March 30, 2012

Review: Radiate

Book Cover By Marley Gibson
Available April 3 from Graphia (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Review copy

I feel sorry for Marley Gibson. She's written a wonderful, uplifting teen novel based on her personal battle with cancer - and it comes out shortly after John Green's The Fault in Our StarsTHE FAULT IN OUR STARS. The two novels have little in common aside from being young adult novels involving cancer, but it's enough to create a comparison between the two.

Radiate is the story of Hayley Matthews, beginning the summer before her senior year of high school. She's just become a varsity cheerleader, giving up band in the process of doing so. I found Hayley to be extremely grating in the first chapter, since she kept putting band down in order to show how great cheerleading is. As a former band geek, I found it insulting. But Hayley truly does care about cheerleading, to the point you wonder why she just started.

Fortunately, her increased physical activity leads her to find a lump on her leg. Unfortunately, it's cancer - and the doctor wants to amputate. Hayley's mother refuses to consider taking such drastic action without a second opinion and soon Hayley is at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital to fight the cancer. There are interesting passages during this part of the novel, but it drags until Hayley returns to school as the-girl-who-had-cancer.

The romantic shenanigans are fairly predictable. Girl falls for popular, shallow guy; great, supportive guy is under her nose all along. Luckily RADIATE doesn't dwell to much on the romance. Hayley's belief in herself are more important, as are her friendships.

There are some sad parts, but I was happy this wasn't a weepy cancer book a la Lurlene McDaniel. There are a few times when Hayley is more of an inspirational role model than a character in her own right, but it's forgivable since most of the novel gets under her skin.

March 29, 2012

Interview with M. J. Rose

Book CoverNow for a short Q&A with M. J. Rose, the author of THE BOOK OF LOST FRAGRANCES! Don't forget to read the excerpt and enter the contest posted earlier.

1. What are you currently reading?

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

2. Are any of the characters in the book inspired by people you know in real life?

The perfumer in the book, Robbie L’Etoile was inspired by a perfumer I met in Paris, Olivier Durbano.

3. As a pioneer of the e-book industry, what do you think about the explosion in popularity of Kindles, Nooks, etc.?

It's exciting that readers have so many choices of ways to read - it doesn't matter to many writers how readers read us, as long as they read us.

4. Where do you normally write?

Wherever my laptop is.

5. What would be your favorite meal?

Lobster and champagne.

The Book of Lost Fragrances: Excerpt and Contest

Book CoverTHE BOOK OF LOST FRAGRANCES is the newest release from bestselling author M. J. Rose. Paranormal suspense isn't the most common genre, so I can see why her fans are excited by each new release. Later today I will post a short Q&A as well as a review.

Now, this is just a short excerpt. You can find more tomorrow at Kelly's Lucky You.

Now, here, he was afraid for himself and for his commander and for the men in this room. Had they all been poisoned by some ancient noxious scent?

He had to help. Grabbing a small gold box from a pile of treasures against the far wall, he opened it, dumped its contents—gold and colored glass—onto the floor, and then hastily thrust the still-intact clay pot inside. Scooping up the shards of the pot that the general had dropped, L’Etoile added them and slammed the lid shut.

The scent was still conspicuous, but now that the perfume containers were enclosed, the air slowly began to clear. L’Etoile watched as first one man and then another stood and looked around, each trying to get his bearings.

THE BOOK OF LOST FRAGRANCES revolves around (no surprise) a lost book of fragrances. In this case, it is a text catalouging perfumes from Cleopatra's time, supposedly found by an L'Etoile ancestor. Jac, the co-heir to the House of L’Etoile, becomes obsessed with her family's legend while trying to find her missing brother. To promote the novel samples of the perfume Âmes Soeurs were created. You could win one by filling out the form below. Contest ends 4/4.

March 28, 2012

"Waiting On" Wednesday: A Couple of Fairytale Titles

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

I love fairytales, so I'd like to highlight a few fairytale-inspired novels being released soon.

Book CoverENCHANTED by Alethea Kontis will be released May 8 by Harcourt Children's Books. Summary from Amazon:

It isn’t easy being the rather overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the other six days of the week. Sunday’s only comfort is writing stories, although what she writes has a terrible tendency to come true.

When Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, the two become friends. Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland—and a man Sunday’s family despises.

The prince returns to his castle, intent on making Sunday fall in love with him as the man he is, not the frog he was. But Sunday is not so easy to woo. How can she feel such a strange, strong attraction for this prince she barely knows? And what twisted secrets lie hidden in his past—and hers?

Book Cover THE TREACHERY OF BEAUTIFUL THINGS by Ruth Long releases August 16 from Dial. Summary from Amazon:

A darkly compelling mix of romance, fairy tale, and suspense from a new voice in teen fiction

The trees swallowed her brother whole, and Jenny was there to see it. Now seventeen, she revisits the woods where Tom was taken, resolving to say good-bye at last. Instead, she's lured into the trees, where she finds strange and dangerous creatures who seem to consider her the threat. Among them is Jack, mercurial and magnetic, with secrets of his own. Determined to find her brother, with or without Jack's help, Jenny struggles to navigate a faerie world where stunning beauty masks some of the most treacherous evils, and she's faced with a choice between salvation or sacrifice--and not just her own.

Any books I should add to my list?

March 22, 2012

What's Up

Basically, I've had to send my almost-new laptop in for repairs. Therefore, my posting will mostly be restricted to stuff that's already been written. (See: Monday and Tuesday's posts.) Why? Because typing a long blog entry on an iPad is torturous.

I will try to review The Hunger Games after I see it on Saturday.

March 20, 2012

Review: Loss

Book CoverRiders of the Apocalypse (Book 3)
By Jackie Morse Kessler
Available now from Graphia (Houghton Mifflin)
Review copy
Read my reviews of HUNGER and RAGE
Read my two interviews with Jackie

I've been reading the Riders of the Apocalypse series since the beginning and I think that each one is better than the last. LOSS tells the story of Billy Ballard, bullied at school and caring for his grandfather with Alzheimer's at home. You may be wondering how bullying connects to Pestilence, since the other issues explored in the series have tied tightly to the Horseman. In this case, there isn't much of a connection because Billy doesn't go through the standard succession process. The current White Rider tricks him into the position.

Billy's grandfather does bring disease into the story. Jackie Morse Kessler explains in the afterword that she intended for the Alzheimer's to be a larger part of the story, but it just didn't work. I can only be thankful; lately I keep running into dementia story lines and I would prefer to avoid them at the moment. Billy's relationship with his grandfather is realistic and touching.

I loved how Kessler wove myths and legends into Pestilence's past. At first the inclusion of King Midas and Robin Hood seemed odd, but those passages really worked. In HUNGER and RAGE, the minor characters were often too slight. But LOSS is as much the incumbent White Rider's story as Billy's. The two are simultaneously the same being and very different people.

Death continues to be a delight and I cannot wait for BREATH, the conclusion to the Riders of the Apocalypse. LOSS can be read as a standalone, but I do recommend picking up the whole series.

March 19, 2012

Movie Monday: What About 2012?

You may have noticed I have covered any 2012 films yet. That's because I haven't seen any. That doesn't mean there aren't any that I want to see. Here's a brief rundown of films I plan to watch when they come out on video, (vaguely) listed in order of release date.

Haywire - Steven Soderbergh's latest is an action film anchored by former MMA fighter Gina Carano. The cast includes Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, and Channing Tatum - all actors that I like. (Okay, Tatum is kind of bland, but he seems like a decent guy.) I wanted to see this one in theatres but wasn't able to. I have high hopes for when I do see this one. I like a nice-looking fight.

Coriolanus - This Shakespeare adaptation, directed by Ralph Fiennes, received better reviews than I expected. I'm always up for a good Shakespeare film. I plan to watch this one with some friends and a cider.

Chronicle - I loathe found footage films. But this one has superpowers!

Thin Ice - This comic noir, starring Alan Arkin, Greg Kinnear, and Billy Crudup, has won comparisons to Fargo. That's basically enough for me. Who doesn't want to see normal people go nuts over a violin?

The Secret World of Arrietty - Studio Ghibli. Enough said. Snobbish as it is, I partly want to wait to see this adaptation of Mary Norton's THE BORROWERS because I prefer subtitles to dubbing.

This Means War - I admit that this movie looks terrible. It's a romantic comedy; the genre is plagued with dire films. But the leads are so charming. Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy, and Chris Pine is one movie? Plus, the guys are spies, and I love fictional spies. I'm sure I'll laugh at least once.

The Forgiveness of Blood - Based on the reviews I've read, The Forgiveness of Blood is a bit bloodless. But I loved Joshua Marston's first film, María llena eres de gracia (Maria Full of Grace). I'm willing to give his sophomore effort a chance.

Being Flynn - Apparently, Robert de Niro actually acts in Being Flynn.

Let the Bullets Fly - Chow Yun-Fat is a 1920's Chinese gangster pitted against a bandit pretending to be the governor. Crime comedy! Chinese crime comedy! Say what you want about China (it's probably true), but the country produces great crime comedies.

John Carter - Another one where the previews look pretty dire, but I want to see it anyway. The screenplay is by Michael Chabon and PRINCESS OF MARS by Edgar Rice Burroughs ain't half bad. At the very least, John Carter should be fun.

March 14, 2012

The Best Books You Aren't Reading - Lenore and Kelly J.

Any one who has read one of my posts about the Best Authors You Aren't Reading knows that I love to champion the obscure. Thus, Lenore and Kelly's latest venture has me excited. They're spearheading "The Best Books You Aren't Reading, a sort of informal book club that meets on Twitter.

The club will discuss MY BEATING TEENAGE HEART by C. Kelly Martin on March 29th, 6 pm EST. Hashtag: #MBTH.

Click on the above link for more information.

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Ghost Flower

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

Book Cover Michele Jaffe, one of my favorite authors, has a new YA thriller coming out on April 12th. If you've read ROSEBUSH or BAD KITTY, then you know Jaffe is a must read.

The synopsis on Amazon:
Eve, a runaway, finds a new job at a coffee shop on the outskirts of Tuscon. When she's approached by two wealthy teens who claim she bears an uncanny resemblance to their missing cousin Aurora, her life takes a turn for the dark and mysterious. Drawn into a scheme to win Aurora's inheritance, Eve finds herself impersonating the girl, who disappeared three years ago on the night her best friend Elizabeth died. But when Liza's ghost begins to haunt Eve, doing harm to the people close to her under the guise of "protecting" her, Eve finds herself in a nightmare maze of lies and deception that leads her to question even her own identity. She realizes her only chance is to uncover the truth about what happened the night Liza died, and to find Liza's killer - before she's next.

This teen thriller by Michele Jaffe will keep readers turning pages well into the night.

March 12, 2012

Movie Monday: 2011 Superhero Films, Part II

You can read Part I, which covers non-Marvel films.

Book Cover Marvel's first and most successful release last year was Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring newcomer Chris Hemsworth. There's was a lot to like about this movie. I thought the relationships were a strong point. Tom Hiddleston had a tough role as Loki, but he managed to make the villain sympathetic and there was a nice mix of love and jealousy between him and Thor. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Darcy (Kat Dennings) added a lot of humor and it was nice to see a female friendship showcased in a superhero film. But I must say that I thought Thor was the weakest of the three movies. It was certainly fun, but there was noting that made me love it.

Book Cover X-Men: First Class is the fifth X-Men movie and serves as a mingled prequel/reboot. There are those who insist it's not a true prequel due to continuity snarls, but let's face it: superhero stories and continuity snarls go together like ice cream and cake. You either accept that the two things are meant to be or you have very odd taste. The movie has a very different line-up for the team than the comic it is based on, but I thought they picked a nice mix of personalities and powers and hired a great cast. The movie objectively had issues, however. Some of the character arcs happened too quickly. By the end, the "good" team was only the white guys.

But all objective problems were obscured by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender's terrific performances as Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. I grew up watching the (nineties) X-Men cartoon on Saturday mornings. I still have fond memories of Professor X and Magneto taking on dinosaurs together. McAvoy and Fassbender captured their intense friendship and underlying ideological differences perfectly.

Book Cover Finally, we come to Captain America: The First Avenger. I did not know what to expect from this one at all. I vaguely knew Captain America's origins, but he's never been a superhero that caught my interest. I fell in love with the character over the course of the film. Steve Rogers is simply a good person who goes out and does the right thing, even if it means great risk to himself. It's hard not to rally around a character like that.

Now, who's excited for The Avengers? Spider-man?

March 9, 2012

The Probability of Miracles: Vote on the Paperback!

Wendy Wunder's THE PROBABILITY OF MIRACLES - which made Amazon's Best Books of the Month list in December - will have a new cover in paperback. You can vote for your favorite of the two choices.

Option 1
Option 2

I much prefer Option 1. It's more dynamic and colorful, thus catching my eye. Option 2 is too subdued.

Below is the hardcover. Which image do you like best?

Book Cover

(via penguinteen on Tumblr)

March 8, 2012

Review: The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers

Book CoverBy Lynn Weingarten
Available now from HarperTeen
Review copy
Read my interview with Lynn Weingarten

Lynn Weingarten made a splash with her terrific debut WHEREVER NINA LIES. Weingarten explores some of the same themes in THE SECRET SISTERHOOD OF HEARTBREAKERS, but she does so in a different genre and with plenty of twists.

Lucy Wrenn just got dumped. She spent all summer pining after Alex and first day of school . . . dumped. But popular classmates Olivia, Gil, and Liza come to her with an offer. If she can make a guy fall in love with her in a week and then break his heart, then she can have magic. She can be a Heartbreaker like them.

At first, I was very suspicious of Olivia, Gil, and Liza. Their more sinister moments had me yelling at Lucy, "Haven't you seen The Craft?" And it took me awhile to connect to Lucy, who beings THE SECRET SISTERHOOD OF HEARTBREAKERS as a very clingy, needy young woman. I feared where the book was going.

But YA is a genre of bildungsroman. At the core of THE SECRET SISTERHOOD OF HEARTBREAKERS is Lucy's growth as a person. She needs to recognize her positive qualities, her talents, and appreciate herself. She must love herself to have any power.

By the time I finished THE SECRET SISTERHOOD OF HEARTBREAKERS, I felt bad for ever doubting Weingarten. It does not end how I expected, at all, but it's a perfect ending. THE SECRET SISTERHOOD OF HEARTBREAKERS is magical story and even, at times, heartbreaking.

March 6, 2012

Review: The File on Angelyn Stark

Book CoverBy Catherine Atkins (no author website)
Available now from Knopf Books for Young Readers
Review copy

Catherine Atkins writes heart-staggeringly good books. WHEN JEFF COMES HOME and ALT ED earned their place on my favorites shelf. Thus, I held THE FILE ON ANGELYN STARK to an extremely high standard. I don't think THE FILE ON ANGELYN STARK lives up to Atkin's two previous novels, but it's still an excellent (if tough) read.

Fifteen-year-old Angelyn Stark begins her day smoking in the bathroom with her best friends Jacey and Charity. No one messes with them. She's got a boyfriend, Steve Coslow, who keeps pressuring her for more. He always wants to have sex. She's got a mother who is never on her side. She's just met the new girl in school, who knows someone from her past she'd rather forget. She's also just been told by her World Cultures teacher, Mr. Rossi, that she's smart. That she could do better.

The first person narration doesn't occlude the things Angelyn doesn't think about. Even when she doesn't understand herself, the reader has a sense of her emotions. She's a complex, absorbing character. It's interesting to see how her interactions with others change throughout the novel as she grows more confident in her ability to judge character.

Atkins wisely doesn't make Angelyn a victim. She's affected by the sexual abuse she sufferer at the hands of her stepfather, as well as the emotional abuse by her mother, but it's not her defining quality. Nor is it her only problem. I really rooted for her, because she did have so much potential she'd been taught to ignore.

Parents may want to read THE FILE ON ANGELYN STARK with younger teens and have a frank discussion about sexual abuse, bullying, and street harassment. Fans of Laura Wiess's SUCH A PRETTY GIRL will also enjoy THE FILE ON ANGELYN STARK.

March 5, 2012

Movie Monday: 2011 Superhero Films, Part I

2011 was a big year for superheroes, so I'm splitting this into two parts. Today I'll cover The Green Hornet, Green Lantern, and Super. Next week I'll cover the Marvel films Thor, X-Men: First Class, and Captain America: The First Avenger.

Book CoverI loved The Green Hornet. I can't believe it only has 2-1/2 stars on Amazon. (I also can't believe it was directed by Michael Gondry of the almost-perfect Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the interminably awful The Science of Sleep.) Seth Rogen and Jay Chou have wonderful chemistry as Britt Reid and Kato, the two men who fight crime by pretending to be criminals. I liked that they were equals as the Green Hornet, but had difficulty working as equals to their previous relationship. I also enjoyed Cameron Diaz as Lenore Case, the love interest who ends up with neither guy because she's too smart to put up with their antics. Christoph Waltz, as villain Chudnofsky, slowly loses his mind throughout the film, providing the best comedic moments. The Green Hornet may not stand at the head of its genre, but it's a perfectly serviceable superhero movie.

Book CoverI may not be qualified to speak about Green Lantern since I feel asleep for half an hour in the middle of the movie. But that says quite a bit in itself, because I have a high tolerance for terrible movies. I'll give Green Lantern credit for having one of the best lines ever uttered in a superhero film:
What do you mean? I've known you my whole life! I've seen you naked! You don't think I would recognize you because I can't see your cheekbones?
Of course, it is said by Blake Lively as Carol Ferris, ace fighter pilot and successful business woman. Blake tries her hardest, but she's not very convincing as the tough-as-nails Carol. She comes off as a bit of a marshmallow. As for the central character . . . Hal Jordan has never been my favorite Lantern. And the movie takes way too long to make Hal seem like a good candidate for the ring. As for the daddy issues everyone in the film is suffering from: Iron Man did it better.

Book CoverI love superhero movies. I love black comedies. I love parodies. I love deconstruction. I love Ellen Page. Super should've been right up my alley. For a while, it was. It was over-the-top and made me squirm, but the ugliness of Frank's (Rainn Wilson) actions as the Crimson Bolt made a fair point about the likely mental state of people who decide to don a costume and fight crime with a wrench. But the violence kept going beyond my comfort zone and I found Page's psycho Libby funny at first, then extremely off-putting. Can we all agree that rape isn't funny, even when it's female-on-male? And, for the people arguing all over the internet that it wasn't rape, it was. Frank said no. That's all it takes. The actively resisting and throwing up afterward were the icing on the terrible, no good, very bad cake. So despite what I thought at the beginning, Super was very much not my thing.

(ETA: Super is considered a 2010 movie because it premiered at TIFF that September. It didn't release in the US until April 1, 2011.)

March 4, 2012

In My Mailbox (On My Porch, More Accurately)

Book CoverEarly in the week I noticed that A ROYAL MESS by Tyne O'Connell was on sale for the Kindle. It looked cute, but was clearly the second in a series. I looked up the first one, A ROYAL MATCH, and found that the paperback was both on sale and eligible for a 4-for-3 promotion. So I searched other eligible bargain books and decided to buy KLEPTO by Jenny Pollack and ALMOST FABULOUS and TOTALLY FABULOUS by Michelle Radford. Considering A ROYAL MESS and A ROYAL MATCH were originally published as four books, I bought seven books for less than ten dollars.

Then I got a package from Penguin! It included GILT by debut author Katherine Longshore. Historical fiction isn't really my thing, but GILT looks super swoony and I have a weak spot for King Henry VIII. (I blame CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY and Hampton Court.) There was also SOULBOUND, the first book in Heather Brewer's new series Legacy of Tril. I enjoyed The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, so I am excited for this one. But you know what's even more exciting?


Yep, I have BITTERBLUE by Kristin Cashore on my bookshelf. I might've gone crazy with joy for a few minutes when I opened the package. (But don't ask anything. My lips are sealed.)

I still had some Barnes & Noble giftcards left from Christmas, so I decided a visit to the bookstore was in order. I ended up at the 2-for-3 table. I decided on SWAMPLANDIA! by Karen Russell and A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan because I keep hearing awesome things about both. I completed the deal with HOUSE OF THE SCORPION by Nancy Farmer, an old favorite.

What's in your mailbox this week?

March 2, 2012

Hunger Games Soundtrack: Abraham's Daughter by Arcade Fire

So, I haven't even listened to the Taylor Swift song since Taylor Swift does nothing for me. But the Arcade Fire? Super exciting. The soundtrack will also contain songs from the Decemberists and Neko Case, both of which bode well for The Hunger Games atmosphere.

(Sometimes I'm afraid I'm a hipster.)

March 1, 2012

Follow this Tumblr: Teaching Literacy

I feel like March is going to be a productive month. Maybe that's because I both did yard work today and made dinner. (Bell pepper rellenos, the classic microwave meal.)

I've decided to periodically highlight tumblrs that I love and think you might too. Teaching Literacy posts frequently, so she can clog up your Dashboard. But she'll clog it with such pretty things!

She posts everything from clever bookshelves to paper crafts - all the images a bookworm might want to see.

By Ken Lee 2010

My favorite image she's blogged today is this photograph of the Iwaki Museum of Picture Books for Children in Fukushima, Japan. Tadao Ando designed this private library, but there are days when the doors are opened to tourists. I'd love to see this collection in person.


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