April 17, 2015

Review: Denton Little's Deathdate

Denton Little's Deathdate First in a series (?)
By Lance Rubin
Available now from Knopf BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE  is one of those stories that switches genre partway through.  It starts out as a black comedy about a teenage boy who knows he's going to die tomorrow and struggling with how he wants to go out and what he wants to do in the limited time before he dies.  Then, it shifts into a paranoid conspiracy thriller.  (Admittedly, this shift is seeded early in DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE.)

I found the world debut author Lance Rubin created fascinating.  He only makes one big change to the world as it is, but he clearly thought through the consequences of that change. Due to future genetic developments, a simple test can find out on what day you're going to die.  There are a small percentage of people who are undateable, including Denton's best friend Millie.  The US is one of the few countries to make deathdate testing mandatory.  There's a pretty elaborate set-up for the whole thing: a funeral the day before, then a Sitting the day of.  (This helps ensure that people who are about to die aren't on a plane, for instance, since that indicates that the plane might crash.) 

These are also all recent changes: Denton's grandfather remembers what life was like before everyone knew their deathday.  (This also helps explain why none of the other technology in the book seems that different.)  I particularly liked the detail, sad as it was, that Denton's best friend Paolo is set to die one month later.  That is the kind of thing kids would bond over.

Denton's voice is extremely appealing.  He's a funny guy, and one who tries to look on the bright side even though he's been dealt a bad hand.  He could be unlikeable, since DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE starts with him cheating on his girlfriend.  But he still worked for me as a sympathetic narrator, because he acknowledges that a) he thought they were broken up and b) he was blackout drunk, but c) that doesn't absolve him of guilt and if he did it while drunk, it was potential lurking in him all along.  Of course, that doesn't mean he immediately wants to fess up and hurt his girlfriend.  Except he may have just given two girls a (fatal) STI.

I'm not entirely sure the shift in genre and tone worked for me.  It comes so late in the book (about the last 1/5) that there isn't really time for the explanation of what's really happening to breathe.  Even though there are solid hints about what's going on beforehand, the change in pace is massive.  It also causes some of the humor of Denton's voice to get overwhelmed by the action.  It also builds to an ending that I'm not sure stands on its own.

DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE is a funny, clever book.  I enjoyed the first part of the book more than the ending, but I still found the whole delightfully weird and fun.  I hope for future adventures with Denton, and I'm sure Rubin has plenty of great books ahead of him.

April 16, 2015

Excerpt: Jesse's Girl

Jesse's Girl If you're like me, you've been reading and loving Miranda Kenneally's Hundred Oaks series.  In fact, I'm going to be hosting her on her next blog tour on June 24th.  There's going to be an interview, so be sure to visit that Wednesday!

The newest book in the series, JESSE'S GIRL, comes out on July 7th.  If you buy it before then, there's a cool pre-order campaign sponsored by the publisher (Sourcebooks Fire):

Everyone who emails teenfire@sourcebooks.com will automatically receive an email of the EXCLUSIVE Jesse’s Girl Playlist, and will be invited to attend a LIVE online author event on July 6, the day before JESSE'S GIRL goes on-sale!

In addition, if you pre-order the book and send your proof of purchase (and mailing address) to teenfire@sourcebooks.com, you’ll not only get the exclusive playlist and event invite, but you’ll also receive a signed/personalized bookplate, a super-cute custom guitar pick, and entered to win a $300 gift card to TicketMaster so you can go to a concert or musical or some other fun event. 

And here's an excerpt to whet your appetites:
As much as I love music, I am generally not a fan of country. I don’t like banjos. I don’t like sappy lyrics about trucks and hauling hay. Dolly Parton is my mortal enemy—my mom plays “Jolene” over and over and over and over, and it makes me want to chop my ears off like van Gogh. Yeah, yeah, I’m from Tennessee, where it’s a crime if you don’t love country, but I like deep, rumbling beats and singing loud and fast and hard. I do not like closing my eyes and crooning to a cow in the pasture. Yet here I am at a Jesse Scott concert, getting ready to meet him and to see if he’ll let me shadow him next Friday.

My school requires every senior to “shadow” a professional for a day. It’s their way of helping us figure out what kind of career we want. Like, if you want to be president when you grow up, you might get to shadow the mayor. Want to be a chef? Have fun kneading dough at the Donut Palace. When I said “I want to be a musician,” I figured they’d send me to work in the electronics section at Walmart.

I certainly never expected to shadow the king of country music.

April 15, 2015

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Brown-Eyed Girl

"Waiting On" Wednesday is hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine.

I love Lisa Kleypas's writing.  Her characters are believable and her romances often leave me breathless.  Her contemporary romances about the Travis family are some of my favorites, especially the epic BLUE-EYED DEVIL.  (And no, it's not just because they're all set partially in Houston.)

Brown-Eyed Girl On August 11 this year, the final book in the Travis series is coming out: BROWN-EYED GIRL.

The blurb (from publisher):

"Now it's my turn to talk." The sound of Joe's voice in my ear was pure sin. "I'm the man who's right for you. I may not be what you're looking for, but I'm what you want."

Ambitious Avery Crosslin has no time for a personal life--she's in charge of planning the biggest wedding Houston society has ever seen, and she doesn't need distractions. After one scorching summer night in the arms of sexy photographer Joe Travis, Avery is stunned by a passion that burns out of control, and she's determined to keep it from happening again.

But Joe is a man who goes after what he wants, and he's determined to have all of Avery. . .including the secrets from a past she would do anything to forget.

Okay, it sounds pretty cliche, but I trust Kleypas to bring it to life.  I can't wait!

Read my reviews:

April 14, 2015

Review: The Second Guard

The Second Guard First in a series
By J.D. Vaughn
Available now from Disney-Hyperion
Review copy

In Tequende, all second-born children join the guard when they turn fifteen.  Some will end up serving out their term as servants if they aren't suited, but Talimendra has always dreamed of becoming a guard, unlike her twin sister.  The training school, however, isn't quite what she expects.  She especially finds herself putting her foot in it when it comes to relating to kids from the other guilds.  (Tali is of the Sun Guild, the merchant guild.)  She still manages to make friends with Zarif (Moon Guild) and Chey (Earth Guild).

J.D. Vaughn is actually two authors: Julia Durango and Tracie Zimmer.  They've created a strong start to a series in THE SECOND GUARD.  Each guild has its own culture, and the clashes between them end up showing Tali how alike all the people are more than how different.  She struggles both to overcome her prejudices and to figure out why the people are kept so segregated.  At the beginning of the novel, Tali is very trusting that her world is just as it appears to be.  But as her world grows bigger, so do her suspicsions.  Tali, Zarif, Chey, and a fourth, servant friend soon realize that an official in the academy is disloyal to the crown, and start spying to figure out who.

THE SECOND GUARD is on the younger side of YA; aside from the length, there's not much separating it from a middle grade novel.  I expect many readers of all ages will be excited by a fantasy that's light on the romance.  (Although Tali does muse about how beauteous one of her instructors is.)  Other readers will be excited that the worldbuilding is influenced by South American history instead of European.

The focus on the mutiny provides THE SECOND GUARD with a strong plot while seeding the ground for future entries in the series.  Tali might stay loyal, but she's beginning to see that much of how the country is ruled needs to change.  The queen's heir might bring that change, but is it enough to rely on her?  Where should change start?  Vaughn makes it clear that they've only started to explore the world of Tequende and the hostile countries that surround it.

If you're looking for an adventure full of culture clashes, surreptitious communication and travel, and a battle for the control of a country, then pick up THE SECOND GUARD.  Even though it is the start to a series, it stands fine on its own.

April 13, 2015

Event Report: The Greater Houston Teen Book Convention

This past Saturday, April 11, the annual Greater Houston Teen Book Con was held at Alief Taylor High School, sponsored by the Alief Education Foundation, Blue Willow Bookshop, Follet Library Resources, Mackin Educational Resources, Escue & Associates, and more.

Ask the Dark One thing I thought this book convention did especially well was their selection of authors.  There was a nice mix of big names, steadily working authors, and newbies.  Debut author Henry Turner's ASK THE DARK even came out the week of the event.  There was also a diverse mix of authors, which is particularly important in Houston, currently the most diverse city in the US.  Our students need to see that someone like them can have a career as an author.  As Ally Carter said in "The Secrets That Bind Us" panel, just knowing S.E. Hinton was a teen girl from Oklahoma opened her mind to the possibility of writing professionally, and every kid deserves that.  The diverse authors included Jason Rynolds, Aisha Saeed (Vice President of We Need Diverse Books), Lydia Kang, David Levithan, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, and Jen Wang.

I noticed a few areas for improvement.  One of the panels I attended was crowded and another was extremely crowded.  I like the idea of teens getting to see as many authors as possible, but I think more smaller panels would help spread people out.  Most of the panels included five authors.  Another was that they stopped selling refreshments before the closing speech, at which point the event was supposed to go on for another two hours.  I know I wanted to buy a bottle of water and just used the vending machines instead.  I think many people could've still used a drink and a small snack at that point.  I do give the event props for having multiple food trucks during the lunch hours.  That was delicious.

The Murder Complex I was a little late getting to the event because I had trouble finding Alief Taylor High School.  (David Levithan assured me that his escort got lost on the way too.)  The first panel I attended was "The Secrets That Bind Us" with Ally Carter, Henry Turner (who has the voice of a late-night DJ), Lindsay Cummings, and Justine Larbalestier.  They briefly introduced their books and then launched into a Q&A.  I was particularly interested in Cummings' story - she was bedridden for three years and did little other than read and write.  She wrote THE MURDER COMPLEX when she was eighteen because MOCKINGJAY made her so angry.  (I read it for this year's Cybils; it's a good book.)  They had a variety of opinions on plot twists.  Turner works his out in revision; Carter likes them best if they surprise even her; and Cummings plans them first because they're her favorite part.  None of them liked rereading their work.  When Carter needs to remember a continuity detail, she likes to ask Twitter and ask her fans to tell her if she's mentioned something before.


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