Thursday, August 30, 2012

ARC Book Review: Burn for Burn by Jenny Han, Siobhan Vivian

Title: Burn for Burn
Author: Jenny Han, Siobhan Vivian
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: Sept 18, 2012

Cover Impressions: First of all, kudos for having cover models who actually look like the characters (double kudos for having an Asian character and *GASP! an Asian Model - IT CAN BE DONE!)  This is the type of cover that would definitely appeal to my jr high girls.  The faded colors work really well and I enjoy the effect of the transparent title overlay.

The Gist:
On the picturesque Jar Island the teenage population subsists on partying and gossip.  Three unlikely friends, Lillia, Kat, and Mary secretly band together in a "Strangers on a Train" - esque plot in order to take down the people who have made their lives miserable.

Oh so much potential!  I was really looking forward to this book.  As a teacher, I see mean kids every day and, once in a while, there is a teen so heinous and cruel that you can't help hoping that they get their comeuppance one day.  I was hoping that this book would let me live out those schadenfreudian fantasies but, instead, it just left me feeling sad.

Three kids were targeted for revenge: Alex, Rennie and Reeve.  While each of the kids had done horrible things, they didn't seem to be cruel enough to deserve these punishments.  As such, I couldn't force myself to side with the main characters against them.  One particular problem that I had was that so much time was concentrated on Alex.  Of the three, he was the least deserving.  He was (to me) just a nice guy who made a mistake (possibly).  A good 3/4ths of the books was spent on minor pranks used to humiliate Alex.  I found myself cringing at each of these because all I wanted was for Lillia to break down and actually ASK him what was going on.  I think, had the revenge started with Rennie or Reeve instead, I could have gotten behind it a little more as these characters were slightly more reprehensible.

I also had an issue with the type of revenge that the girls were taking.  What I was expecting: a slow progression from small pranks to bigger ones resulting in humiliation but no real harm.  SPOILER ALERT - What I got: very tame pranks and then a sudden jump to DRUGGING A MINOR!  WTF?!  This is not cool, under any circumstances, and incredibly dangerous!  This was the moment where the main characters really lost me.  From this point on, I was no longer on their side.

The characters themselves represented basic stereotypes, but they were fun and I enjoyed watching the budding friendship between the three.  Lillia was probably my least favorite, she was nice enough and the authors did attempt to give her a more meaningful back story, but it felt forced and, once revealed, was never mentioned again.  Lillia and her friends are very materialistic and I did not enjoy how this came through in the writing.  For example, during a scene at Rennie's home it is pointed out that she lives in a condo, shares a pool and that her mother bought last season's dress (Gasp!) on sale!  I would love to hear other people's opinion on this but it felt to me like I was meant to feel sorry for Rennie and her mother.  This really bothered me.  I sympathize with characters who have rough home lives, dead or absentee parents and a meager income but I refuse to feel pity for a character simply because she has to work a part-time job in order to afford to live her friend's extravagant lifestyle.

Kat was fun and feisty and Mary - oh my heart! that poor damaged girl.  I wish I had been able to spend more time getting to know them and that there had been some growth and change by the end of the book.  I understand that this is a series and things need to be saved for the next book, but I would have liked to see a little softness from Kat, some personality and bravery from Mary and some backbone in Lillia - just a spark would have been fine.

I was not a fan of the switching, first person narrative.  This however, may be a personal issue.  Whenever I encounter this particular form of writing I end up spending the first few lines in every chapter looking for clues in order to see who is speaking and this distracts me from the plot.  The writing style itself is clean, not overly descriptive, and flows well.  One particular problem I had with the plot was the choice to incorporate some semblance of the supernatural.  It was very subtle, but jarring and left me scratching my head as to what exactly was going on.  I felt that this was completely unnecessary and took away from my enjoyment of the novel.  I sincerely hope that there are big plans for this in the next novel, otherwise it should have been cut altogether.  The abrupt ending of Burn for Burn did not work for me either.  I don't need all the ends to be tied up in a first book, but I do prefer a little closure.

I am conflicted about whether or not I will continue this series.  I guess it will depend on the synopsis of the next book.  

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and Up
Gender: Female
Sex:  Kissing, Sex mentioned - not described,
Violence:  Possible date-rape, Fist-fighting
Inappropriate Language: Shit, Ass, Bitch, Fuck, Asshole, Slut, Prick, Pissy
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage drinking, smoking, use of marijuana, drugging of drinks,

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (19)

"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: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan which is due to be released on September 11th

Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met . . . a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?

The cover for Unspoken is so wonderfully whimsical and inviting that I couldn't NOT put it on my TBR list.  Kami sounds like an interesting character and I am interested to see where the "imaginary friend" angle takes us.

Monday, August 27, 2012

ARC Book Review: Hanging by a Thread by Sophie Littlefield

Title: Hanging by a Thread
Author: Sophie Littlefield
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: Sept 11, 2012

Cover Impressions: Not impressed with this particular cover.  It appears that she is lying on a bloody comforter on a bed (is that what everyone else sees?).  This never happens in the book.  Clare spends page after page describing her wacky designs, but all I see pictured is a simple lace top and VERY traditional necklace.  The pose is boring, the color is bland and there is nothing to make me pick this one up off the shelf.

The Gist:
The town of Winston, California has been rocked by tragedy for each of the past two fourth of July weekends.  After moving back to the town where she grew up, Clare is simply concerned with trying to fit in with the popular kids and maybe find some summer romance.  She is also trying to hide the fact that a mysterious gift allows her glimpses into people's lives just by touching their clothing.  When chance brings her into contact with the jacket of Amanda, the girl who died the previous July, Clare must decide what to do with the disturbing vision.

This book did not work for me at all.  In theory, it had good bones: the prodigal return, a mysterious power, a possible serial killer, a bad boy love interest - but when all those things came together in Hanging By A Thread they created a big pile of "Meh".  It starts off with promise, but gets bogged down once Clare starts playing Nancy Drew and each and every character is compelled to spill their guts for not apparent reason. 

The writing involves a great deal of Telling rather than Showing and tons of Info Dumping.  LOTS of long paragraphs explaining how events went down.  Seems like everyone in this town kept their secrets for two years and then all Clare has to do is ask a simple question and they break down and confess their life story.  The plot was fairly predictable and eventually, I ended up skimming paragraphs because I was getting tired of being told things that I had already figured out.  Had the author thrown out a shocking twist or two, I could have been brought back on board but instead I got the standard "rich parents bail out rich kids and someone decides that they should be punished" storyline.  For most of the book, Clare runs around town asking questions and when we finally did get a touch of action it was only slightly more exciting and over all too quickly.

The characters were incredibly one-dimensional.  Clare was boring and spent a considerable amount of time feeling resentful of her gift and arguing with herself about whether or not she should do anything about the information that she found.  She blames a lot of her problems on her mother and, despite constantly reminding us that the woman needs to slow down/find friends/reconcile with her own mother, Clare's only contribution to making these things happen is to yell at her.  The other female characters were pretty boring.  Rachel and her friends all sort of blended together and seemed to only serve as a way to pile on information through gossip sessions.  The males, on the other hand, were all really un-likable.  Clare's dad is a deadbeat, the guys she hung out with were jerks who called her a tease and a slut, and even the love interest, Jack, was an anger fueled young man with control issues.

I did not buy the romance angle for one minute.  In fact, it seemed pretty unhealthy to me.  Clare spent the first moments of their relationship grilling him about his murdered ex-girlfriend (to which he responded with anger and hostility) then continued to suspect he was the killer while running off to be alone with him in deserted areas of town!  As with the other characters, Jack spills his guts a little too quickly and then the pair act overly familiar for kids who just met and I really doubt the validity of their connection.  Clare reveals her secret (which left me yelling "what the hell, you just met like three days ago") and Jack starts throwing out lines like "Clare - it's me.  Tell me what you need." (which led to a lot of eye rolling).

I normally enjoy YA Mystery and I have heard good things about Sophie Littlefield, but Hanging by a Thread just fell flat for me.  On to the next book.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age: 16 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Discussed, not described, kissing.
Violence: Fighting, Knifeplay
Inappropriate Language: Bitches, Shit, Jesus, God-Damn, Dick, Fuck, Slut, Pisses, Jerk, Hell, Bastard
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage drinking (and stealing of alcohol) 

Unanswered Questions:

If the parents are so concerned about a serial killer, why are they letting their teens out of the house at all?  It is called grounding folks (or if you want to be more PC about it - Family Game Night)

Having encountered/subdued a murderer, WHY DIDN'T YOU PHONE THE POLICE???

Thursday, August 23, 2012

ARC Book Review: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

Title: Unspoken
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Random House
Release Date:
September 11, 2012
Cover Impressions: OOOOOOOHHHHHH PREEETTTYYYY!  I really like this cover.  The silhouette effect creates a sense of mystery and the font adds a fantastical charm.  I cannot wait to see if/how this theme continues with the next book in the series.

The Gist:
For as long as Kami Glass can remember she has heard a voice in her head.  She has lost friendships and the other citizens of Sorry-in-the-Vale avoid her gaze but she has never been able to give up her imaginary friend.  When the mysterious Lynburn family returns to town, Kami is faced with the realization that Jared is not so imaginary and that if their connection could be real, perhaps Sorry In the Vale might also hold more sinister secrets. 

  Unspoken is based on a really interesting premise.  Kami and Jared have been able to hear one another since birth, but have convinced themselves that the other was not real.  When they finally discover each other, one might think that they would fall in the ultimate insta-love and proceed to sicken us with their every move.  BUT Brennan would not do this to us.  No, No, instead she wrote characters who recoiled at the thought of a real, physical person knowing their every intimate secret (who wouldn't?!).  To complicate matters, Kami is investigating the return of the Lynburn family, whom the townspeople speak of with both awe and fear and the sudden violence that has erupted in Sorry-in-the-Vale. 

The true strength of Unspoken lies in its characters.  There are no one dimensional characters here.  Each and every person, from Kami, to her friends, to her parents and brothers and the Lynburns, have unique and interesting qualities.  My favorite has go to be Angela, Kami's outspoken best friend.  She loathes nearly all people and covets a laziness that can only be matched by her brother, Rusty.  Angela has a quick wit and says whatever is on her mind.  This often leds to moments that have me literally laughing out loud such as:

"Angela spared a glare for Kami and then resumed her marathon glaring session at Jared.  'I'm not calling you that,' she announced flatly.  'It's too weird.  I'm going to call you Carl.' Jared scowled.  'I don't want you to all me Carl.'  'That's interesting, Carl,' said Angela, cheering up."

I also had a special place in my heart for Holly, the girl who hit puberty a little too hard and found herself shunned by most of the girls her age.  She is incredibly sweet and it is clear that she has tried to make friends with Kami and Angela for quite some time.  Even she gets a few great lines:

"'Right,' said Holly, 'Well.  If the unicorn is pink, about two feet tall, with a sparkly mane, we'll know my imaginary friend is real too.'"

Believe me, there are LOTS more examples of this fantastic dialogue, in fact, a number of quotes from Kami's dad can be found in the Notable Quotables section below.  In fact, in writing this review and reading others I have seen quote after quote after quote and hardly any repeated.  THAT is how good the dialogue is.

The plot of Unspoken moves smoothly as secrets are revealed and the danger heightens.  The story was not bogged down with the typical insta-love and love triangle that could have happened if Brennan when the easy route.  I did feel that Kami made some stupid decisions (creating a few "What, what, what are you doing? moments) and a few things could have been fleshed out further (such as the encounter with Henry Thornton) but overall, the action was exciting and suspenseful.  

I feel I must discuss the ending.  ABANDON HOPE OF NOT BEING SPOILED, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE:  Kami's ultimate decision was unexpected in terms of the actions of most YA heroines, but was completely in line with who she is as a character.  Jared's reaction surprised me and broke my heart a little.  Endings like these are frustrating in that I feel unsatisfied.  Secrets have been revealed, plots uncovered and bad guys identified, but nothing has been solved.  That being said, it also accomplishes the author's purpose, which is to create in the reader a voracious longing for the next book!

Yes, yes, yes! to reading the next book the moment I can get my hands on it! 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

13 and up
Gender:  Both
Sex:  Kissing
Violence:  Knifeplay, ritual sacrifice, murder
Inappropriate Language: Asshole, Hell 
Substance Use/Abuse: None 

Notable Quotables:

Note: There are TONS of awesome quotes from this book but I thought I would pick a few from Kami's dad because parents hardly ever get the great lines in YA.

"Kami, I know all the other kids are throwing themselves down wells right now, but your mother and I have a firm policy of no danger sports until you're eighteen."

"'Why are you putting on lip gloss, my daughter?' Dad asked.  'Trip to the library?  Trip to the nunnery?  I hear the nunneries are nice this time of year.'"

"'Wearing that?  Wouldn't you fancy a shape-less cardigan instead?  You rock a shapeless cardigan, honey.'" 

Unanswered Questions:

Kami and Jared seemed to be able to block each other at times, so why doesn't Kami employ this strategy during awkward moments, such as when she is on a date with someone else?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (18)

"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: Burn for Burn by Jenny Han & Siobhan Vivian which is due to be released on September 18


Lillia has never had any problems dealing with boys who like her. Not until this summer, when one went too far. No way will she let the same thing happen to her little sister.

Kat is tired of the rumours, the insults, the cruel jokes. It all goes back to one person– her ex-best friend– and she's ready to make her pay.

Four years ago, Mary left Jar Island because of a boy. But she's not the same girl anymore. And she's ready to prove it to him.

Three very different girls who want the same thing: sweet, sweet revenge. And they won't stop until they each had a taste.

I am really excited about this title.  It seems like the type of book that the girls in my Junior High classes would LOVE.  A little Gossip Girl meets Revenge and (hopefully) a whole lot of drama!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Book Review: Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday

Title: Deadly Cool
Author: Gemma Halliday
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date:
Oct 11, 2011

Cover Impressions: The cover is pretty cool (pun intended).  The eye color is stunning and commands attention and the frozen gaze is reminiscent of a dead body.  The use of the earbuds/murder weapon to form the font was a really clever choice. 

The Gist:
In the midst of planning the confrontation and subsequent "murder" of her cheating boyfriend, Hartley Featherstone inadvertently stumbles upon a real dead body.  Determined to prove her (ex) boyfriend's innocence, she enlists the help of her BFF and the local bad boy/editor of the school newspaper, Chase. 

Deadly Cool is a fun read.  Harley Featherstone performs as a modern day Nancy Drew, attempting to solve a murder mystery and prove the innocence of her (ex) boyfriend.  Harley is a great character, she is clever and witty with some truly fabulous lines: "'You're wicked fast.' he observed.  'Yeah.  Dead bodies bring out the track star in me'".  I did question a number of her decisions (like agreeing to help her cheating ass ex-boyfriend in the first place) and I felt that she needed a Sassy Gay Friend Intervention.

She constantly opens her mouth when she shouldn't, sneaks out of her house and puts herself into dangerous situations without a thought for her own safety.  I found myself cringing, yelling "NO, YOU IDIOT" and imagining all of the security measures I would put on my house if she was my daughter!

That being said, Hartley does have a best friend (though not a sassy gay one) and she is awesome!  I knew I loved Sam the minute I read this exchange when Hartley asked her to borrow her brother's car:

"'Because if I find Courtney Cline at Josh's and kill them both, I'm going to need a quick getaway.'  Sam bit her lip, her eyebrows doing a concerned pucker on my behalf.  But, good friend that she was, she finally said, 'Okay, but we need to think of a convincing alibi on the way.'"

Sam is the ultimate partner in crime.  Willing to help Hartley with whatever crazy and dangerous investigative technique she has decided to try out next and bringing along her own clever quips to boot.  The other characters didn't pop as much for me.  Chase didn't show a whole lot of personality and the others (Josh, Goths, Cheerleaders, Color Guard) were all pretty stereotypical of their roles and didn't really hold any surprises.

The murder mystery plot involved some interesting twists and turns as Hartley conducted interviews, discovered clues and attended clandestine meetings with mysterious sources.  The storyline moved quickly and didn't suffer from lag, though it did lose points at the end.  I found the ultimate identity of the killer to be a little TOO convenient (I was hoping for a big plot twist) and did not enjoy the cliche "now that I have you tied up I will explain my plan and my every movement and then leave you to die so that you have lots of evidence when you eventually escape virtually unscathed". 

Had there been an unexpected twist at the end, this book would easily have earned a 4 rating.  As it is, it sits at a 3 for me because it had a few fun characters, some great lines and was a fun, easy and enjoyable read.  I am sure that I will read the sequel eventually, but I didn't love this one enough to want to dive right back into Hartley's world - at least not for a few days, anyway.  Here's hoping that in between Hartley watches every episode of Veronica Mars and adopts a big dog named Backup.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

13 and up
Gender:  Female
Sex:  Discussed, not described
Violence:  Death by strangulation, death by blunt force trauma, attempted murder by fire.
Inappropriate Language: The characters tend to censor themselves ("'We're censoring now?' 'Kyle says I have a mouth like a trucker.'") so they use Effing quite a bit.  Jesus, Damn, Slut
Substance Use/Abuse: Smoking

Unanswered Questions: 

- Does their cafeteria ONLY serve pizza sticks? 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Book Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Author: Alan Bradley
Publisher: Delacorte
Release Date: April 28, 2009

Cover Impressions: I really like the simplicity of this cover.  The symbols are very fitting and the color really makes it stand out on the shelf. 

The Gist:
Flavia de Luce is a remarkable 11 year old.  She is fascinated by Chemistry, particularly poisons.  With a dead bird on her doorstep and a dead body in her garden, Flavia endeavors to put her prodigious wealth of knowledge to the test and solve not one, but two murder mysteries.   

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie felt a little like an overly large piece of dessert, delicious and comforting for the first few forkfuls but sickly sweet after one bite too many.  Flavia de Luce is overly precocious and more than a little too intelligent to be believable.  her ability to wax poetically about any subject, from history to music to lock picking, made her feel much older than her 11 years and tended to distract from the plot.  Her manner of speaking felt like it fit with a time period far removed from the 1950's and her level of freedom to roam the countryside without a word of caution from any adults was concerning.  I enjoyed Flavia's quick wit and the tumultuous relationship with her sisters but failed to see even a spark of caring to balance out the ire between them. 

The plot of this novel centered around two murder mysteries which were richly woven through time and included elements of illusion and sleight of hand.  Ultimately however, the identity of the killer was a little too predictable and I would have preferred a nice plot twist.  Secrets were often revealed through long winded speeches and details were repeated endlessly as Flavia mulled them over in her mind.  There were moments when she was discovering a connection that I was certain she had actually made 10 or 15 pages earlier.  The flashes of chemical knowledge that were of great interest to me as a Science teacher, became more and more complicated as the plot wore on.  If my eyes were glazing over at these descriptions I can only imagine a person with little to no Scientific background would skim or abandon these sections altogether.  The writing itself tended to be a little long winded and I found myself losing interest during several rambling sessions.

I do not believe that I will continue with this series.  While I enjoyed the IDEA of Flavia de Luce, pint sized chemist and part time investigator, I could not connect with the way that the character was executed and I think my time might be better spent with other child wonders.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

15 and up (for reading level rather than content)
Gender: Either
Sex: None
Violence: Death by poisoning, death by blunt force trauma, kidnapping.
Inappropriate Language: Damn
Substance Use/Abuse: Smoking
Other Issues: Character describes having impersonated a stereotypical Asian man, included use of yellow face paint, pinning of eyes and racist accent.

Notable Quotables:

"If there is a thing I truly despise, it is being addressed as 'dearie.' When I write my magnum opus, A Treatise Upon All Poisons, and come to 'Cyanide,' I am going to put under 'Uses' the phrase 'Particularly efficacious in the cure of those who call one 'Dearie'"

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (17)

"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: Enshadowed by Kelly Creagh which is due to be released on August 28.

Varen Nethers is trapped in a perilous dream world -- a treacherous and desolate realm where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life. Isobel Lanley, plagued by strange visions and haunted by the nightmares of Varen's creation, is the only one who can save him.
Isobel knows that her only hope lies within a Baltimore cemetery. There, in the early morning hours of Edgar Allan Poe's birthday, a mysterious stranger known as the "Poe Toaster" will make his annual homage at the legendary poet's grave.
Only the Poe Toaster holds the key to the way between worlds. But even greater dangers lie ahead for Isobel. An ancient evil, draped in veils of white, is watching, challenging her for Varen's affections. When Isobel finally finds Varen, he is no longer the quiet and brooding boy who once captivated her, but a dark force, powerful and malevolent.

Enshadowed is the follow up to Nevermore, which I haven't actually read yet, but I have heard really good things.  I have been waiting for Enshadowed to come out so that I can read the two of them back to back as I have a feeling that once I enter this world I am not going to want to leave.

Monday, August 13, 2012

ARC Book Review: Sh*tty Mom by Laurie Kilmartin, Karen Moline, Alicia Ybarbo, Mary Ann Zoellner

Title: Sh*tty Mom: The Guide for Good-Enough Moms
Publisher: Abrams Image
Release Date: Sept 1, 2012

Cover Impressions: This cover is fun.  The colors work well, the font is cute and the image of the exhausted mom, sipping a latte and fiddling with her phone while hiding from the kids - is perfect for this title.

The Gist:
Sh*tty Mom was written by four moms who are willing to concede that while their children may not grow up to be rocket scientists or president, they will damn well know how to get their own breakfast and turn the TV to cartoons so that mom can get an extra hour of sleep!  It provides a tongue-in-cheek guide to the mom who wants to raise her kids with the least amount of effort possible.   

I don't normally read and review non-fiction or humor but, as a new mom, this title caught my eye and I had to give it a shot.  Over the last year, I have been inundated with advice from moms who know it all (and some non-moms who know it all).  I have gotten "the look" when I feed my baby store-bought food right out of the jar and felt out of place when my son is the only one at a party not wearing the latest teething necklace made from self-sustaining bamboo that I grew in my own back yard.  The I-read-all-the-latest-articles-on-soothing-techniques-and-am-on-a-first-name-basis-with-5-pediatricians moms are all too vocal.  However, the moms you never hear from are the ones who are willing to lock themselves in the bathroom to play Draw Something for 5 mins or count down the hours, minutes, seconds until bedtime.  Those moms stay quiet because the Perfect Moms shame us into doing so.  They judge us with their cloth diapers and all organic burp cloths.  Well, in the interest of an honest review and to take a stand against the Perfect Moms, here are my Sh*tty Mom Confessions:

1) I let him watch TV- lots.  I even put on the Little Einsteins DVDs when I really need him to bliss out in front of the boob tube.
2) I let him snack on cheerios - a lot.  They are a major food group for him.
3) Cry-it-out is the only go to sleep technique that ever worked for us.
4) I only dress him in real clothes for pictures or if someone is coming over.  Otherwise it is just a diaper or a sleeper (depending on the temp that day).

Sh*tty Mom must be taken with a large dose of humor (and perhaps an even larger dose of wine).  It is NOT the book for a mom looking for sound advice on how to raise her little one.  It IS the book for a frazzled mom who needs a little time out and, perhaps, some perspective.  With chapter titles such as "How to Sleep In Until Nine AM Every Weekend" and "How to Drop Off Your Sick Kid at Daycare before the Teacher Figures It Out" it is clear that this book provides some serious humor and would go great with your copy of Go The Fuck To Sleep

There were a few moments when I was a little put off by the humor.  For example, in a section entitled "How to Leave Your baby in the Car While You Dash into a 7 Eleven" the authors discuss babies being locked in cars, pardoning the parents and blaming the child:

"The real problem here is that babies do not know when to cry.  it would behoove them to learn.  How is it that babies can scream through the night but when you're about to leave them in the hot car, not a peep?  Do they even want to live?  Why hasn't the evolutionary process hard-wired an 'I'M IN THE BACKSEAT' scream into all babies' DNA?"

This didn't come off as remotely funny for me and, had the section been seriously edited or removed entirely, it would have increased my enjoyment of the book immensely.  After this point, I found myself constantly anticipating the next slip while reading and it set me on edge.  Interestingly enough, a further chapter "Rediscover Your Passion for Violent TV, Movies, and Jokes" brings up exactly this point with the illustration of a new parents' inability to laugh at dead baby jokes.  Those, I never found funny and perhaps that shows that my sense of humor was never crass enough to enjoy the passage above - kid or no kid. 

Ignoring those sections, Sh*tty Mom is extremely funny.  The writing is witty, and the layout marries short chapters with lists and notes of advice that make for a very quick read.  It also cleverly buries moments of wisdom.  For example, this is something that I wish I could tell the parents of all my students who sit in the middle of the pack:

"Average kids inherently understand that they don't have the goods.  They develop other skills precisely because they can't get an A-plus on a paper that was begun the night before it was due.  They grow into college students who can study for a test and into competent grown ups who can install a kitchen backsplash and use a slow cooker."

In the end, Sh*tty Mom does have a deeper purpose.  The message of this book is not how to do the bare minimum and get away with it, ok well it is, but it goes deeper than that.   It teaches us that if, at the end of the day, your kid didn't really have a balanced meal (cheerios count as a food group remember?), he didn't learn a new word (at least not one you want him to use in public) and he didn't have an enriching and educational outing that will surely set him on the path to school super-stardom.  That's ok, because he is alive and (relatively) healthy.  He will grow up just fine even if you don't celebrate every milestone (no first-poop-in-the-potty parties for you!) or sacrifice every moment of your time to his fulfillment.  And hey, even if you are a Sh*tty Mom, at least you aren't a REALLY Sh*tty Mom!

Notable Quotables:

On managing PDA time for your kids: "Imagine for a moment what it must be like to dole out coke to a cokehead.  That's a cokehead that you can control.  That's a cokehead who will brush his teeth the first time he's asked.  Who will be quiet at a Starbucks and engrossed during the aforementioned seven-hour drive."

"People get annoyed if you stop at one child.  They say you're selfish for not giving your kid a sibling, that your kid could turn out spoiled and awkward.  These people are usually called 'grandparents.'  Beware the grandparent!"

"Remember: Nobody dies in Goodnight Moon."

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Book Review: Even White Trash Zombies Get The Blues by Diana Rowland

Title: Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues
Author: Diana Rowland
Publisher: DAW
Release Date: July 3, 2012 
Rating: 4/5 

Cover Impressions: Even if I hadn't read and enjoyed My Life As A White Trash Zombie, this cover would have made me start the series.  It is the perfect mix of bad-ass and vulnerable in a completely unexpected scene (are there any other books that feature a punk-chick on a toilet?*)  The cover is so detailed that it begs examination and I found myself looking it over every time that I closed the book and noticing new things each time.

The Gist:
Angel Crawford is a zombie, but not the moaning, shambling type of zombie that drops body parts as it wanders the post apocalyptic world attacking survivors.  As long as she keeps her stomach full up on brains, Angel is able to pass for any other trailer trash chick with a felony record and probation requirements to tend to.  Because she doesn't have ENOUGH problems, Angel finds herself in the middle of a mystery that appears to involve a zombie mafia, secret lab and gruesome experiments.

I normally shy away from zombie books.  I tend to find them predictable in the whole "let me lull you into a false sense of security and then have zombies jump out of FUCKING EVERYWHERE" kind of way.  However, I really love Diana Rowland's take on zombies.  These zombies only rot when they are deprived of brains, but can lose their humanity as the disease takes over and promotes survival without fear of consequences.  They also take jobs that will ensure the availability of brains, like Angel's job in the morgue.  The thought of zombies working amongst us while secretly downing brain smoothies for lunch, intrigues and amuses me in ways I never thought possible.

The beginning of Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues was a little slow.  There is a lot of moaning as Angel tries to get her life together and laments her supposed inability to become part of polite society and make something of herself.  She is the type of girl that you want to shake because you can see that she is smart and has a great deal of potential, she just needs to get out of her own way and let herself imagine a future that doesn't involve suffering for her past criminal activity, status as a high school drop out and white trash roots.  Even through the whining, there are sparks of a stronger Angel and glimpses of bad-ass behavior.  I loved Angel in the first book, and was really glad to see her getting her life together and (begrudgingly) start studying for her GED.  As a character, her voice is fantastic.  Witty, self-deprecating and all around total tough girl.  She rarely takes shit from anyone, least of all the bad guys and proves that female characters can be scared out of their wits and still pull out a line that will leave the reader laughing.

There are a number of supporting characters (interestingly, all men) who work on the periphery of the story but never outshine Angel.  In this novel, she is the star and she is not willing to allow anyone else to coddle her, protect her or rescue her.  I would like to see these characters further developed and given a bit more personality.  For example, Angel's partner (the name escapes me at the moment) has some really great lines, but we barely see him.  Ed and Pietro could also be really interesting characters if they were fleshed out a little more.

While this novel was a little slow to start, it made up for it when the shit hit the fan.  We were then treated to pretty much non-stop action in which we see Angel at her most vulnerable (and kudos to an author who can allow a kick-ass character to display that much vulnerability) and her most fearsome.  The only thing that brought it down a notch was the serious info-dumping session that occurred afterwards.  I understand that things needed to be explained and loose ends needed to be tied up, but the coffee klatch was a little much for me.

One note on content.  I really enjoy this series and sincerely wish that I could recommend it to my students.  However, there is A LOT of swearing and it is widely varied in level of profanity (see below).  There is no way I could hand this one off to a student without serious fear of being fired.  

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and up
Gender:  Both
Sex:  Mentioned, not described.
Violence:  Gunplay, Zombie Mauling, Hand to Hand combat, Use of Tasers,
Inappropriate Language: LOTS!! Bitch, Fuck, Shit, Asshole, Bastard, Bullshit, Goddamn, Jesus Christ, Cocksucker, Cunt, Pissed, Motherfucker, Tits,
Substance Use/Abuse: 

Notable Quotables:
"'Zombie Super Powers, activate, you fucking bitches'"

*If there are, please don't send me links, I am sure I don't want to see them...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (16)

"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: Embers & Echoes by Karsten Knight which is due to be released on August 28.

Fan the flames: A teen goddess fires up her search for love and family in this sequel to Wildefire. "Ashline Wilde may have needed school to learn that she is actually a reincarnated goddess, but she's ready to move beyond books. She leaves her California boarding school behind and makes for Miami, where she meets a new group of deities and desperately seeks her sister Rose, the goddess of war. But she's also looking for love--because even though her romance with Cole had to be snuffed, Ash is a volcano goddess--and she doesn't get burned.

This sequel to the edgy and action-packed Wildefire "continues a fiery drama on an immortal scale.

I really enjoyed Wildefire and am planning a re-read and review before the release of Embers & Echoes.  I love books that re-imagine the God and Goddess myths and Wildfire had a great premise and some really interesting characters.  Can't wait to see what happens next!

Monday, August 6, 2012

ARC Book Review: The Blood Keeper by Tessa Gratton

Title: The Blood Keeper
Tessa Gratton
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: August 28, 2012
Rating: 2/5

Cover Impressions:
On it's own, this cover might have been ok.  The imagery is nice, the colors work well together and the runes invite further examination.  But when compared with the cover for its predecessor, it is less than impressive.  I do not like it when the covers of a series do not fit with each other and this certainly does not fit with the gloriously gothic and unique cover for Blood Magic.

The Gist:
Mab Prowd has been raised to be the Deacon of her family's blood land.  Magic to her is as natural as breathing and she has dedicated her life to the practice.  When she stumbles across Will Sanger and inadvertently allows him a glimpse into this world, Will finds both beauty and terror and Mab finds herself embroiled in the fight of her life.

During the first half of The Blood Keeper I was disinterested but I couldn't quite pin down why.  The characters were ok, the writing was ok, the premise was ok.  As I continued, the fact that I neither loved nor hated ANYTHING got to be more and more annoying.  When I read Blood Magic, I was a little underwhelmed, but I gave points for originality and willingness to be a little more dark and delve into the nitty gritty of sacrifice in exchange for power.  However, with the second book in the series, these things are simply not enough.  This time, I expected strong characters, an exciting plot and some serious magic.  I did not get these things.

The Blood Keeper does not follow the same characters as Blood Magic.  Instead, we meet Mab - a child raised to be keeper of the land and master of magic and Will - a regular kid from a nearby town.  That's right, that is all I have to say about Will.  There is really nothing special about him that I could see and the time spent developing his family drama bored me to tears.  His family is suffering from the loss of their middle son to a car crash and the return of their oldest from Afghanistan.  This is the perfect backdrop for some moving scenes and serious character development.  However, that is not what we get.  Instead we have to suffer through Will's whining about how everyone wants him to join the Marines and his incredibly tame arguments with his parents.  Mab is only slightly more interesting, though she spends an inordinate amount of time discussing her love for the land and mooning over Will.  I did enjoy her quirkiness and lack of concern with how she is viewed by the more mainstream families (and teens) in town.  

While this is not exactly a sequel to Blood Magic, I would have appreciated some re-cap so that I could remember who the other characters were (they appeared as minor characters, popping in and out of the story).  As it was, I actually went back and re-read the last few chapters of Blood Magic and found that that helped me re-orient myself.  The narration switches between Mab, Will and Evelyn.  Evelyn's story is told through letters to Arthur, the former Deacon, and the change in narration style is a little jarring.  For their part, Will and Mab blended a little too well.  If I was away from the book for a time, it was difficult to tell who was speaking without going back to the beginning of the narration change.

The plot seemed to be split between three problems 1) The repercussions from Will's encounter with Mab's spell 2) Will's issues regarding his parent's desire for him to join the marines and 3) Lucas' curse from his father.  Both 1 and 2 seem to be resolved by the end of the book but 3 simply got a band-aid solution.  It bothered me that there wasn't further momentum on this issue, but perhaps it will be further explored in a third book?  I also felt that the plot seemed to get bogged down in ridiculously long magical preparation, from planning, to gathering ingredients, to prepping the area - only to culminate in a lackluster spell with very little in the way of excitement.

By the end of this book, I found myself skimming the pages.  I cared enough about the characters that I wanted to see what happened to them, but not nearly enough to put up with pages and pages of Gratton's flowery prose.  The Blood Keeper did not provide the emotional or entertainment pay-off that I was expecting and I do not think I will hang in there for a third in the series.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

15 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Bloodletting, Knifeplay, Poisoning, Violence towards animals
Inappropriate Language: Dick, FUBAR, Bullshit, Bitch, Douchebag, Shit
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Stacking the Shelves (8)

Stacking The Shelves hosted by Tynga's Reviews.  It is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course ebooks!

EARCS I Got This Week:

Books Bought This Week:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Feature & Follow Friday (10) - I'm Featured!

Feature & Follow is hosted by Parajunkee & Alison Can Read

I am so excited that I am featured this week!! Thank you Parajunkee & Alison Can Read!

For those new visitors, I am a teacher and mom who loves to inspire young readers and to talk books with pretty much anyone.  I read mostly YA but throw in an adult novel or two every now and then.  I hope everyone enjoys their visit to my little slice of the internet.

This week's question is:

Q: Do your reading habits change based on your mood? Do you read a certain genre if you are feeling depressed or happy?

My reading habits definitely change based on my mood and whether or not I am working.  They also change based on the season.  During the summer, I love light, interesting reads that keep me coming back for more.  In the September, when I head back to work, I find my reading slowing down since I am so tired at the end of the day and need a really engrossing read to keep me going.  October leaves me craving creepy novels (and I sometimes save some special reads for this time) and the winter months are when I usually move from YA to the longer, and often more demanding, adult novels that have been languishing away on the bottom of my to-be-read pile.  And sometimes, within the seasons, it is my moods themselves that help me choose my next book.  If I am lonely or depressed, I look for comfort - usually through re-reading an old favorite or picking up something humorous.  Feeling happy tends to make me reach for Magical Realism where I know I can find a light romance and a little magic.   

I always find it really interesting in January to go back through my books on GoodReads over the previous year and see the changes from season to season and mood to mood.  

  If you want the whole Reading Between Classes experience, feel free to follow me on Twitter and Goodreads.  I can't wait to read all of your responses!  

ARC Book Review: The Stone Girl by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Title: The Stone Girl
Author: Alyssa B, Sheinmel
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: August 28, 2012
Rating: 2/5

Cover Impressions:
I do not believe that this cover would stand out on a shelf.  It is not particularly unique.  As for connection with the plot, the cover model doesn't look unhealthy or troubled and her expression does not evoke much of anything in the viewer.

The Gist:
Sethie Weiss is determined.  Determined to be the perfect, sort-of girlfriend for Shaw.  Determined to ace the SAT and have her pick of colleges.  Determined to control her body and watch the number on the scale drop lower and lower.  She suffers from body dis-morphia and examines the other females around her, noting their perfect bodies and lamenting her own flaws.  Sethie revels in feeling hungry and will resort to any means necessary to get rid of every last ounce of fat. 

The Stone Girl offers a glimpse into the mind of a girl not yet in the extreme danger zone but still, suffering from some major body (and self esteem) issues.  While the book tackles a very serious and important issue, I don't feel that it accomplished anything that hasn't already been achieved by its predecessors.

The writing itself is very choppy and the sentence structure just doesn't work.  The author seems to have an aversion to pronouns and sprinkles each paragraph with an abundance of names

"Sometimes he calls Sethie's father, who lives in California, for the money, as though it's the absence of a man that's making Rebecca late.  But Sethie knows that like Shaw, Rebecca can't always be hampered by dates and times.  Though her lateness isn't smooth the way Shaw's is.  Rebecca's lateness is always messy, choppy, harried.  Sethie knows the landlord would love an excuse to evict the tenants of 12A, Rebecca and her daughter, Sethie, the quiet girl who no one would have guessed might be a troublemaker."

This quirk is very jarring and interrupts the flow of the writing.  I also question the choice of third person narrative for this subject matter.  It is difficult to truly get inside Sethie's head and near impossible to see any type of growth by the novel's end.  Were we able to experience more closely with her, we might have gotten a better understanding of the way her mind works.

As a character, Sethie is not particularly likeable.  We are constantly reminded that she is smart, but never get to see this in action and instead are forced to watch as she makes a myriad of bad decisions and lets herself be led around by the males in her life.  I think I might have preferred the story if it had begun prior to Sethie's involvement with Shaw.  That way, we could have seen her as a determined (if damaged) individual and would have been able to lament at her downward spiral.  I did enjoy her budding friendship with Jane but the character seems to serve no other purpose.  The other secondary characters are pretty forgettable, in fact, I had to keep going back in order to remember their names and Sethie's mom plays the chiche absentee parent who doesn't seem to have a clue what is going on with her daughter (or at least doesn't have the guts to do anything about it).

Despite these issues, the book was a sold 3 stars for me.  That is, up until the ending.  I don't want to give too much away, but it was simply too easy.  Nothing had happened to make me believe that Sethie was about to take a step in the right direction and even her mother didn't make any brave moves toward saving her daughter.

As a final note, several times throughout the novel, Sethie mentions how lectures, books and articles on the subject of Anorexia and Bulimia had served as instruction manuals.

 "Sethie is reading a memoir by a girl who was both anorexic and bulimic.  She gets some good ideas from it ..."

"The only thing Sethie had ever gotten from these articles is tips on how to be better at dieting"

This is a personal fear that I have in putting books like these in my classroom.  The last thing that I want to do is further aid a student in their self-destruction.

Due to the content and sexual nature, I would not recommend this book to my students and would probably steer them towards a book on anorexia that had more in the way of characterization.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Described, but not graphically.
Violence: Self-harm
Inappropriate Language: Bitch, Ass, Fuck, Jesus Christ, Asshole
Substance Use/Abuse: Cigarette Smoking, Pot Smoking, Use of Cocaine, Underage Drinking

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stuff for Book Nerds: Harry Potter Wizards Collection

I have been waiting for a fantastic box set of all the Harry Potter movies since the first one came out and boy did they deliver.

With a ton of extras and hidden compartments it is a Harry Potter Fan's dream.

However, at $350.00 and with no special occasions between now and Christmas it may just stay a dream for me!

Waiting on Wednesday (15)

"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: The Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki which is due to be released on August 1st. 

Everyone’s heard the stories about Graylock Hall.

It was meant to be a place of healing—a hospital where children and teenagers with mental disorders would be cared for and perhaps even cured. But something went wrong. Several young patients died under mysterious circumstances. Eventually, the hospital was shut down, the building abandoned and left to rot deep in the woods.

As the new kid in town, Neil Cady wants to see Graylock for himself. Especially since rumor has it that the building is haunted. He’s got fresh batteries in his flashlight, a camera to document the adventure, and a new best friend watching his back.

Neil might think he’s prepared for what he’ll find in the dark and decrepit asylum. But he’s certainly not prepared for what follows him home . . .

I love ghost stories.  The premise for this one seems like classic "don't read right before going to bed" nightmare fodder.  I LOVE the cover image, it is beyond creepy.  I may have to try and hold off on this one in order to enjoy it right around Halloween.

First Lines: July 2012

The first words you read can often set the tone for the entire story.  I thought it would be fun to keep track of the first lines of the books I read each month and share them with you.  Below are the first lines for all the books I read in June.

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga
"By the time Jazz got to the field outside town, yellow police tape was everywhere, strung from stake to stake in a sort of drunken, off-kilter hexagon." 

The Kitchen Witch by Annette Blair
"Logan Kilgarven plucked a bright red leaf off the sleek black hearse in his neighbor's driveway." 

A Year In Provence by Peter Mayle
"The year began with lunch." 

Scarlett Dedd by Cathy Brett
"I am dead and there's nothing I can do about it."

Rape Girl by Alina Klein
"The police already knew about the party."

The Stone Girl by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
"It is September in New York City and Sarah Beth Weiss has just turned seventeen."

The Blood Keeper by Tessa Gratton
"This is a love letter.  And a confession." 

"'So you hiding a body in here or sumthin?'"

 Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday
"There are three things you never want to find in your boyfriend’s locker: a sweaty jockstrap, a D minus on last week’s history test, and an empty condom wrapper."

"It was as black in the closet as old blood."

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
"Every town in England has a story."

Sh*tty Mom by

"There are two things that are true about Sethie: one is that she is always hungry, a mean, angry kind of hunger that feels like a piece of glass in her belly; the other is that she is always missing Shaw."