major flaws, but horrid mistreatment, for the man that they "love".  It sets a poor example to young girls everywhere and with all the Snookies and Lindsay Lohans out there, aren't there enough bad role models already?

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age: 16 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Talk of sex between two characters, A LOT of talk about infidelity, one sex scene.
Violence: Cuts, attempted strangulation, loss of a limb
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Abuse: None

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Weekend Reading (March 23-25)

Wow. The weekend creeped up on me FAST. So fast, in fact, that I was browsing at Wal-Mart, gleefully enjoying the approximately 1.5 hours a week that I get to spend away from my son, when my stylist called up and reminded me that I had missed my hair appointment.  Guess my wrecktastic hair is sticking around for a little while longer.  Oh well, ON WITH THE READING! 

First up is Goddess Interrupted by Aimee Carter.  This is the second in her Goddess Test series and is due to be released on March 27th.  I wasn't a huge fan of The Goddess Test, but I am cautiously optimistic about this one. 

Kate Winters has won immortality. But if she wants a life with Henry in the Underworld, she'll have to fight for it.Becoming immortal wasn't supposed to be the easy part. Though Kate is about to be crowned Queen of the Underworld, she's as isolated as ever. And despite her growing love for Henry, ruler of the Underworld, he's becoming ever more distant and secretive. Then, in the midst of Kate's coronation, Henry is abducted by the only being powerful enough to kill him: the King of the Titans.As the other gods prepare for a war that could end them all, it is up to Kate to save Henry from the depths of Tartarus. But in order to navigate the endless caverns of the Underworld, Kate must enlist the help of the one person who is the greatest threat to her future Henry's first wife, Persephone.

Next up is The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa.  This is the first in a new series and is due to be released on April 24th.  But, you might recognize the author from her wildly acclaimed Iron Fey series which has been languishing in my TBR pile for some time. 

Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a vampire city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten.
Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of them. The vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself is attacked—and given the ultimate choice. Die… or become one of the monsters.
Faced with her own mortality, Allie becomes what she despises most. To survive, she must learn the rules of being immortal, including the most important: go long enough without human blood, and you will go mad.
Then Allie is forced to flee into the unknown, outside her city walls. There she joins a ragged band of humans who are seeking a legend—a possible cure to the disease that killed off most of humankind and created the rabids, the mindless creatures who threaten humans and vampires alike.
But it isn't easy to pass for human. Especially not around Zeke, who might see past the monster inside her. And Allie soon must decide what—and who—is worth dying for.

 There you have it folks, these are the books that will take up the hours while my son sleeps, tearing me away from my husband and ensuring that Jersey Shore takes up permanent residence on my DVR.  Happy Reading!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Stuff for Book Nerds: The Take Me to Bed Edition

My son has exhausted me.  As his first few teeth emerge he has morphed into what I like to call "the screaming and squealing baby from Hell".  Since my head longs to hit the pillow, I thought I would share a few bookish items for bedtime.

First up this beautiful bedding set, aptly named Fables & Feathers Bedding, from  It features the Moral of the Story sayings by Aesop and offers a duvet cover and two styles of pillow shams.  I do think the picture could have used a few books on the night stand for authenticity! 

Don't you just want to crawl into that bed with a worn copy of Pride & Prejudice?  Perhaps while wearing these Mrs. Darcy PJs courtesy of Cafe Press

These are sure to get your gentleman's attention (or just your cat) as you parade around the house lamenting the serious lack of suitable men sporting cravats and brandishing monogrammed handkerchiefs in today's society.  If these are not quite your style, the site also features quotes from Jane Eyre, the likeness of Edgar Allen Poe and *shudder* a proliferation of Twilight themed jam jams for those with less discerning taste. 

And finally, for those of us whose household features a young, impressionable mind that we are attempted to mold, Books to Bed sells kids pajamas that feature some of the most popular books among that age group.  They even provide bundles with a book and a toy to complete your night time ensemble.  As soon as my son can appreciate character clothes he is getting a set of these (or 5). 

There you have it folks, now it is time for me to put on my own jammies, cuddle up with a good book and pray to the Baby Gods that my son sleeps through the night!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Book Review: The Girl In The Steel Corset by Kady Cross

Rating: 2/5

Cover Impressions:  The cover is beautiful, even if it isn't exactly unique.  Far too many YA novels are simply shoving a pretty young girl into a stunning dress and expecting the masses to jump on board.  Unfortunately, as readers, we are suckers for this.  The pose is pretty common and I am simply thankful to the cover art gods that she doesn't have a tattoo across her back.  It also displays one of my pet peeves: elements that have NOTHING to do with the book: here it is the odd finger contraption and locket.  In fact, now that I think about it, the dress is "off" as well.  I would have much preferred if they had featured the dress that Finley received from Jack. 

The Gist: Finley Jayne is different.  When she is threatened the "other" Finley takes over.  This side of her has a fierce temper and the strength to back it up.  When an altercation sends her running, Finley finds herself with a new group of allies and in the midst of an investigation against "the Machinist"; a madman bent on wreaking by commandeering the city's automatons

Review: This was my first foray into the world of Steampunk and I am finding it difficult to determine how much of my dislike came from the book itself and how much came from the genre.  (As a side note - if someone can recommend a better Steampunk novel, please do so.  I really don't want to give up on the genre because of one sub-par book).  While reading, I kept questioning which came first: the story or the wardrobe and machine ideas.  It seemed that Kady Cross had written this novel simply so that she could describe pretty dresses and odd machines.  Unfortunately, she did not do either particularly well.  The whole world seemed a bit too .... convenient.  Why set your book during the 1800's, if each time they encounter an obstacle, you are going to provide your characters with bastardized versions of modern electronics?  Even these machines weren't creative, the "hand torches" (flashlights) and "pocket telegraph" (texting feature on a cell phone) left me rolling my eyes each time they were mentioned.

Cross' characters were also flat and unappealing.  They seemed to have little personality beyond the bland stereotype (pretty girl, rich gentleman, smart chick, tough guy, bad boy and cowboy - Yes, I said COWBOY to borrow from my teenage years - gag me with a spoon).  Emily had unrealized potential and left me wishing that she had been the main character instead of Finley.  Speaking of Finley, it seemed like she was playing at little girl lost.  Her cries for friendship felt weak and insincere and her moments of self-doubt and guilt were completely un-realistic.  As for the gentlemen, if you threw them all into a giant melting pot and threw in a dash of Johnny Depp and a pinch of Ryan Reynolds (remember that scene in Blade where he was being tortured and you could just see a tattoo...well,  it has nothing to do with this book but it was a great scene wasn't it?) mix those guys all together and you MIGHT come out with one interesting character.  The villain was laughable and seemed to have just escaped from the Mystery Machine yelling "and I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!"

The plot was pretty predictable.  I had figured out all of the plot twists long before any of the main characters.  The writing annoyed me with repetitiveness.  I could have started a drinking game with the number of times I read "Corset" or "Cravat" or Emily's hair was described as "Ropey".  Note to author: Either a) use a thesaurus or b) STOP CONCENTRATING ON THE DAMN CLOTHES AND GET ON WITH THE STORY!  The "romance" in this book was nearly non existant and would have been better described as a bro-mance between Griffin and Sam. 

But why, you ask with baited breath, did you give it a 2? Why not a 1?  Firstly, a 1 is reserved for the most vile, vomit-enducing pieces of tripe and this wasn't quite there (mostly because I liked Emily and hold out hope that in the next book she will get more page time).  Secondly, without having read any other Steampunk, I am not entirely sure whether or not some of my issues stem from the book or the genre and reserve the right to re-evaluate at a later date. 

Teaching Notes:

Age: Grade 7 and up
Gender: Girls, very few boys would pick up a book with this type of cover. 
Sex: None
Violence: Attempted assault, violence between humans and between humans and machine, lots of blood. 
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Abuse: Discussion of the use of opium, one scene of adults and minors drinking alcohol.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Music Videos for Readers

I love finding videos made by readers and I thought I would share a couple of my favorites.  First, "B*tches in Bookshops", a spoof of "N*ggas in Paris".  Of course, Goodreads is mentioned along with quite a few well known novels and the readers battle cry of "don't wanna crease this page".


Next up is "Library Girl" by Reina Del Cid, who I LOVE LOVE LOVE.  I have listened to this song at least a thousand times, give it a listen, I promise you will not regret.


High School Holds Their Own Hunger Games

As a teacher, this both warms my heart and excites me.  A school in Connecticut is holding their own Hunger Games complete with the reaping, a pink haired Effie and a cornucopia gracing the middle of the school gym. THIS! THIS! THIS! is how you get kids excited about reading!

These are the types of events that mean long hours and using every spare second (prep times, lunch times, after school) to prepare, but in the end they are so worth it.  They also allow for the unique and quirky kids to shine because these are the kids who will come up with the best ideas and show up in the best costumes!  Kudos to Bristol Eastern High School's Teachers, Staff and Students.  May the odds be ever in your favor!

You can view the rest of the videos here BEHS Hunger Games

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mockingjay - Re-read

How does one even begin to sum up the emotional roller coaster that is the end to the Hunger Games series?  In this book, we find Katniss safely ensconced within the walls of District 13, the headquarters for the rebellion against the Capital.  Once again, Katniss is expected to play a role in other people's agendas and, once again, she refuses to play by anyone's rules but her own.  As the rebellion wears on, Katniss struggles against the capital, her own inner turmoil and the morality of what she must do.

Within the pages of this book, more so than either of the others, we trespass on Katniss' inner thoughts, feelings and fears as she faces the suffering brought on (at least in part) by her actions.  Unlike many in the YA genre, Suzanne Collins presents a character who is often unstable, emotional and all together, human.  It is this that sets her apart from many YA authors.  Her characters have realistic weaknesses that they overcome not once but over and over again, facing the very worst in themselves and crawling, bloody and broken from abyss of self-loathing in order to fight for the people that they love.

Mockingjay does not shy away from the big issues, exploring humanity, and our ability to inflict pain and suffering of the highest caliber in the name of whatever cause we believe to be just.  In forcing the reader to question their own belief system,  Collins displays a confidence in her reader's ability to think critically.  She never panders to young adults or assumes that she needs to spell out her message so that they will "get it".  An increasing number of YA authors and publishers do not show this same level of respect for their readers.

Mockingjay not only presents an action packed and emotional ride, but it also forces us to examine our view of the world and the atrocities that play out every day in our own backyards and around the globe. 

Age: 13 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: None
Violence: Beatings, Use of guns and other weapons, many, many deaths due to violent means.
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Abuse: Alcohol abuse by an adult.  Discussion of addiction to painkillers.
Other Issues: Contemplation of suicide

Friday, March 16, 2012

Weekend Reading

On the Agenda this weekend is Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.

Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss's family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.
It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plains - except Katniss.
The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss's willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels' Mockingjay - no matter what the personal cost.

I am really looking forward to finishing my re-read of this series.  While I love it, I am ready to move on to something where I DON'T know how it ends.  

Next up is The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross.

In 1897 England, sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne has no one except the "thing" inside her.
When a young lord tries to take advantage of Finley, she fights back. And wins. But no normal Victorian girl has a darker side that makes her capable of knocking out a full-grown man with one punch...
Only Griffin King sees the magical darkness inside her that says she's special, says she's one of them. The orphaned duke takes her in from the gaslit streets against the wishes of his band of misfits. Emily, who has her own special abilities and an unrequited love for Sam, who is part robot; and Jasper, an American cowboy with a shadowy secret.
Griffin's investigating a criminal called The Machinist, the mastermind behind several recent crimes by automatons. Finley thinks she can help-and finally be a part of something, finally fit in.
But The Machinist wants to tear Griff's little company of strays apart, and it isn't long before trust is tested on all sides. At least Finley knows whose side she's on, even if it seems no one believes her.

This one has been on my TBR list for quite a while.  I haven't yet tried this whole Steampunk trend in YA so I am really looking forward to seeing what it is all about.  Here's hoping that wifehood and motherhood give me a bit of a break and that I manage to get time for both of these books.

Anything special on your weekend reading list?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wear Your Favorite Book

I just had to share my newest find for all those book nerds out there. 

If you look closely, you will notice some familiar words.  That's right people! This scarf features a passage from Harry Potter!! WOOT!!  More specifically, it is the Mirror of Erised scene from the first book.  Tori, over at Storiarts (P.S how awesome is that name?) has been so inundated with requests for her scarf prints that I had to go on an email list and she let me know the day that new scarves were to go up.  If I remember correctly, the choices were Harry Potter, Pride and Prejudice and a Bible Verse.  The scarf itself is in a beautifully soft fabric that has been sewn into a loop and is long enough to double up.  The day after I got it, I wore mine to my book club and all the ladies LOVED it. 

Have you come across an item that book nerds will love?  Or do you make something yourself?  Let me know and I may be able to feature it here.  

Catching Fire - Re-read

In this sequel to The Hunger Games, Katniss is forced to live with the consequences of her actions within the arena.  While starving to death is no longer an issue, violence, anger, rebellion and the emotional fallout from her pseudo relationship with Peeta, are.

The first 1/3 of this book are rather slow going.  If you are reading the books back to back, this is a difficult change of pace from the action of The Hunger Games.  Instead of defending her life from other competitors, we watch as Katniss attempts to reconcile with Gale and deal with not only an ever increasing violent presence within District 12, but also with her own expanded understanding of just how bad things are under the rule of the Capitol.

The action eventually picks up again and the reader is left questioning each character's motives and wondering what exactly is going on.  The plot holds many twists and turns and things do not become clear until the last few pages.  As the middle book in a trilogy, Catching Fire does a fantastic job of leaving you yearning for the third book.  The first time I read it, this was infuriating.  The second time around it is less so (mostly because the third book is waiting for me rather than forcing me to chew my nails for months wondering what is to become of my beloved characters).

Teaching Notes:

Age: 13 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: None
Violence: Lots.  Multiple Beatings, Fights, Murders.
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Abuse: Continued heavy drinking by an adult character.  One instance of heavy drinking by a teen character (followed by a painful hangover).

Monday, March 12, 2012

Page Turner Blog Hop

I was invited to participate in a Blog Hop in which you choose one line from the current page of the book you are reading.  Here is mine:

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Page 184

"My refusal to play the Games on the Capitol's terms is to be my last act of rebellion"

This Blog Hop is hosted by: Passion For Novels

The Hunger Games: Re-read

This is not so much a review as it is my thoughts upon re-reading The Hunger Games.  I'm going to assume that nearly everyone who had any interest in reading this novel has done so already so beware of SPOILERS!

This book is fantastic.  You know that, I know that and (hopefully) after the movie release next week, the rest of the freaking world will know that.*  The first time around, I was so caught up with anxiety and fear for Katniss' life that I missed some of the more subtle nuances of this incredibly intricate book.  I discussed some of these points with my book club but I wanted to get some feedback from other people. 

1. SHOW, DON'T TELL:  Collins really got this one right.  This was clear right from the start when Katniss spoke about Prim's cat.  The startlingly powerful image of a young girl attempting to drown a worm-ridden kitten because she didn't need "another mouth to feed".  We are never bogged down with info-dumping or forced to listen to Katniss whine about her circumstances (even though some whining is probably warranted).
2. ACTION: There is very rarely a dull moment in this book.  The only time that I can think of it even slowing is while Katniss and Peeta are in the cave.  Instead, this is where a lot of the relationship building occurs and where we learn even more about both of the characters.**

3.HAYMITCH: The first time I read this book, I saw only the surface character of Haymith: the bumbling drunk who was jaded by watching years of unsuccessful tributes meet their death in the games.  After re-reading, I was able to see the intelligence in Haymitch.  I no longer believe that his falling off the stage was an accident and now see it as a carefully orchestrated move to distract from the fact that Katniss was about to cry after receiving the salute from the crowd.  The way that he communicated with Katniss via what he did or didn't send was pretty incredible.  I was really able to see the parallels between the two characters and it was a little chilling to have a constant reminder of what Katniss could become if she didn't have the influence of her friends and family. 

4. ROMANCE: The romantic arc in this story is very well done.  There is no insta-love and it is made very clear that Katniss has difficulty separating her feelings for Peeta from her actions as part of the game.  Even though we do see evidence of a love triangle, the two boys are never in direct competition and Katniss shows fierce loyalty to both of them but undying love to neither.

5. AUDIENCE: I am constantly looking for books to recommend to my male students.  The hardest sell is usually grade 9.  Last year, I suggested The Hunger Games to one boy and he went on to rave to his fellow students about how "Awesome" it was.  Shortly thereafter, nearly all of the class, boys and girls, had read the books and I was able to interest many of them in other books like The Giver and The Maze Runner.  There is an old trope that boys will not read books about girls (rumor has it this is why J.K Rowling chose a male protagonist in Harry Potter) but Suzanne Collins crushes this when she created a world that interested both genders and a character that all readers can root for.

So, what do you think?  Do you agree with my points? Disagree?  For those who have re-read, did notice anything new the second time you read it? Are you ready to cheer Katniss on when the movie is released (not to mention ready to bawl your eyes out when Rue dies)?

Teacher/Parental Notes:

Age: 13 and up
Gender: Both.  There is enough action for the boys, and enough romance for the girls.
Sex: None
Violence: LOTS.  IMO, most kids of this age group could handle it but be aware of students who might have experienced violence in the past.
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Abuse: Heavy drinking by an adult character

*Seriously, have you seen the trailer?  I say "trailer" because I am so excited that I have limited myself to only watching the first one so EVERYTHING is new to me when I finally get to see it.

**I wonder if we had been given a chance to get to know Gale this early on, would we have been more split in who Katniss should end up with?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Classics Reading Challenge

When it comes to my reading recipe I usually start with a big heap of YA, add a spoonful of Urban Fantasy and one of Magical Realism with just a dash of Historical Fiction.  I have always lamented that I didn't read more classics, I mean, I'm an English teacher, I should have read ALL of them right?

This year, as a New Year's Resolution, I decided to do something about that.  I intend to read one classic novel a month.  To help me feel a little more accountable, I started a Goodreads group for people who might want to join me.  You can find it HERE

So far, we have read Pride and Prejudice (left me wishing for death), The House of Seven Gables (left me screaming for death) and are currently reading Frankenstein (maybe reading about death will end this slump).  If you are ready to spend a few hours questioning the motives of whomever decided the book that makes you want to scream obscenities at the world in general should be read by every high school student from here to eternity - come and join us!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Albatros Bookmarks

This is capital B Brilliant. Never lose your place (or your bookmark) again!

Book Review: Chime by Franny Billingsley

 I have a soft spot for witches.

I have always been fascinated with witch stories. Simply spying the word in a book blurb can make me sit up and take notice, (oddly enough, the word Werewolf usually makes me stop reading a blurb with disgust - an instinct that I should have listened to when I picked up Shiver. Damn you Stiefvater! Also, damn you for having a name that I have to check for spelling every time I want to curse you. But, I digress).

Briony is a witch. At least, she tells you she is a witch. However, she doesn't actually DO anything witchy. At the beginning, this brings out minor annoyance in me, prompting me to tell Briony "Come on, talk to the old ones, write their stories, do a spell - it's not so bad, you'll like it!". About halfway through the book, my irritation gives way to anger at how much of my time this book is wasting and my pleas get a little more dark: "Oh, you don't like that chick? Let's kill her!" and get more and more desperate "Come on, Just kill her! Maim her? Give her Boils? .... Hives? ... One, little, pimple?"

The writing itself is strange. Just when I think I have a handle on what is going on, Billingsley throws out something that leaves me flicking pages trying to figure out what I missed. She goes off on random tangents that have nothing to do with the storyline and only serve to add to my annoyance (see above). The plot points that are supposed to stun and shock me only leave me shaking my head and asking "You're just figuring this out NOW??? Where were you 100 pages ago?!"

The only character that I enjoyed was Rose, and there was far to little of her. Briony's self hatred made me feel like I was reading a 13 year old's emo poetry and Eldric's constant fidgeting was more irritating than endearing.

The word that came to mind throughout this entire book was Tedious. I found myself forcing time to read it when I would much rather be doing something more enjoyable like, oh I don't know, taking a bath in a tub full of razor blades.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age: 15 and Up- if the reader was patient and liked quirky books
Gender: Girls
Sex: There is an ALMOST sex scene but it is not graphic.  There is also talk of the witches being naked.
Violence: Attacks by magical creatures resulting in cuts, bruises, broken bones and a lost limb
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Abuse: Discussion of characters using arsenic recreationally

This review can also be found on Goodreads


Welcome to my new blog!  I decided that I wanted a place to talk about my love of books and reading and Goodreads, while wonderful, isn't quite satisfying all my needs.  (I'm sorry, Goodreads, it's not you, it's me, I just need additional stimulation. HEY! Stimulation of the MIND! GOD GOODREADS, get your mind out of the gutter!).  I also wanted to talk a little about being a teacher and all that this entails.

As a teacher, I am always looking for new books to recommend to my students but I am wary about giving them books that I haven't read for fear of content that may be inappropriate.  As such, when reviewing YA I will endeavor to make note of the age-appropriateness and any issue-some scenes.  That being said, for all you teachers/parents out there, I am REALLY strict on what I deem appropriate for my junior high (some of you may call it middle school) students (mostly because I don't want to get fired over some kid swearing or having sex in a book that I recommended to someone's innocent child who has "never seen the likes of this before" - yet I know for a fact that the angel in question spends hours each evening saving the imaginary world from terrorists in increasingly bloody video games  - but I digress)*.  Note to self: remove all traces of real name from internet - digressing too often may lead to firing....  So, that's about it for now.  Welcome world to the inside of my head, it is small, dark, and scary but at least the voices are entertaining. 

*For those of you who will be joining me on this journey, I digress a lot.  One might even call it ranting.  That is, if one wanted to be impolite and end up on THE LIST.  (THE LIST contains the names of people who will pay once I a)become independently wealthy or b)am diagnosed with a terminal illness and have a set amount of time to get even with NO CONSEQUENCES!