Monday, April 29, 2013

Book Review: The Sweet Dead Life by Joy Preble

Title: The Sweet Dead Life
Author: Joy Preble
Publisher: Soho Press
Release Date: May 14, 2013
Rating: 1/5

Cover Impressions: 
Cute cover but looks slightly home-made. 

The Gist:
Jenna has been suffering from a mysterious illness and no doctors can pinpoint the cause.  This, coupled with her mother's debilitating mental illness, makes for a very hard life.  Her brother, Casey, tries his best to hold it all together.  When a late-night trip to the emergency room is pre-empted by an accident.  When Jenna wakes up, Casey is by her side but something is different.  Her brother has started acting almost too good and the EMT who added them after her accident seems to have taken an unhealthy interest in her family.  The tests reveal that Jenna's mysterious illness is the result of poisoning and that Casey must help discover how and save her life.

I requested this particular EARC because the premise sounded interesting and I had hope for a strong and amusing main character.  Unfortunately, Jenna is not only boring, she is incredibly dense.  She does not seem to put clues together, despite the fact that they are smacking her in the face.  She also has a penchant for making lists and an obsession with her brother's (and everyone else's) weed use, both of which interrupt the flow of the story.  The other characters are not much better.  They are all flat with little to no personality.  Even Casey, is stripped of anything interesting when he is "angelfied".  Perhaps, he might have been a little more interesting if we had had more time to get to know him before the accident.

On the topic of angelization.  The blurb for this book clearly gives away the fact that Casey has become an angel and yet it takes Jenna AGES to figure this out.  I do not understand why the publisher would put this information in the blurb when appears to have been meant to be one of the big mysteries of the book.  The rest of the plot, unfortunately, is just as predictable.  Very early on, hints reveal the bad guy and it was at this point that I completely lost interest. 

The ending of this book was a little to easy for my liking.  Everything is resolved - even the mother's mental illness.  Which, makes me think that the author was using this plot device as a cheap ploy.  All in all, this book was a disappointment. 
Teaching/Parental Notes:

15 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Masturbation
Violence: Poisoning
Inappropriate Language: Shit, Ass
Substance Use/Abuse: Marijuana use

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Book Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: February 26, 2013
Rating: 3/5

Cover Impressions:
The cover is very cute.  I love the use of the headphone cords to make the '&' symbol and the colors are muted but work well together.  Not sure about the all lower case letters, perhaps an homage to how Eleanor writes?  The English teacher in me cringes nonetheless. 

The Gist:
On Eleanor's first day of school she immediately stands out from the crowd with her bright red hair and strange clothing.  The bus is a battlefield with clearly drawn lines but a cute Asian boy named Park begrudgingly makes room in his seat.  Over the course of the next few weeks they tentatively explore each others taste in comic books and music.  As they draw closer and closer together, Park begins to realize that Eleanor's standoffish demeanor has a lot to do with a rotten home life and some serious insecurities. 

Eleanor & Park is a sweet love story with some genuine feeling, real problems and the typical teenage angst.  The main story was about how the two characters, admitted misfits among their peers, found one another through comic books and music and fell in love.  But the story in which I was more interested was the tragic home-life that Eleanor endured.  Having been sent away once by her abusive step-father and frightened mother, Eleanor is terrified that she will be thrown out again.  Where she once stood up for her mother and tried to end the abuse, she now huddles with her brothers and sister in their bedroom, trying to stay quiet as church mice.  Rowell did an excellent job of portraying the sense of helplessness that a teenager can feel when stuck in an abusive household as well as the burden that younger siblings can pose on someone not ready to take on that role.  I was more than a little disappointed that the adults in Eleanor's life clearly knew of her situation and did nothing, but I can see how this too is based in an all too frequent reality.

The love story, on the other hand, was a little more common.  I did enjoy that Eleanor and Park didn't even like each other right away, no insta-love here!  They fell for each other more slowly than is typical of contemporary fiction and I enjoyed watching as they made small sweet gestures towards one another.  Some of the passages became a little difficult to get through, particularly when Eleanor doubts and demeans herself.  Occasionally, this comes off in much the same manner as a teenager who posts a clearly flattering picture of herself on Facebook with the caption "I'm so ugly!" in a transparent ploy for attention.  The relationship also becomes all-encompassing at a remarkable rate.  Very quickly after they meet, Park starts to cancel plans with friends and remarks that "He wasn't going anywhere without Eleanor."  I never enjoy reading about teens in this type of relationship - it just doesn't seem healthy.  

The characters are interesting, despite the almost constant self-deprecation.  Eleanor clearly stands out from the crowd but does little or nothing to change this fact.  There are sparks there that make me believe that in a different household, she could be a strong and confident individual.  Park also doesn't see his own good qualities and the pair rely on each other as a reflection of their own self-worth.  They make connections through comic books and music, dress differently from their peers and shun the usual small town entertainment.  Eleanor occasionally gets a witty line or two but the real character who made me smile was Park's mother.  She doesn't like Eleanor at first, and makes no secret of it, but eventually warms when she learns of the home situation.  It is clear that she loves her son and want's what is best for him.  Her dialogue is written in broken English and her command over her boys and her husband made for a character that I truly wish had gotten some more page time.

My one concern with Eleanor & Park is the frequent and varied use of inappropriate language.  I understand the desire to use swear words in a YA novel to give it an authentic feel, but I think here there was a bit of overkill.  Nearly every second page contains a swear word and some of those chosen are quite vulgar.  I am not sure that I could, in good conscience, recommend a book with the four letter C word to any of my students.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Kissing, Light Petting
Violence: Spousal Abuse, Neglect
Inappropriate Language: Shit, Piss, Fuck, Dick, Bastard, Jesus, Slut, Bitch, Cum, Fag, Cunt
Substance Use/Abuse: Alcohol Abuse, Smoking, Underage drinking, Marijuana Use

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (29)

"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 Originals by Cat Patrick which is due to be released on May 7th.
A riveting new story from Cat Patrick, author of Forgotten and Revived.

17-year-olds Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey Best grew up as identical triplets... until they discovered a shocking family secret. They're actually closer than sisters, they're clones. Hiding from a government agency that would expose them, the Best family appears to consist of a single mother with one daughter named Elizabeth. Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey take turns going to school, attending social engagements, and a group mindset has always been a de facto part of life...

Then Lizzie meets Sean Kelly, a guy who seems to see into her very soul. As their relationship develops, Lizzie realizes that she's not a carbon copy of her sisters; she's an individual with unique dreams and desires, and digging deeper into her background, Lizzie begins to dismantle the delicate balance of an unusual family that only science could have created.

 The blurb on this one doesn't really work for me, perhaps because it appears to give away all of the exciting secrets, but, I enjoyed Revived enough to give Cat Patrick another try.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Book Review: Speechless by Hannah Harrington

Title: Speechless
Author:  Hannah Harrington
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: August 28, 2012
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions:
The cover is cute and effective but needs something to make it a little more eye catching.  I am happy to see a cover model that seems to reflect the main character, but would have seen a bit more red to her hair.

The Gist:
Chelsea has spent most of her teenage years playing sidekick to Kristen.  In her climb to the top of the social pyramid, she has discovered and revealed secrets about most of her classmates.  One night, a secret she reveals leads to consequences that she never expected and she is forced to re-examine her choices.  She realizes that he root of her problem is her gossiping ways and vows to stop speaking.  Abandoned by her friends, she must now find a way to survive the abuse and ridicule, without speaking a word. 

I read Speechless in just a couple of hours last night.  Now, I know, that doesn't seem remarkable to most readers, but you have to realize; I have a child, I have a husband, a home and a full time job.  I have a thousand things vying for my attention during every minute of the day and I still read this book in one sitting. 

This story tells of a unique perspective: the popular girl who is part of something horrible and is able to see the error of her ways and actually take an action to become a better person.  I loved that even though Chelsea had ruled with fear and ridicule as Kristen's second in command, she was able to see what a horrible person she had been and to recognize that her problem had come from being unable to keep her mouth shut.  Her progression from popular princess to actual decent human being is not an easy or quick one.  She struggles along the way, but, through her vow of silence, is eventually able to see herself and the people around her in a much more realistic light.  I love watching a character grow throughout the book and by the end of Speechless, Chelsea is a much better person, able to see not only the flaws, but also the good in herself and others. 

The other characters are sweet, if a little underdeveloped.  We have two love interests, one sweet and one superficial.  Eventually Chelsea is able to distinguish between them and to make the right choice.  We also have Asha, the kind and kooky girl who sees the potential in Chelsea and helps her find it herself.  Naturally, we also have to deal with the "villians" of the story - Chelsea's former best friend Kristen, who honestly wasn't that nice to her to begin with, and the jocks who torture Chelsea as punishment for ratting out their friends.  These characters, particularly Kristen, could have used a little more page time.  There were glimmers of potential with her, but it wasn't really explored. 

The plot is not particularly fast paced.  There is a party, some school issues, a romance, some personal growth and a school dance.  However, it is very well written and Harrington does an excellent job of writing realistic teenage dialogue, though I wish she had gone a little easy on the vulgar language.  Chelsea's journey to self-realization and her dedication to her vow are interesting enough to keep the plot moving and the friendships and romance that develops is sweet, without being overpowering.  I would recommend this for most teenagers, but would warn that it includes vulgar language and sexual situations that may not be appropriate for younger teens.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

15 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Kissing, Talk of sexual acts
Violence: Fist Fighting, Attack on a gay teen
Inappropriate Language: Piss, Shit, Bitch, Slut, Whore, Fag, Fuck, Dick
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking, Marijuana Use

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: October 18, 2007
Rating: 5/5

Cover Impressions: 
This cover is interesting in its contradictions.  The background image had a romantic feel to it with the soft colors and lace.  The foreground, however, features black tape and a stark font and red elements that stand out.  I really enjoyed how the quote from Sherman Alexie feels almost like a piece of grafitti on the wall. 

The Gist:
Clay Jensen, all around nice guy, is surprised by a mysterious package containing thirteen cassette tapes.  When he begins listening to them, he is shocked to discover that they contain a message from Hannah Baker, his crush who recently committed suicide.  Hannah has recorded thirteen tapes, for thirteen people and they must each listen and then pass the tapes on or a second copy will be made public.  In listening to the thirteen reasons that Hannah took her own life, Clay learns more than he ever dreamed about Hannah and about the other 12 people on the list. 


Thirteen Reasons Why was chosen by my students as a book club book.  I set the schedule back in January unaware that it would become so topical.  Just this past week, a local teen made worldwide headlines when she committed suicide.  Rehtaeh Parson was allegedly raped by four of her peers while at a party.  She spent the next two years being tortured by her classmates while her alleged rapists walked off scott-free.  Rehteah attempted suicide and was placed on life-support, eventually being taken off by her heart-broken parents.  Her death has shocked the world and led to a call to action for police, lawmakers, teachers, and parents.  

Thirteen Reasons Why tells a very important story: that of a girl who feels alone and without hope and that of the people left behind wondering what they could have done.  It is important to note that there were no big tragedies in Hannah's life.  Her suicide was the result of rumors, innuendo and "the snowball effect" that made her feel unloved and unwanted.  Those of us on the outside often find it difficult to recognize this and are unable to see the impact that a thousand small actions can have on a person's life.  Through this story, we are prompted (without preaching) to be better people, to consider the impact of our words and actions and to truly see the lives of those suffering around us.

Thirteen Reason's Why features a dual narrative that seemlessly blends Hannah's story with that of Clay as he spends one painful night making his way through the tapes and through Hannah's life.  This writing styles was risky, but it plays very well and each character is able to add events and elements to create a seamless story that compels the reader forward.  The reader walks with Clay, and with Hannah, willing each person mentioned in the tapes to act differently and change the outcome, pleading with them to take notice.  As a teacher this was both painful and thought-provoking. 

Books like this are the reason that I am coming to love YA Contemporary Fiction.  They jump start conversations and critical thinking.  It is my sincere hope that, in reading this book as a group, my book club will be able to open the lines of communication and help each one of them to understand the importance of treating each and every person they meet with kindness and compassion.  And if one of those students truly understands how Hannah feels, I hope this book, and our discussion, will help them find one person who can positively impact their life.  It is time for an open dialogue in schools and this is a fine place to start. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Voyeurism, Masturbation, Petting
Violence: Rape, Suicide
Inappropriate Language: Slut, Ass, Dick, Bitch, Pissed, Shit
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (28)

"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 Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa which is due to be released on April 30th.

Allison Sekemoto has vowed to rescue her creator, Kanin, who is being held hostage and tortured by the psychotic vampire Sarren. The call of blood leads her back to the beginning—New Covington and the Fringe, and a vampire prince who wants her dead yet may become her wary ally.

Even as Allie faces shocking revelations and heartbreak like she’s never known, a new strain of the Red Lung virus that decimated humanity is rising to threaten human and vampire alike.

I am a little confused about what is going on with the cover for this one.  It appears like there are two possible covers - the one on the right (which I don't like) and the one on the left (which I don't really like either - but at least it fits with the theme of the first book0  The darker one may be an Australian cover... 

Either way, I really enjoyed The Immortal Rules and liked Allie as a kick-ass main character.  I can't wait to see what else is thrown her way and what secrets will be revealed.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Book Review: Dark Triumph by R.L. LaFevers

Title: Dark Triumph
Author: R.L. LaFevers
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Release Date: April 2nd, 2013
Rating: 5/5

Cover Impressions:
I really like the covers for this series.  Grave Mercy had a beautiful scarlet color, but I think the muted colors here are much more fitting for Sybella, as is the background of a dark corridor rather than a grand castle.  Her work is better suited to the shadows.

The Gist:
The His Fair Assassin series continues with the story of Sybella.  Having escaped the fear and madness of her father's house, Sybella finds a new home at the convent of St.Mortain.  Having been trained in the deadly arts, she is just beginning to find her way back to herself when the political ambitions of her father forces the convent to send Sybella back into his arms.  The brutality and unpredictable rage of her father, coupled with the unhealthy obsession of her brother threatens to drive Sybella mad until she embarks on a mission to free an important prisoner and, in doing so, finds an unlikely ally.

Admittedly, I was underwhelmed by Grave Mercy.  I loved the premise of assassin nuns trained in the deadly arts, but was turned off by the breadth of the political intrigue and Ismae's accursed conscience.  In the wings, however, waited Sybella.  She was such a mysterious and interesting character that it made me long for the release date of Dark Triumph.  I am happy to say, Sybella does not disappoint.  She is certainly bloodthirsty, (and one point she even mutters "I am in desperate need of killing something.") and she does not often worry about the moral implications as Ismae did.  While Ismae faded a little when the love interest was introduced, Sybella railed against him, taking every opportunity to comment on how ugly he was.

The romantic angle in Dark Triumph was much more palatable for me than it was in Grave Mercy.  Beast and Sybella seem equally well matched and neither comes to love the other easily.  There was a point at which Beast seemed to have developed an unhealthy desire to rescue Sybella, but that passed and they were placed on equal footing once again.  For his part, Beast opened Sybella to a world of compassion that her upbringing had denied her and I really enjoyed how she developed in his presence. 

This book featured much less political maneuvering than its predecessor and this makes for a much faster paced plot.  Beast and Sybella's lives have been closely intertwined for many years and the revelation of her secrets adds an air of mystery to the story.  There are also a number of exciting battles and the introduction of an interesting new cast of characters.  While this book moves the overall plot along and sets up for the final in the series, it also provides a satisfying ending to Sybella's personal story.

I will definitely be waiting with baited breath for the final installment in the His Dark Assassin series for more of Sybella but, as I remember very little of Annith, I am also excited for a story that follows her and one that finally reveals the secrets of the convent.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

15 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing, Allusion to incest, one instance of consensual sex - not explicit
Violence: Torture, Rape, Swordplay, Knifeplay, a number of murders including one disturbing (for me) scene featuring the death of an infant
Inappropriate Language: Whore, Piss, Bastard
Substance Use/Abuse: Drinking

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Book Review: The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

Title: The Madman's Daughter
Author: Megan Shepherd
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Release Date: January 29, 2013
Rating: 2/5

Cover Impressions:
The cover lends well to the gothic mystery feel of this book.  I like the billowing white dress but the bare shoulder is a little distracting and doesn't fit with the time period when the bare ankle would be scandalous enough.  I'm not quite wowed by the font choice or color.  It doesn't seem to mesh with the washed out colors of the background. 

The Gist:
Juliet Moreau has grown up in the shadow of her father's gruesome experiments.  When she discovers that he is alive and continuing his work on a remote island, she sets out to discover whether the rumors are true and, in turn, whether or not the blood of madness runs through her own veins. 


I had very high hopes for The Madman's Daughter.  I have never read The Island of Dr. Moreau, but I love re/alternative tellings of classic novels and this book falls squarely into that category.  At first, I was thrilled with the main character.  Juliet was strong and independent.  She could hold her own with the young men she encountered and could best them in the most gruesome of circumstances.  Upon venturing out of London however, Juliet reverted to a simpering child who, all too often, relied on the men around her for protection.  The change reminds me Ismae in Grave Mercy and Celaena in Throne of Glass.  All of these characters started off so strong, and then seemed to give up their spunk the minute a man entered the picture.  Speaking of men, I despised the way that Juliet flitted between two men.  Even before leaving London, she entertained the idea of a relationship with a student that she had just met.  Is every young man a potential match?  Both romances were contrived and cliched (bad boy vs the gentlemen *eyeroll).  I was much more interested in Juliet's inner turmoil and her struggle with her own dark curiosity than with her desire to be kissed.  Had that aspect been more developed than the "romance" that took over the plot, I would have felt very differently at the end.

I loved the way that Megan Shepherd created a very gothic feel and dark atmosphere for this novel.  This was enhanced by a real sense of danger created through the setting and the way that Dr. Moreau teetered between mad and methodical.  I did find the references to time rather forced and awkward.  Each time that she mentioned the clothing (particularly the corset), sense of decorum or scientific advancements (like Darwin's research) I found it rather jarring and couldn't help but roll my eyes.  It was almost as if the author was concerned that we would forget the time frame and needed to be reminded one or twice a chapter.  I also found it rather difficult to picture the different beasts, particularly "The Monster".

The major problem that I had with The Madman's Daughter was the pacing.  There were long stretches of little action that dampened the sense of urgency and made me frustrated.  I lost count of how many times someone was "lost" on the island and either had to be rescued or find their own way back to the compound.  Once in a while, there were flashes of the "old" Juliet, the one we left behind in London, and these made the plot a slightly more bearable.  The ending was unexpected, but left me feeling annoyed more than anything else.

To be honest, I was quite surprised to discover that this is the beginning of a series as it had the feel of a stand alone right up until the ending.  I don't think I will be checking out the second installment without a kick-ass blurb and awesome reviews.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Violence towards animals, gunplay, knifeplay, graphic descriptions of surgery
Inappropriate Language: Piss, Bastard, Whore
Substance Use/Abuse:  Alcohol use

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (27)

"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 Program by Suzanne Young which is due to be released on April 30th.

 In Sloane’s world, true feelings are forbidden, teen suicide is an epidemic, and the only solution is The Program.

Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in The Program, the only proven course of treatment. Sloane’s parents have already lost one child; Sloane knows they’ll do anything to keep her alive. She also knows that everyone who’s been through The Program returns as a blank slate. Because their depression is gone—but so are their memories.

Under constant surveillance at home and at school, Sloane puts on a brave face and keeps her feelings buried as deep as she can. The only person Sloane can be herself with is James. He’s promised to keep them both safe and out of treatment, and Sloane knows their love is strong enough to withstand anything. But despite the promises they made to each other, it’s getting harder to hide the truth. They are both growing weaker. Depression is setting in. And The Program is coming for them.

As a teacher, teen suicide is one of those issues that sits in the back of your mind, occasionally leaping forward to slap you in the face and remind you that it is still there.  I am interested to see a dystopian world that has been built around this epidemic and how it has impacted the youth portion of the population.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My First Giveaway: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Well folks, I have officially passed the one year mark in blogging. *insert fanfare here*

I started this blog back when I was on maternity leave as a way to connect with the outside world and to remind myself that the entire population does not revolve around the timing and consistency of my son's bowel movements.

Since then, I have "met" some wonderful people, and stood witness to some crazy scandals. 
I have joined an adult book club (and watched it fall apart).  I have returned to work at a wonderful new school and started a junior high book club that continues to add beauty to my life in ways that I never thought possible.

As a small celebration of all that has been accomplished in this past year, I thought I would try my very first giveaway.  Assuming this one goes well (and that everything actually works!) I will be planning a bigger giveaway for the end of the month.

So here we have it folks:

A beautiful, hardcover copy of The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson.

This contest is international and will close on Tuesday, April 16th.  Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 8, 2013

Book Review: A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty

Title: A Corner of White
Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: April 1st, 2013
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions:
At first glance, this cover looks like just another contemporary romance but, after finishing the book, I can appreciate the little touches.  Madeline's outfit is exactly as described in the book - a whimsical plethora of colors.  I also love the sparkle and light that gives an ethereal quality to the letter and the wonderful colors reflected in the falling leaves.  The one thing that I do miss is a reflection of Elliot, but perhaps that is just because I preferred his side of the story to Madeline's.  It is also worth taking a look at the actual hardcover underneath the book jacket - it is covered with the colors of Madeline's jacket and boots and is imprinted with the image of the umbrella and falling leaves.  These touches are beautiful and unexpected. 

The Gist:
Madeline and her mother have run away from their privileged life for one of struggling to make ends meet in Cambridge.  Elliot lives in the mysterious Kingdom of Cello and is on a desperate search to find his missing father.  The two begin communicating through letters that they fit through a rare gap between the worlds and weave their two lives together in ways they never imagined possible. 


I will admit, A Corner of White was almost a did-not-finish for me.  This book got to a very slow start.  Almost the entire first half was a sluggish slog.  At about this point, I went back to the reviews on Goodreads and saw that most reviewers had commented on this and said to hang in there.  So I did, and, I am so happy for it.  In the beginning, the writing style took some getting used to and the characters were quirky if a little too well informed for their age.  This type of book will require a patient reader and not all teens will fit this bill, however, the payoff in the end is entirely worth it.

Moriarty's characters endear themselves to you slowly.  At the beginning I wasn't particularly fond of Madeline and I didn't entirely see the point of Jack and Bella.  By the end, I enjoyed their strange obsession with aura's and horoscopes and could see the important role that they played in Madeline's growth and development.  Incidentally, I really hope that their peculiar interests are incorporated into Cello's world in further books.  Even Madeline had outgrown her whining and become a character that I could continue to follow through this series.  I enjoyed Elliot from the very beginning.  He was strong and independent while holding an important place within his community.  I was very glad that the relationship between him and Madeline never crossed into the romantic and I hope that is something that does not change further into the story. 

Jaclyn Moriarty is certainly an author who shows rather than tells.  While this is an admirable trait among writers it also means that it takes quite a while to get a clear understanding of the way that the world of Cello works, particularly the threat of Colors.  She occasionally pushes our understanding forward through the inclusion of newspaper articles, books or police reports.  I will admit, I still don't quite understand the mechanics behind catching and using spells, but I assume this will be revealed in the next installement.  One thing that I did love to see was the incorporation of scientific knowledge and history into the storyline.  It would be interesting to see the reactions of my grade 8 students were they to read this book while studying our Optics unit which covers light and colors.  A Corner of White also featured an unexpected twist or two that were refreshing and kept me engaged for the second half of the book.

As I noted previously, this novel gets off to a slow start but ends with a resolution that is satisfying while also successfully setting up for the next book in the series.  Unfortunately, I cannot discuss too much of what makes it such a good ending without spoiling the entire plot, I only wish to tell you that if you are reading this review while in the middle of the book, as I did, keep going.  If have not started yet, remember to let the story develop around you - it is worth it. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

13 and up (readers must be patient enough to get through the slow beginning)
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing
Violence:  "Color" attacks that maim/kill
Inappropriate Language: Ass
Substance Use/Abuse:  Underage Drinking, Smoking, Discussion of Alcoholism

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Stacking The Shelves (16)

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!



 Bookstore is one of those rare E-Arcs where the synopsis just sounds so good that I ignore the fact that it is an adult book and go ahead and request anyway.  I am hoping it goes better than the last couple of adult books I took a chance on.

The final three books this week were all purchased.  The Darkest Minds is a book that I read and LOVED as an ARC, then bought a copy for my classroom and now (as my classroom copy is seeing some of the wear and tear that comes with being my #1 most checked out book) I am purchasing a second copy for my personal library. 

Jekel Loves Hyde was a Chapters Bargain Book that I picked up for $5.  I read one of Fantasky's other books and it wasn't bad.  I think this one will appeal to the girly girls in my classes. 

My most anticipated purchase is Dark Triumph.  I enjoyed Grave Mercy but lost my connection with the main character as the book went on.  Dark Triumph, however, follows Sybella, a very mysterious character from the first book and I am really excited to learn more about her.  I think this will have to get bumped to the top of the TBR pile as I already have a student anxiously awaiting her chance to read it as soon as I am finished. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

ARC Book Review: MILA 2.0 by Debra Driza

Title: MILA 2.0
Author: Debra Driza
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books
Release Date: March 12, 2013
Rating: 2/5

Cover Impressions:
Very pretty, very interesting.  This one definitely grabbed the interest of the blogger community as soon as it was released.

The Gist:
Mila's life is changed forever when the accident that should have killed her instead provides a glimpse into the wires that make up her insides.  With her secrets laid bare, Mila and her mother go on the run from a government agency that will stop at nothing to get their test subject back.

I feel rather alone in my assessment of this book.  It seems that most people are pleased with it and I am certainly not.  The main problem that I encountered was Mila herself.  She was bland, uninteresting and incessently whiny.  She feel in insta-love with a virtual stranger and then spends the rest of the novel mooning over their almost kiss.  Really?  Your life and that of your mother is in constant danger and all you can think about is some boy you knew for three days?!  None of the characters seemed to have any interesting qualities - I kept waiting to discover that they were all emotionless androids.  I made no emotional connection with any of the characters and, as such, found it difficult to muster any level of concern for their well being. 

The plot was ridiculously slow for the first half of the novel.  It was all teen angst and mommy issues.  It did pick up by the second half, but by this point I had stopped caring and was just waiting for the end.  There were several missed opportunities (hello, plot twist where Hunter is also an android and on the bad guys side) and the events were fairly predictable.  There are also a number of questions left unanswered with regard to Mila and her "Mom", the strange memories that are surfacing and the mysterious Dad. 

This book was not the action packed android novel that I was anticipating.  I do not think I will be sticking around for the next installment.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

12 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Hand to hand combat, Gunplay, Use of Taser
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Monday, April 1, 2013

First Lines: March 2013

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 March.

MILA 2.0 by Debra Driza
"Beyond the eastern border of Greenwood Ranch, orange poured across the sky, edging the clouds lie flames."

 Graceling by Kristin Cashore
"In these dungeons the darkness was complete."

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
"Mama says no matter how poor folks are, whether you're a have, a have-not, or break your mama's back on the cracks in between, the world gives away the best stuff on the cheap."

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd
"The basement hallways in King's College of Medical Research were dark, even in the daytime."

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (Audiobook)
"My name, in those days, was Susan Trinda."

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
"XTC was no good for drowning out the morons at the back of the bus."

"My life has a soundtrack - it plays in my head all the time."

 A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty
"Madeline Tully turned fourteen yesterday, but today she did not turn anything."

I think my favorite this month was from If You Find Me.  This first line did such an excellent job of illuminating the narrator's voice (which was my favorite feature of the book).  My least favorite was from Fingersmith, although, thus far, this is not proving to be indicative of the book as a whole as I am loving every moment spent listening to it. 

Book Review: That Time I Joined The Circus by J. J. Howard

Title: That Time I Joined The Circus
Author: J.J. Howard
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: April 1, 2013
Rating: 4.5/5

Cover Impressions:
This cover is so pretty.  I love the backdrop of stars and the slightly blurred image of the circus.  The colors are muted and add to the ethereal quality of the image.  I'm not usually a fan of the almost pencil thin font, but in this case I think anything bigger would have covered too much of the night sky. 

The Gist:
Lexi Ryan has lost everything, her best friend, her father, her home and her future.  She spends her last few dollars tracking down the last known whereabouts of the mother who abandoned her - a traveling circus.  Once there, Lexi works hard to make a life for herself with jobs that range from cleaning cages to telling fortunes.  Just when she is starting to settle in, a piece of her past shows up out of the blue and Lexi must finally face the demons that thought she had left behind. 


I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed That Time I Joined The Circus.  It is a wonderful coming of age story that was surprisingly poignant.  Lexi is dealt a seriously devastating blow.  She loses her father, her best friend and her home all in the same night.  Facing a remarkably different future than the one that she expected, one would expect her to wallow in self pity, but Lexi Ryan is not that type of girl.  She is strong, independent and determined.  She sets off on a journey to find her mother, unsure of the outcome or destination.  When she finds that her mother is not at the circus as she expected, Lexi pulls up her boots and finds a way to be useful.  She does have a tendency to be self-deprecating, but it never bothered me in the way that it does with most characters.  Perhaps because she is never whiny about it and is willing to work hard to support herself rather than to rely on others.  There are also some great secondary characters who, and I hope the author is thinking along the same lines that I am, could support their own stories in upcoming books. 

This is not a particularly fast-paced story and there is very rarely a sense of urgency, but, for some reason it kept me enthralled from the very first page.  I think the setting played a strong role in that.  The backdrop was beautiful and whimsical.  I have read a few books set in circus' before, but none made it feel like a home for the characters in the way that this one did.  The constant musical references added charm and character.  By the end, I was searching each song on youtube and listening to it for the entire chapter.  In fact, if you check out the author's website, you will find a chapter by chapter playlist as well as one that includes all the music played outside Lexi's fortune teller trailer - have I mentioned how I LOVE when authors include these little extras?

Full disclosure: YES, ladies and gentlemen, this story did have multiple love interests.  BUT, they did not form your typical love triangle and the resolution felt right and very mature.  The one thing I do wish is that there had been more development of Lexi's relationship with her father.  If I had gotten to see a little more of their home life I think that the rest of the events in the story would have had a little more of an emotional impact.

I have to give cudos to J.J. Howard for writing a book that involves late teenagers, relationships and some (possibly) sexual behavior, but without including anything that would make me pull it from my classroom shelves.  From one teacher to another, thank you.

Given the beauty of this debut novel, I will be sticking around for anything and everything Ms. Howard writes in the future.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

13 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Kissing, Allusion to more
Violence: Fist Fighting
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None