July 31, 2012

Review: The Girls' Ghost Hunting Guide

Book Cover By Stacey Graham
Available now from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

This is a super cute book for young girls who love ghosts.  (Although clearly aimed at girls, there are some young boys who would probably enjoy it too if they're willing to look past the pink.)  Stacey Graham clearly knows her ghost hunting!

Now, I love ghost stories but I'm not a big believer in ghosts.  Therefore, I liked features like the urban legends and recipes best.  I loved the chapter on how to write and tell your own ghost stories.  There are also interesting facts about things like gravestone iconography and the history of mediums.  So yes, even skeptical ghost lovers can enjoy THE GIRLS' GHOST HUNTING GUIDE.

For those who really do want to hunt ghosts, Graham provides a great deal of practical information.  I liked that she stressed safety - always use the buddy system and never, ever trespass.  I also liked her photography tips.  You don't want to think you photographed a spirit only to find out that it was your hair blowing across the lens or the reflection of your rhinestone bracelet.  There are also interviews with professional ghost hunters to show that girls can make a career out of this hobby.

Sourcebooks did a wonderful job of packaging this guide.  The graphics are adorable and the layouts are clean and colorful.  THE GIRLS' GHOST HUNTING GUIDE is printed on nice, heavy stock so that it won't get bent in your bag when you go looking for ghosts.

If you're an aspiring ghost hunter or happen to know one, I advise picking up a copy of THE GIRLS' GHOST HUNTING GUIDE.  It's a fun introduction to the field with a bibliography that will point the way to girls interested in diving deeper with their paranormal studies.

July 30, 2012

Movie Monday: Know a Good Break-up Movie?

John Tucker Must Die I have a friend who recently broke up with her boyfriend.  I promised her, if and when that happened, we would watch John Tucker Must Die together.  This is partly because John Tucker Must Die was the only break-up movie I could think of.

Do you have a movie you watch to get over heartache?  I am particularly interested in movies that don't end with a new happy couple.  (Here's looking at you, Forgetting Sarah Marshall.)

July 29, 2012

Reading is Fundamental

I think Reading is Fundamental is one of the most famous book-related charities active today.  It is, factually, the largest nonprofit focusing on children's literacy in the US.  RIF helps put books in the hands of children under eight and instill those children with a love of reading.  This organization is one of the first things I posted about, way back in 2008.  RIF provides a number of resources including activities and booklists.  You can donate, volunteer, advocate, shop - there are a number of ways to help Reading is Fundamental.

RIF has a three-star rating from Charity Navigator.

July 28, 2012

Review: Summer of the Gypsy Moths

Book Cover By Sara Pennypacker
Available now from Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Review copy

Stella lives with her Great-aunt Louise in Cape Cod because her mother lost custody.  Also living with Louise is Angel, a foster child who wants nothing to do with Stella.  Then Louise dies and the girls have to decide: do they call the cops and go back into the system or try to survive on their own?

There's a real strain of darkness running through SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS. Some of the darkness is blatant, but some implications will be glossed over by less mature readers.  Stella and Angel have not had easy lives.  While neither girl was physically or sexually abused, there are still reasons they would choose not to go to foster care.  Stella was neglected by her mother and at eleven is very experienced at fending for herself.  And as Stella notes in the text, the two girls get rather dirty and starved as the weeks go by and none of the adults notice.

Book Cover In my opinion, the darkness works.  SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS reminds me of some of my favorite books as a child, including THE PINBALLS and THE BOXCAR CHILDREN.  (And by THE BOXCAR CHILDREN I mean the first book, not the series of mysteries that follows.  I like the mysteries, but they have little to nothing in common with SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS.)

Book Cover Stella and Angel bond as their deception deepens and they do Louise's work as the manager of Linger Longer, a set of four vacation homes.  Stella is obsessed with Hints from Heloise, which is both sad and funny in turns.  I've been laughing and learning from Heloise's columns for years, but I think this part might put kids off more than the dead and absentee parents.  Angel likes to listen to her mother's fado record.  Her mother sang the Portuguese music before her death and Angel uses it to remember her loss and her destiny.  She'll have a home as soon as her immigrating aunt finds and job and a house in the United States.  Music, chores, and more bring the two girls together.

I expect SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS will be a popular read.   Stella and Angel are easy to empathize with and their adventures may not always be exciting, but they're interesting to read about.  SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS is one of those quiet stories that gets under your skin.  It also makes me happy that I've been giving more middle grade books a chance lately.

July 27, 2012

Review: Mothership

Mothership Book One of the Ever-Expanding Universe
By Martin Leicht and Isla Neal
Available now from Simon & Schuster
Review copy

I wanted to read MOTHERSHIP because all the reviews said it was absolutely hilarious and the title is a pun.  I can never resist a good pun.  Plus I thought the bright, retro cover was super fun.  (It's even cooler in person.  The computer screen doesn't show how much the pink pops against the purple.)

The reviewers were right:  MOTHERSHIP is hilarious.  Sixteen-year-old Elvie Nara's snarky, clever voice carries the novel.  She's three months away from her due date when commandos invade the Hanover School for Expecting Teen Mothers (which is IN SPACE!) and tell the girls that their teachers are aliens.  The chapters alternate between explaining how she got pregnant and the survivors' journey to get off the ship.  (This journey is noticeably unimpeded by the pregnant girls needing to pee, having difficulty maneuvering, or any other issue you might expect to arise due to their physical condition.)

But I couldn't quite gel myself to MOTHERSHIP's breezy tone.  The trouble started when I realized Britta, another girl at the school, was pregnant by the same guy as Elvie.  Naturally the girls hate each other more than Cheater McCan't-Keep-It-In-His-Pants.   Lots of reviewers said sweet-but-dumb Cole grew on them as they read.  But he didn't grow on me, particularly not as I realized exactly how bad of a position "sweet" Cole put Elvie in.

Then there's the fact that the entire book is about young, pregnant women in danger and many of them die in horrible ways.  I love black comedy, but I like my black comedy black.  I don't like dead pregnant teenagers in my snarky one-liner comedy.  Then there's the horrid awfulness that comes as more of the aliens' plans are revealed.  It's invasive and gross and I can't believe none of the girls choose to terminate their pregnancies.  MOTHERSHIP has a novel's worth of consent issues that are addressed for approximately three pages.


Plus, why are all of them teenagers?  What, the aliens can't impregnate grown women?  It's particularly disturbing since the aliens are older than they look.  Cole's only nineteen, but what if the other baby daddies are older?


I absolutely loved Elvie and thought-her voice was spot-on.  But she, her father, and best friend Duckie deserve a better plot than MOTHERSHIP offers them.  Martin Leicht and Isla Neal have talent and humor, but the bright spots of MOTHERSHIP are offset by all the times I thought I was going to be sick.

July 26, 2012

Review: Where We Belong

Where We Belong By Emily Giffin
Available now from St. Martin's Press
Review copy

Despite Emily Giffin being one of the most popular authors of contemporary women's fiction, WHERE WE BELONG is the first book I've read by her.  It is told through the points of view of two women.  Thirty-six-year-old Marian Caldwell is a successful television producer, living in New York and attempting to convince her CEO boyfriend of two years to pop the question.  Eighteen-year-old Kirby Rose is about to graduate from high school and deciding whether she wants to go to college, take a gap year, or do something else entirely.  Before she makes her decision, she wants to meet her birth parents, which is why she comes knocking on Marian's door.

Giffin has a talent for characterization.  Marian and Kirby have very different perspectives due to the divide in their ages, goals, and concerns.  I loved Kirby's parents, who want the best for their daughter but are somewhat threatened by her interest in her birth parents.  I liked reading about Kirby's struggle with her future, even though it was one I never experienced.  I never questioned going to college, but now that I'm older, I know it isn't the right choice for everyone.  It's tough to suddenly be in charge of decisions that will affect your entire life.

Marian, meanwhile, is not only having to own up to her pregnancy, but also the fact that she never told the father, Conrad Knight.  Now Kirby wants to meet him as well and Marian has to face the decisions she made at eighteen.  I liked that Giffin didn't try to simplify teen pregnancy to a moral issue.  The characters certainly have opinions about adoption, abortion, et al., but none of the opinions are presented as the absolutely right one.  Marian made the choices she thought best for herself and her daughter, but it was still cruel to not tell Conrad.  In addition to meeting Kirby and figuring out how best to help her, Marian must make decisions about her own love life and career.

I felt like WHERE WE BELONG was a refreshing, original novel.  Kirby's storyline gives it crossover appeal to the young adult audience while Marian's is more typical of women's fiction.  And sometimes it's just fun to read a novel entirely about relationships, with no bad guys in sight.  If you're looking for a complex tale about family and choice, look no farther than WHERE WE BELONG.  I think I'll be reading more of Giffin's books in the future.

July 25, 2012

Review: Sorry Please Thank You: Stories

Book Cover By Charles Yu
Available now from Pantheon Books (Random House)
Review copy

Charles Yu has been making a big splash.  His short story collection THIRD CLASS SUPERHERO won him the 5 Under 35 Award from the National Book Foundation.  Then he received the Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award.  Last year his debut novel HOW TO LIVE SAFELY IN A SCIENCE FICTIONAL UNIVERSE came out to near universal acclaim including being named a New York Times notable book and 2011 Best Book of the Year by such publications as Time Magazine and io9.  He comfortably straddles science fiction and literary fiction.  Now he returns to short stories with a collection containing works that have previously appeared in publications as varied as The Oxford-American, Playboy, and THE THACKERY T. LAMBSHEAD CABINET OF CURIOSITIES.

SORRY PLEASE THANK YOU is divided into four sections: Sorry, Please, Thank You, and All of the Above.  It's a clever idea, but the division doesn't feel organic.  Many of the stories in different sections are preoccupied with the same themes.  Yu continually returns to pondering the authenticity of relationships and satisfaction or dissatisfaction with one's self.

 But here's the really important thing about Yu: he's fiercely funny.  Sometimes he goes overboard with the meta or postmodern formatting.  It works when there's really something to think about when you untangle what he's saying.  Other times it's just flash for no good reason.  Maybe I just really didn't like "Human for Beginners."  It starts promising, then gets pleasantly weird, then fast becomes tedious.

If you can't tell by my last statement, not every story in SORRY PLEASE THANK YOU is a winner.  But the high points shine brightly and come fairly frequently.  The collection opens with the one-two punch of "Standard Loneliness Package" and "First Person Shooter."  "Standard Loneliness Package" imagines a future where the rich pay other people to feel their pain, guilt, and other less pleasant emotions.  On the other hand, people in dire straights mortgage their lives and other people rent it for escape.  The protagonist attempts to romance coworker Kirthi, a heartbreak specialist.  In this story, Yu pulls off the darker side of human emotion beautifully.  "First Person Shooter" also deals with a romance between coworkers.  But this time they work in a WalMart expy and are trying to deal with a zombie roaming the store.

The Please section is the longest and weakest.  But "Hero Absorbs Major Damage" and "Open" are both must reads.  "Hero Absorbs Major Damage" explore the typical RPG through the point of view of an avatar who tries to lead his team as best he can and sometimes worships the fallible young deity Fred.  "Open" begins perfectly.  It shows off Yu's command of language and his playful universes.  Plus, it ends with quite the hook.
"We need to talk about that," I said.
"Why?  Why do we always have to talk everything to death?"
"The word 'door' is floating in the middle of our apartment.  You don't think maybe this is something we need to discuss?"
- p. 131, ARC
What follows is an intriguing story about identity and intimacy.

Thank You contains "Yeoman" as well as the best story in the collection "Designer Emotion 67."  "Yeoman" is for fans of John Scalzi's REDSHIRTS: A Novel with Three Codas and Galaxy Quest.  When a man receives a promotion to crew's yeoman, he realize it means he's going to die.  That's not an option, considering he has a baby on the way.  It's a hilarious send up of science fiction tropes and the yeoman's wife is priceless.  "Designer Emotion 67" is a transcript of PharmaLife, Inc.'s annual report to shareholders in 2050.  "The Depression-industrial complex has been built (175)" and now they're exploring the possibilities in curing Dread.  The CEO is cocky and brash and should probably have an intern edit his speech, but he does know what the shareholders are really after.  Money.  It's crazy yet plausible and funny in all the worst ways.

SORRY PLEASE THANK YOU ends on a dark note with eponymous story "Sorry Please Thank You."  A suicide note on a bar napkin, it hovers somewhere between Yu's best and worst.  It has his long, propulsive paragraphs were the narrator babbles, searching to make sense of something.  It's preoccupied with human interaction.  There's the strange bitterness about love.  It may not be a highlight of the anthology, but it's a fitting end.

Fans of the short story and of Charles Yu should pick up a copy of SORRY PLEASE THANK YOU.  (Although if you have no stomach for postmodernism, you might stay away.)  Yu's work in this collection will further his standing with both the literary and sci-fi crowds.  Six standouts in a collection of thirteen stories isn't bad at all.

July 24, 2012

Review: Cold Fury

Book Cover First in a trilogy
By T. M. Goeglein
Available now from Putnam (Penguin)
Review copy

When I began COLD FURY, I thought it was a standalone.  So I'll go ahead and warn you: It's not, and COLD FURY will leave you wanting more.

Sara Jane Rispoli just turned sixteen.  It's been a rough couple of months.  First her grandparents died, and then her father and her uncle stopped speaking to each other.  Then the day she turns sixteen, Sara Jane comes  home to an empty house, her brother's dog lying injured on the floor on a note that warns her to beware.

COLD FURY is full of things I love.  There's a smart girl who kicks butt and does the hard thing rather than the easy thing.  There are mobsters, assassins, and shadowy possibly-government agents.  It's a long chase scene with a touch of mystery and a hint of the paranormal.  (Just a hint.  I would classify COLD FURY as contemporary, but some people have abilities that verge on the mystical.)

If you couldn't tell, COLD FURY is a plot-driven rather than a character driven novel.  Sara Jane has enough depth that you care about whether she survives and saves her family, but that's about it.  Her family, friends, and love interests are likewise pretty thin.  However, the novel doesn't need more than that.  There's too much going on for intense examinations of self.  (One character that does get developed, quite nicely, is the city of Chicago.)

The big summer blockbusters are already out, so here's a blockbuster in book form.  T. M. Goeglein's YA debut is a fast-paced thrillride and I look forward to reading more of Sara Jane's adventures.

July 23, 2012

Movie Monday: The Dark Knight Rises

First, I would like to recognize the victims and survivors of the Aurora, CO shooting as well as the families.  They are in our thoughts.

I planned what I wanted to say about The Dark Knight Rises almost as soon as I finished watching it, but my opinion still feels changeable.  I've been wavering back and forth on several elements since watching it.  So here are some short snippets of my thoughts.

Bane:  Like!  Gail Simone's Secret Six emphasized Bane's talents at strategy as well as brute strength, and I liked that the movie emphasized his ability to plan.  It's a nice contrast from the Joker.  In close-ups, Tom Hardy wasn't quite up to acting with his eyes alone, but he was terrific at delivering a convincing brutal beatdown.

Catwoman: Love!  The Anne Hathaway haters can all be quiet now.  She was tough and vulnerable, as needed.  Truly a woman who can one-up the Batman.

Dark Knight Rises OST The Soundtrack: Dislike. There's nothing wrong with the sound of Hans Zimmer's theme, but it seemed like the music was constantly blaring at top volume.  I found it intrusive at several points during the movie.

Blake: Asi-asi.  Look, I like Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  I also liked his portrayal of an honest cop in Gotham.  He's living proof of how Gotham has changed since the beginning of the Nolan trilogy in Batman Begins.  But I hate, hate, hated that they fudged with my favorite character's origin to do it.  One or two line changes and I wouldn't have cared.  (Those who have seen the movie, feel free to discuss this with me.)

Marion Tate:  Like.  Marion Cotillard is everywhere these days and I, for one, am not complaining.  Comic fans will be happy.

Cinematography: Meh.  It was a touch to dark and there weren't as many memorable shots as The Dark Knight.  It was perfectly serviceable, but disappointing from a director as visual as Christopher Nolan.

Bruce Wayne:  Dire.  I do not like Bruce Wayne as a bearded, limping shut-in.  The man is a motivated machine and Rachel's death put him out of commission for eight years, to let Wayne Enterprises and his charity lapse again?  The endless scenes of Bruce wondering whether he's lost his edge dragged the movie down.

Batman: Awesome.

Overall:  I loved The Dark Knight Rises.  I loved how it brought the trilogy to a close, drawing on elements from the previous movies and the long history of the comics to make a satisfying film.  I thought it was a bit slow in the middle, but the explosive opening and thrilling stretch to the ending make up for it.  I thought the casting was wonderful, down to small parts like Burn Gorman as Stryver and Daniel Sunjata as Captain Jones.  And of course Nolan found another perfect bit for Cillian Murphy to cameo as Dr. Jonathon Crane.  Look, my complains about the movie were small and no, it isn't as good as The Dark Knight, but Nolan made a cohesive, exciting trilogy with an interpretation of Batman relevant to our time.  It's a staggering achievement for comic book films.  The already announced reboot has a lot to live up to.

July 22, 2012


BookEnds was started by an eight-year-old boy to help recycle books.  Book drives are led by students and the books donated to places such as inner-city schools, homeless shelters, and juvenile detention centers.  This system helps create "readers & leaders."  BookEnds has now donated more than two million books.

If you're in the Greater Los Angeles area, you can apply for a book donation.  If you want to help out, you can donate (money or books), volunteer, or intern.

On July 24th (this Tuesday), you can vote for BookEnds on Toyota's 100 Cars for Good.  BookEnds hopes to create a bookmobile.

BookEnds has a two-star rating from Charity Navigator.

July 21, 2012

Review: Small Damages

Book Cover By Beth Kephart
Available now from Philomel (Penguin)
Review copy
Read my reviews of UNDERCOVER and DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS as well as my interview of Beth and her interview of me

SMALL DAMAGES is set in Seville, Spain in 1995.  The older characters remember living under the rule of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who is still dead.  The eighties brought about a huge change in Spanish culture: the death of conservative Franco and new tourism from the rest of Europe brought new lifestyles, including looser sexual mores and greater rights for women to Spain.  But Spain didn't entirely assimilate.

SMALL DAMAGES made me feel like I was in Seville, seeing and smelling the same things as Kenzie.  There's descriptions of the food, the clothes, the music, and the dancing.  The dialogue gives a sense of the language barrier between Kenzie and her hosts.  She sometimes tries her hand at Spanish and others attempt English, but the words are rarely perfect.

Kenzie has been sent to Spain because she's pregnant.  She refused to terminate the pregnancy as her mother and boyfriend wanted.  The compromise is to live with one of her mother's old friends' friend, Miguel, at his bull ranch Los Nietos and give up the baby to another couple, Javier and Adair.  At Los Nietos she works in the kitchen with Estela and becomes fascinated with ranch hand Esteban, who both have their own stories.

Kenzie is uneasy throughout most of her stay at Los Nietos.  She finds beauty in the people and the place, but she's unsure about what she's doing and not comfortable with the spoiled Adair.  She's struggling to find her way.  Then she begins to find it as she and the people around her open up to each other.  I felt as adrift as Kenzie was at the beginning while reading SMALL DAMAGES.  I appreciated Beth Kephart's talent, but couldn't connect to the story.

I am a huge fan of Kephart's writing.  Her prose is as beautiful and absorbing as ever.  But I felt like I was at a popular museum exhibit while reading SMALL DAMAGES, like I was on tiptoe so that I could see over people's shoulders and catch a glimpse of a masterpiece ten feet away before I was swept away with the crowd to marvel at the corner of the next work on the wall.

I felt like a failure reading SMALL DAMAGES.  If Kephart is one of my favorite authors, then why did I not love this book?  And if I didn't love it, why couldn't I articulate what was wrong?  But I'm not a failure.  There is nothing wrong with appreciating a book but acknowledging that it's not for you.  SMALL DAMAGES is full of achingly raw emotions presented with polished, poetic prose.  There will be someone at the exhibit who sees a ray of light captured just so and is never the same again.

July 20, 2012

Review: Wicked Jealous

Book Cover By Robin Palmer
Available now from Speak (Penguin)
Review copy

A fairytale retelling will get my attention every time.  Plus, WICKED JEALOUS has an eye-catching cover, with that shiny red apple and cotton candy pink background.  Robin Palmer's update of Snow White is timely, clever, and over the top.

I thought the Los Angeles setting worked perfectly.  Simone Walker begins the novel unhappy with her looks.  And why not when she lives in the epicenter of Hollywood, which favors one look above all others?  Hillary, her father's young girlfriend, is never likeable.  But it is understandable that she would be driven to compare herself to a teenager.  Simone being allergic to apples is a nice update as well.

Simone's outlook on her life changes when she accidentally discovers Zumba.  She goes out to take a pottery class or something, but shows up at the wrong time.  But Zumba turns out to be exactly what she needs, despite her initial doubts.  The exercise helps her become more active and causes her to crave vegetables instead of Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets.  Plus, the Zumba ladies might be older than Simone, but they're a terrific group of friends to have.  The more confident Simone starts dressing in a way that suits her curves and attracts the attention of a cute classmate as well as Hillary's jealousy.

Things kick into gear when she moves in with the seven dwarfs.  In this case, the dwarfs are Simone's brother and his six roommates: Wheezer, Narc, Noob, Thor, Doc, and Blush.  The guys also turn out to be good friends and help Simone navigate problems like how to date popular Jason without looking like a dork.  But, as time goes on, Simone realizes she might have more in common with Blush than Jason.

WICKED JEALOUS maintains an interesting balance between a realistic depiction of teen life and crazy fairytale shenanigans.  There may not be any fairies involved, but there are lots of big personalities and dastardly plans.  But at its heart WICKED JEALOUS is about Simone coming into herself and realizing that she can get what she wants from life if she's willing to go for it.  It's a cute book, perfect for summer reading.

July 19, 2012

Review: The Girl With Borrowed Wings

The Girl With Borrowed Wings By Rinsai Rossetti
Available now from Dial (Penguin)
Review copy

Right now, I feel very unaccomplished.  Rinsai Rossetti is currently twenty one and wrote the first draft of THE GIRL WITH BORROWED WINGS when she was eighteen.  I'm twenty three and have yet to write anything as beautiful or as wonderful as Rossetti's debut.

Frenenqer Paje lives the way her father wants her to live.  He dreamed of a perfect, submissive, quiet daughter and Frenenqer will be that girl no matter her natural inclinations.  He keeps her in her room except for when she goes to the local English-speaking school where she gets a low-quality education.  She couldn't really go out if she wanted to, since the streets of the oasis (in an unnamed Middle Eastern country) aren't safe for a lone teen girl.  Frenenqer tries to stay within the bounds, escaping only through her books and a dream that she was supposed to be born with wings and she can feel the phantom of them on her back.

Then she meets a boy without a name, a Free person, unbound by any rules.  He can shapeshift and travel between worlds and he can take Frenenqer flying.  Soon she names him Sangris and he calls her Nenner, a name much lighter than the one of her father's expectations.  But as the two grow closer, they become quarrelsome.  Frenenqer is afraid to step outside of her father's rules, as well as the rules of society, and Sangris pushes her to ignore them all.  Above all else, Sangris is free, and he fears the limits of Nenner's affections.

It's girl-meet-boy filtered through the fantastical lens of magical realism and told in Rossetti's gorgeous, poetic prose.  But in addition to the romance, it's Frenenqer's discovery of herself.
"I'm young!" I shouted at him in exhilaration.
"I'm young!"
His gaze flickered over me.  From my free-flying hair -- I became very aware of it as soon as he looked at it; I felt it lifting off the base of my neck where the spine is tender, and streaming out behind me in tendrils -- to the tightness of my stomach -- I realized for the first time that I had a narrow waist and hips rather than the straight lines of my childhood; when had that happened? -- and down to the legs.  At that point he pulled his gaze back up to my face.  "Yeah," he said.  "Didn't you know?"
-p. 63-4, ARC
I liked that Frenenqer's dialogue, as well as that of her long-suffering friend Anju, are in a modern vernacular unlike the narration.  It emphasizes her youth and that she's not truly a prim lady, even before Sangris (and Anju) force her to stop denying her dreams for herself.  It complements the narration rather than clashing with it.

THE GIRL WITH BORROWED WINGS is one epic romance.  One moment the atmosphere is cramped and stifling; next, there's a lush description of Nenner and Sangris's travels.  There's sophisticated storytelling and a heroine who is just seventeen and well aware of own immaturity.  It's the struggle between control and chaos.  Do not miss Rossetti's debut.  THE GIRL WITH BORROWED WINGS is a story of startling power and beauty.

July 18, 2012

Review: Hemlock

Hemlock Book One of the Hemlock Trilogy
By Kathleen Peacock
Available now from Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins)
Review copy

HEMLOCK contains one of the more interesting love triangles I've read in awhile.  If all young adult urban fantasy/paranormal romances are going to include love triangles, then more authors should play with the set-up the way Kathleen Peacock does. 

You see, Mac is attracted to both of her best friends, Jason and Kyle.  But Jason used to date her other best friend, Amy.   Mac isn't backing off due to being a good friend.  She's backing off because things haven't been the same between the three friends since Amy was brutally murdered by a werewolf while all three of them were supposed to be with her.  There's lots of guilt and secrets underlying the sexual tension.

Debut author Peacock also displays worldbuilding chops.  In HEMLOCK, werewolves are out of the closet.  But werewolves have no rights and are forced to live in internment camps.  Hunters, known as Trackers, are unofficial but often work closely with the police.  Mac isn't on the side of the Trackers, even if a werewolf did kill Amy.  She's seen their brutality first hand and knows they're just a group of prejudiced bullies.  But now Jason - son of a rich and powerful man - is being taken under the wing of the Tracker's leader.  Mac wants to keep him safe, even as she's getting closer to Kyle.

Now, I don't want to call either the love triangle or worldbuilding perfect.  I find it hard to believe the pro-werewolf side wouldn't be more popular, although I can understand why it wouldn't have much traction in Hemlock, a city were five people were recently killed by a werewolf.  I was about to call something bad on the love triangle side, but just now I decided I liked it.  Sometimes, neither Jason nor Kyle is that attractive.  And I like it because Mac notices it and gets angry with them instead of ignoring their flaws because they're hot.  Or, as her friend Serena puts it when Mac storms off in a huff, "I'd say you two are lucky if she wants either of you after the way you just acted (332, ARC)."  I can take characters acting like jerks if other characters call them out on it.

I'm looking forward to the next book in the Hemlock series.  HEMLOCK told a complete mystery with likeable characters, an interesting love quadrangle, and an original world.  I'm looking forward to the next mystery Mac discovers.

July 17, 2012

Review: 13 Hangmen

Book CoverBy Art Corriveau
Available now from Amulet (Abrams)
Review copy

I almost didn't pick 13 HANGMEN up due to the baseball player on the cover.  Let's face it, I know almost nothing about sports and don't care to know much more.  But while love of the Red Sox plays into 13 HANGMEN's plot, the book is about so much more than that.

13 HANGMEN begins when Tony DiMarco's great-uncle Zío Angelo dies and his family movies into his town home: 13 Hangmen Court.  The will stipulates that Tony must live in the creepy attic room, which he reluctantly does.  Then he wakes up to find Angelo in the room.  Pretty soon he figures out that Angelo was actually murdered and this younger version of Angelo is the key to finding the murderer.

I absolutely loved ghostly time travel stories like Mary Downing Hahn's TIME FOR ANDREW growing up.  13 HANGMEN has much the same atmosphere, where the apparitions are friendly but other forces are more sinister.  But not only would I have loved 13 HANGMEN as a kid, I devoured it as an adult.

On top of being a mystery and a time-traveling adventure, 13 HANGMEN is a celebration of Boston.  The events and people described within are fictionalized or made up, but they're based on the truth.  Most interestingly, 13 HANGMEN explores the history of the Italians, Jews, Irish, and blacks in Boston's North End.  The residents of 13 Hangmen Court kept the home and its secrets safe despite prejudice and a very nasty set of neighbors.

Art Corriveau doesn't ignore Boston's original inhabitants either.  He doesn't sugarcoat that Native Americans were killed and their property destroyed when the colonists came.  In fact, it is an artifact of the Algonquins that allows Tony to meet with 13 Hangmen's past residents.  (The specific traditions in the book is made up.  To quote the author's note, "This is partly to protect Native American privacy.  Many tribes prefer to reserve their cultural and religious practices for members of their own community [ARC, 336].")

I am so happy that I took a copy of 13 HANGMEN and read it despite the cover.  I loved it's blending of mystery, history, and the paranormal.  While aimed at middle grade readers, I think more advanced readers will enjoy it as well.  It's a rollicking ride to catch the murderer - and find the treasure of 13 HANGMEN.

July 16, 2012

Movie Monday: Top Five Teen Movie Shakespeare Adaptations

People love making movies of Shakespeare's works.  I love most of those movies, especially when they use the bare bones of the plot to make a teen movie.  There is always something delightful about a teen movie based on Shakespeare.  Here's my top five:

Get Over It5.  Get Over It

This will probably be my most contentious pick, because I don't think Get Over It has many fans.  This comedy not only has A Midsummer Night's Dream-inspired love triangle shenanigans, it also has a musical version of the play!  The talented ensemble includes Kirsten Dunst, Colin Hanks, Martin Short, and Swoosie Kurtz.  But the real reason to see this one is Shane West's performance as Striker, an egocentric and shallow pop star.  And honestly, I enjoy Get Over It far more than I should.  For fans of silly comedies and strange musical numbers.

She's the Man 4.  She's the Man

She's the Man, based on Twelfth Night, is both Amanda Bynes' best movie and the film that brought us Channing Tatum.  How you take that statement depends on how you feel about Channing Tatum.  This is a light, enjoyable comedy full of unconvincing crossdressing and unsubtle gender politics.  I admit to being a little disappointed the first time I saw this one, but I like it more every time I see it.  I think my expectations were too high originally, because She's the Man does have many fans.  For fans of mistaken identity, soccer, and boarding school settings.

O 3.  "O"

"O" is the first, but not the last, tragedy on this list.  It is also not the last to star Julia Stiles.  "O" moves the story of Othello to a modern private school where Odin (Mekhi Phifer) is a basketball star.  This one is far more faithful to the story than Get Over It or She's the Man, but no less accessible.  "O" is a touch dated.  The presence of Josh Hartnett alone marks this a a turn of the millenium movie.  For fans of unhappy endings, basketball, and messages of non-violence.

Romeo + Juliet 4.  Romeo + Juliet

Baz Luhrmann has a lot of haters.  I can see where they come from - his style is hyper-kinetic, overproduced, and generally designed to induce sensory overload.  But I love it and the man even has me looking forward to a movie version of THE GREAT GATSBY.  When Luhrmann set Romeo and Juliet in modern California but kept the language, he knew what he was doing.  Claire Danes' scansion is perfect and Leonardo DiCaprio is at the height of his days as a teen heartthrob.  For fans of romance and tragedy who don't have epilepsy.

10 Things I Hate About You 5.  10 Things I Hate About You

Romeo + Juliet fought for this spot, but it can't beat the movie that made Heath Ledger a star.  Even if you haven't seen 10 Things I Hate About You, you've probably heard someone quote it.  You should watch it just to know what they're talking about.  (And to see wee little Joseph Gordon-Levitt.)  The Taming of the Shrew is one of my least favorite Shakespeare plays, but I still love this movie.  Long live the king of teen Shakespeare adaptations!  For fans of witty repartee, Heath Ledger, and awesome women.

July 15, 2012

Reach Out and Read

Reach Out and Read works with parents and educators to ensure kindergarten-aged children have basic literacy skills and are ready for school.  These basic skills include recognizing the letters of the alphabet, being able to tell stories, and knowing words are printed left-to-write.

Since its founding in 1989, the program has distributed more than 50 million books.  You can support Reach Out and Read's mission by donating, volunteering, or even just following the organization on Twitter.

Reach Out and Read has a three-star rating from Charity Navigator.

July 13, 2012

Review: So Close to You

So Close To You Book One of the So Close to You Trilogy
By Rachel Carter
Available now from HarperTeen (HarperCollins)
Review copy courtesy of Ashleigh of The Screaming Nitpicker

When I began SO CLOSE TO YOU, I didn't realize it was the first book in a trilogy.  In fact, I didn't realize there would be a sequel until things fell apart at the end, creating problems to be solved in the next book.  I might not have picked up SO CLOSE TO YOU if I knew it wasn't a standalone, which would be a pity.

Lydia Bentley lives in the small Connecticut town of Montauk.  Local legend tells of the Montauk Project, a series of experiments that took place during World War II.  Her great-grandfather was an officer on the base who disappeared and her grandfather has spent his entire life searching for his father and evidence that the Montauk Project existed.  Lydia doesn't believe, but helps her grandfather anyway because of love.  Then she stumbles into a secret lab and finds herself transported to 1944, mere days before her great-grandfather disappeared.

Soon she's living with her ancestors as Lydia Bennet and trying to figure out the truth of the Project in time to save her great-grandfather.  But Wes, a mysterious boy she first met in the lab, is trying to convince her to return to her time before she changes the past.  Wes is of course super hot in addition to being mysterious.  Luckily, Rachel Carter isn't overly coy and provides some answers in the first book.  She doesn't play the give-one-big-reveal-at-the-end-and-that's-it game.  (Good, because I hate that game.)

As for Lydia, I liked that she was motivated by love of her family.  She wants her grandfather to have a better life and she's willing to risk getting caught by mad scientists in order to help him.  I also liked that she stays refreshingly on-task.  She isn't a wet blanket - she has fun and goes to dances and all that - but she spends most of her time snooping because that's what she stayed in the past to do.

I was drawn to SO CLOSE TO YOU because of the intriguing premise.  I can't entirely say that Carter has executed it well due to the cliffhanger ending, but I want to read the sequel and find out the consequences of Lydia's journey through time.  SO CLOSE TO YOU is a promising and suspenseful start to the trilogy  and hopefully the sequel will be as fast-paced and fun to read.  This one is for fans of time travel and mystery.  The romance felt a bit rushed, but hopefully Wes and Lydia will have more time together in the next book.

July 12, 2012

YA ebook deals!

The Girl of Fire and Thorns Right now HarperTeen has 10 young adult books on sale for $2.99 each.  You can check out the deals here.  Selections include William C. Morris Debut Award-finalist THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS by Rae Carson and THE SECRET SISTERHOOD OF HEARTBREAKERS by Lynn Weingarten, which I reviewed.  These deals last through the thirtieth.

Other young adult ebooks on sale include HOURGLASS by Myra McEntire ($1.59), THE AGENCY: THE BODY IN THE TOWER by Y.S. Lee ($2.99),  SISTERS RED by Jackson Pearce ($2.99), and recent debut A BREATH OF EYRE by Eve Marie Mont ($2.99).  I know I'm having trouble deciding which books to add to my summer reading!

Know of another YA books on sale?  Buying any of these?  Tell me about it.

Review: Beach Season

Beach Season Available now from Kensington
Review copy

BEACH SEASON collects four novellas by a variety of popular authors including #1 New York Times Bestseller Lisa Jackson.  All four romances are set in beach towns and perfect for a little summer beach reading.  (Or perhaps summer-wishing-you-were-at-the-beach-reading.)

June's Lace by Cathy Lamb

The anthology opens with my favorite of the four novellas - "June's Lace" by Cathy Lamb.  June MacKenzie is almost at the end of a long, contentious divorce.  It's been two years of fighting with her ex and the last thing on her mind is romance.  But then she's rescued from a sneaker wave by Reece, a hunky songwriter.  Now she's tempted to trust and fall in love again; however, her ex is trying to claim half of her successful wedding dress business.

What I loved most about "June's Lace" was the focus on June's business, friends, and family.  I just believe in a romance more when the leads have a life outside of their relationship.  And June definitely has a fulfilling life with our without Reece.  But he fits with her and I believed in their happy ending.

Second Chance Sweethearts by Holly Chamberlin

Holly Chamberlin's contribution is also about a woman escaping from a bad marriage - in this case, a physically abusive one from a man who turned out to be a thief and a con.  Thea Foss escapes to the seaside town of Ogunquit, Maine only to run into her first love, Hugh Landry.  The two separated, partly due to their parents, but now they're old enough to ignore their parents' class differences.

I thought "Second Chance Sweethearts" was a sweet story, although the confrontation between Thea and her ex was more cartoonish than cathartic.  It's your basic, simple romance, but there's nothing wrong with that.

Carolina Summer by Rosalind Noonan

"Carolina Summer" ups the suspense elements that were slighly on display in "Second Chance Sweethearts" (due to Thea's worry about her ex finding her).  Jane Doyle is on the run from someone who wants to kill her, but she gets waylaid halfway to her brother's house in Florida.  Luckily she gets stuck in a North Carolina town with a hunky sheriff, Cooper Locklear.

There was a bit too much going on in "Carolina Summer" for a novella.  It was an enjoyable read, but both the romance and the suspense were thinly developed.  Not to mention Jane did one incredibly stupid thing that really annoyed me.  I might've forgotten about it except for the fact that she does this boneheaded thing towards the end of the story.

The Brass Ring by Lisa Jackson

Although it is not mentioned on the front or backcover, Lisa Jackson's story is a reprint.  However, I doubt any but her diehard fans already own a copy.  Bantam Loveswept published "The Brass Ring" in 1988 with Jackson writing under the name Susan Crose - not something a casual fan would come across.

Fans of Nicholas Sparks' THE VOW will probably enjoy this one.  I found it overly dramatic.  Maybe it was just the eighties, but I rolled my eyes a few times.  Shawna's fiancé Parker is in a car accident the night before their wedding.  When he wakes up, he can't remember the past several years of his life.  Even worse, an eighteen-year-old girl has shown up claiming he's the father of her baby and he needs to take responsibility no matter what the situation.

There's nothing really wrong with "The Brass Ring," but the plot felt over-the-top to me.  Amnesia and a baby daddy scandal?  It's hard to cover one of those topics in a novel without drifting into cliché, much less a novella.

BEACH SEASON is exactly what you'd expect based on the title and cover.  All four authors do address some serious topics, but none of the darker aspects are explored in depth.  I'm not sure they should be, as it would spoil BEACH SEASON's tone.  The four novellas contained within are all a touch underdeveloped, but it's forgivable when they're all meant to be quick, fun reads.

July 11, 2012

Out of Print Clothing

This past Sunday, I wrote about Books for Africa.  This I found out about Out of Print Clothing.  For every product sold, for every follower on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and/or Pinterest, they donate a book to a community in need through Books for Africa.

That means you can donate four books without every leaving your computer or paying a cent.  Or you could buy something - Out of Print has T-shirts, stationery, tote bags, and more.  You could buy this THE GREAT GATSBY tee on sale and wear it to the movie premiere!  (Anyone want to lend me $16 to get one for myself?)

Review: Shadow of Night

Shadow Book Two of the All Souls Trilogy
By Deborah Harkness
Available now from Viking (Penguin)
Review copy

Deborah Harkness's debut novel A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES made a big splash last year.  I loved that it used aspects of one of my favorite rare subgenres - one that doesn't even have a name.  I like to call it hard fantasy, as in hard sci-fi, since it's fantasy wherein the rules of magic are based on cutting-edge science.  Then, it ended with a cliffhanger!  I'm sure everyone who read A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES is eager to read SHADOW OF NIGHT and find out what Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont got up to after traveling back in time.

Diana and Matthew need to find the alchemical manuscript Ashmole 782 and a teacher to help Diana control her witchly powers.  They also need to evade censure for their forbidden relationship, since cross-species relationships are forbidden and this witch and vampire consider themselves married.  Even worse, Diana does not blend into the past.  Her accent is wrong, her stride is wrong, and she is entirely too unwilling to defer to her husband, to his chagrin.  Luckily, Matthew has powerful friends in the past who are willing to help him keep Diana safe until she can blend in.

I'm not a big historical fiction fan, but I did like playing spot-the-historical-cameo.  (There's a dramatis personae in the back that says which characters are based on real people.)  I also liked that SHADOW OF NIGHT periodically shifts focus from Diana and Matthew to reveal what's happening in the present and how their actions in the past are creating anomalies.  And, well, I always love time-travel books that dwell on how hard it would be to live in the past.  (See THE STERKARM HANDSHAKE.)

However, SHADOW OF NIGHT took awhile to get moving.  Diana and Matthew face realistic obstacles, but it's a bit frustrating that they make little-to-no progress in two clear-cut goals during the first half of the novel.  Being in the past also exacerbates Matthew's worst quality, trying to control Diana's life and make her decisions for her.  I did enjoy a meta-passage about popular romance novel tropes in which Diana makes fun of how much Matthew is like the fictional dominating vampires.  (Although it made me suspect that while Harkness knows her novels share DNA with paranormal romance, she doesn't realize just how much.)

I suspect that SHADOW OF NIGHT will be difficult reading for anyone who hasn't read A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES.  Harkness's world is detailed and little information about the three types of creatures or their politics is repeated for new readers.  Plus, the first book had a large cast and SHADOW OF NIGHT introduces even more players.  Since the original cast is banished to interludes, there's little time to explain who everyone is.

I do, however, think young adult readers will enjoy A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES and SHADOW OF NIGHT.  They present a slightly more literary take on the girl-meets-vampire story.  The All Souls trilogy will be of particular interest to anyone with an academic bent.  Diana is a historian and Matthew is a scientist and Harkness's own background allows her to write their scholarly mindset with authority.  I recommend Leila of Bookshelves of Doom's Alchemy reading list for those needing some YA pairings to go with Harkness's novels.

July 10, 2012

Are You Enough?

Never Enough Denise Jaden's sophomore novel NEVER ENOUGH releases today.  I've been looking forward to this release since I enjoyed her first book, LOSING FAITH, which I reviewed in 2010.  To coincide with the release of NEVER ENOUGH, Jaden made a short video of young adult authors sharing when they felt like they weren't enough.  Beth Kephart recently posted about book trailers, and I think a video like this that is relevant to but independent of the book being promoted is more interesting than a traditional book trailer.  What do you think - about book trailers, this video, or the need for self-esteem? 

Review: Lucky Fools

Book Cover By Coert Voorhees
Available now from Disney-Hyperion
Review copy

High school senior David Ellison has an audition for Julliard in nineteen days.  Most of his classmates at Oak Fields Prep want to go to Stanford, the ivy they live in the shadow of.  But Stanford has decided to admit one student only from each of the local prep schools.  His classmates are melting down over their college essays and David is starting to suspect that he might be a big fish in a small pond.

David acts like a realistic teen boy.  He's capable of compassion and romance, but he's often self-centered and thoughtless.  Luckily, the people in his life call him out when he's acting like a jerk.  This is not a book where people find the protagonist's worst qualities charming.  It is a book where people often find their worst qualities on display.

A rogue provocateur known only as The Artist has been posting bulletins revealing the secrets of the richest, most popular, most perfect seniors.  It's cruel behavior, but it's the background to David's coming-of-age.

The current school play is The Great Gatsby and David is playing Nick Carraway.  I initially started thinking about Gatsby since the new movie is coming out soon.  Although, some things didn't seem to fit.  But that was because the adaptation they're performing is some odd interpretation wherein Nick kisses Daisy.  At first, it seems like David is just going to be an observer of The Artist bringing anarchy to the Oak Fields' campus.  As things continue, David begins to assert his own narrative.  He has an epiphany.  The Artist remains unmasked.

LUCKY FOOLS is a terrific contemporary bildungsroman.  I know many people who avoid fiction about rich people, but the kids in LUCKY FOOLS are often aware of their privilege.  The male protagonist will appeal to male readers, and there are a number of female secondary characters who have interests other than David.  There is a love triangle, but plays out in an organic and original way.  I particularly recommend LUCKY FOOLS for theater fans.

July 9, 2012

Movie Monday: This Means War

Book Cover I wanted to see This Means War as soon as I saw the trailer.  I think Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy, and Chris Pine are all terrific actors.  I like spies and things blowing up, so those seemed liked great elements to liven up a romantic comedy.  The critics hated it, but I can't think of a single critic partial to rom coms.  Thus, I checked This Means War out once my local Redbox had a copy.

Witherspoon is terrific as Lauren, a successful products tester (think Consumer Reports), who gets signed up for a dating website by her married friend.  Her first date is with Tuck (Hardy), a good-looking, charming Englishman.  After her date, she runs into FDR (Pine), and is unimpressed by his womanizing ways, but he wheedles a date out of her anyway.  Of course, the two men aren't a travel agent and boat captain like they claim - they're longtime partners in the CIA and willing to spy on each other and Lauren in order to get the girl.

I thought This Means War was pretty funny, although I wasn't entirely on board with the ending.  It was pretty obvious which guy Lauren would pick, although I thought the other guy was a better choice for her.  (It's obvious because Hollywood has this thing about reuniting divorced couples.  In real life, most divorced people I know prefer to spend as little time as possible with their former partner.) 

Genre-wise, those hoping for a true melding of action movie and rom com will probably be disappointed.  The action is limited to the cold open and the climax.  Unless you count goofy spy antics as action.  I put those under the comedy half of the rom com label.  The couple of action scenes are pretty cool and I liked that Lauren's knowledge from her job was key to saving the day.  (If the men spying on the woman is a little uncomfortable, at least Lauren is never expected to give up her career, friends, or other interests for a relationship.)

This Means War is a perfectly serviceable rom com, though it's no classic of the genre like Witherspoon's career-making Legally Blonde.  The material might be thin but the charismatic and attractive cast is more than game.  While rated PG-13, This Means War falls on the raunchy side.  Mostly verbal jokes, but there are definitely some references parents probably don't want to explain to younger teens.

July 8, 2012

Books for Africa

Books for Africa aims "to end the book famine in Africa."  Now 24 years old, the organization has provided more than twenty-seven million books to people in 46 African countries.  Each shipment costs about $10,300.

If you donate, you can designate your funds for a specific projectVolunteers over fourteen are needed in St. Paul, MN and Atlanta, GA.  You can host a fundraiser anywhere.

Books for Africa has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator.

July 7, 2012

Even My Dog Is In Bed With Books

I keep a husband on the floor of my room for my dog to take naps on.  Patton likes to nest with various objects and his favorite is SMOOTH TALKING STRANGER by Lisa Kleypas.  He's camera shy, but today I finally got proof.

July 6, 2012

Review: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life

Book Cover By Tara Altebrando
Available now from Dutton (Penguin)
Review copy

Oyster Point High School has a tradition.  During senior week, there is an unofficial scavenger hunt.  Parents, cops, and other authority figures try to shut it down.  Naturally, the winning team gets everlasting glory.  (Or, at least glory until a new team wins the Yeti the next year.)

Mary is determined to win since she didn't get into Georgetown and football player Barbone did.  She wants to show someone up for once.  She's got a team of also-rans with her: Winter, her best friend; Patrick, her guy best friend; and Dez, who is obviously gay and takes a lot of crap because of it.  Meanwhile, she'd like to hook up with Carson who is about to break up with Jill, but another girl might have already caught his attention.  And Patrick likes her that way, as she just found out at prom.

The first chapter or so of THE BEST NIGHT OF YOUR (PATHETIC) LIFE is hard to parse.  There are a lot of characters, motivations, and scavenger hunt items to get straight in your head.  But pretty soon it's a fast ride to long-lasting memories, questionable morals, and the definition of first world problems.  I like how Mary's perception of herself changes throughout the story.  She thinks she's invisible at the beginning.  But it turns out she's been leaving an impression all along - and that sometimes it was a bad one.

I did not like that people kept pressuring her to give Patrick a chance, but it was very realistic.  I had the same thing happen to a friend in high school. But Mary manages pretty well, in my opinion.  She may not be the most in tune with herself, but she's got some things figured out.

The characterization is better than your average high school comedy movie.  The jerk jock has his reasons for not liking Mary.  Each of the scavenger hunt members gets a chance to shine and express their point of view.  Even one of the scavenger hunt organizers gets some personality.  It adds depth to the standard plot.

I bring up movies because THE BEST NIGHT OF YOUR (PATHETIC) LIFE reminded me more of a movie version of high school than actual high school.  It works since Tara Altebrando's novel is basically the literary version of a movie.  It's that one crazy night where anything can happen, even the nerds ending up on top.

July 5, 2012

Review: Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone

Book Cover By Kat Rosenfield
Available now from Dutton (Penguin)
Review copy

Kat Rosenfield's debut novel AMELIA ANNE IS DEAD AND GONE is lyrical and haunting.  Small-town girl Rebecca has plans for her last summer before leaving for college, but on graduation night her boyfriend cruelly dumps her and Amelia Anne dies anonymously on the side of the road.  The two events happen less than a mile and an hour apart, although neither girl was aware of the other.

Rosenfield does an excellent job of evoking the small-town atmosphere.  In Bridgeton, everybody knows everybody and anyone who is an outsider is regarded with some degree of suspicion.  The murder of a girl who no one can identify rocks the town.  It's a violation of the gossip mill that nobody knows anything about what happened.  Any possible information spreads fast and viciously, the people eager to avenge this disruption of their peace.

And, in that shocking morning after, Becca's boyfriend calls her for support.  I loved her reaction.  "I don't understand why you're calling me (18, ARC)."  He betrayed her trust and hurt he in a very intimate manner, and she's not going to forget or forgive that easily.  But they tentatively continue their relationship, the day Becca leaves for college looming over their heads.  James has no intention of leaving Bridgeton, no matter how much he loves Becca.  The inevitable doom of the relationship is a familiar thing that many readers can empathize with.

Every few chapters there is a scene from Amelia Anne's point of view, recounting the events of her final day.  She left home with her boyfriend Luke, eager with her own post-graduation future.  She's bold, apologetically sexual, and unwilling to compromise her dreams for her boyfriend's.  It's heartbreaking to read those scenes when you know she isn't going to make it home alive.

AMELIA ANNE IS DEAD AND GONE reminded me somewhat of Ian McEwan's ATONEMENT.  Like Briony, Becca is a smart girl making assumptions based on what she sees and hears, but she's hampered by her own expectations.  And I'll stop my comparison there before it gets too revealing.

Rosenfield's debut exhibits an assured voice and style, although there are some flaws.  It's sometimes difficult to follow the timeline.  An older Becca tells the story of what happened in those months after Amelia Anne's death, but she sometimes flashes back to before Amelia Anne's death without warning.  But I enjoyed AMELIA ANNE IS DEAD AND GONE in all its brutality.

July 4, 2012

Review: 52 Reasons to Hate My Father

Book Cover By Jessica Brody
Available now from Farrar Straus Giroux (Macmillan)
Review copy

When I stopped by the Macmillan both during TLA, I told the woman working that I was suffering from paranormal fatigue.  Thus, she sold me on two upcoming contemporaries.  The first of those two is 52 REASONS TO HATE MY FATHER, about a rich girl forced to work in menial jobs for a year before she can access her trust fund.  It sounded like fun and I started to read it that very night.

I read a couple of chapters and put it down for more than a month.  Lexington Larrabee is a tough woman to handle in the beginning.  She's captious and spoiled, steamrolling over people without a second thought and throwing tantrums that would embarrass a five-year-old.  You want her to take the fifty-two minimum wage jobs her father lines up for her so that she can see what the real world is like.  Anything to make her more bearable.  But it's hard to side with her father.  He's distant and cold.  Even when changing the course of his daughter's life, he delivers the news through an intermediary.

Soon Lexi is working and learning nothing more than being a maid or a grocery store clerk really sucks.  The story really starts moving as Lexi begins to change her life and become more involved with the world around her.  On top of being a better person, a bunch of subplots kick in.

Luke, the intern who keeps track of Lexi's liaison, is a decent love interest.  He's quite the foil to Lexi - in college on a scholarship, serious and driven, cautious and a bad dresser.  I don't think girls will be running around proclaiming that they're Team Luke, but he had good chemistry with Lexi.  I always love relationships more when they're built up through lots of interaction and conversation.

By the time I got halfway through 52 REASONS TO HATE MY FATHER, I couldn't put it down.  After the rough start it's an infectious summer read.  It lives up to the promise of its cover.  If you're suffering from paranormal fatigue, you could do worse than Jessica Brody's 52 REASONS TO HATE MY FATHER.

July 3, 2012

Review: Team Human

Book Cover By Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
Available now from HarperTeen (HarperCollins)
Review copy

I was pumped for this release long before I got my hands on it.  A book by Justine Larbalestier and the divinely hilarious Sarah Rees Brennan?  And in a world where taglines exist mostly to be made fun of, "Friends don't let friends date vampires" is a winner.

At first I was totally on board with Mel Kuan.  She thinks the vampires are boring.  Most of them don't have jobs, aside from modeling perhaps.  They just sort of go about being vampires.  And that means never enjoying a sunny day . . . or laughing.  Larbalestier and Brennan's twist on the vampire is an inventive and fitting one.  Their emotions are dulled in order to help them survive the centuries.  That means never ever experiencing the extreme of laughter.  It drives some vamps to suicide.  It certainly wouldn't suit Mel, a jokester who thrives on laughter.

Their other twist comes in the transformation to a vampire.  Prospective vamps have an eight in ten chance of it going right.  One in ten flat out dies; another one in ten turns into a zombie.  It's definitely something to consider before crossing over.  If you're average, you get eternity.  If you're unlucky, it's death or worse.  Even more than in other novels, becoming a vampire is not a move one should undertake lightly.  Because TEAM HUMAN has good worldbuilding, there's an entire system devoted to transitioning.  Prospective vamps have to undergo counseling and tour a zombie facility.

Mel's world is shaken when vampiric Francis enrolls in her high school.  Pretty soon he's dating  her best friend Cathy, a dreamer who loves poetry and history.  Francis knows quite a bit about both.  After all, he's had plenty of time to study poetry and he's lived history.  Mel's objections to Francis work best when she focuses on how old he is and that vampires still drink human blood even if they don't swan about murdering people.  It's weird and kind of gross.  Not to mention Cathy has her whole life ahead of her.  As many people say in YA romance reviews, you don't want to be stuck with your first boyfriend for eternity.

But Mel goes too far in expressing her dislike of vamps.  She uses loaded language in order to make Francis uncomfortable.  When she meets Kit, who was raised by vampires, she talks about his family in an uncomplimentary way to his face.  Eventually, Kit does call her out on her behavior.  It was a moment that made me cheer.  And I would wholeheartedly embrace that moment, but the book is TEAM HUMAN.  Why am I cheering for Team Vampire?  Surely Team Human can mount a better defense than this.

But TEAM HUMAN isn't entirely about Mel and Cathy's romantic woes.  Their friend Anna's father ran away with a vampire over summer and her mother is acting extra strange.  She asks Mel to look into the situation.  Cue Mel snooping whenever she isn't trying to drive Francis off.

TEAM HUMAN had me in stitches.  I enjoyed both of the central relationships.  I loved how firm the characters were about who they were and how resistant they were to peer pressure.  I feared for Mel as her investigation took a turn for the sinister.  But Team Vampire still seems pretty darn spiffy.


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