Friday, August 28, 2009

Best Sellers (08/28/2009)

Weekly Feature: Here's a run-down of what's hot at the book stores this week (according to the NY Times lists posted online on 8/23/09, print version 8/30/09):

Hardcover Fiction
1. South of Broad by Pat Conroy ($29.95)
2. Smash Cut by Sandra Brown ($26.99)
3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett ($24.95)

Trade Paperback Fiction
1. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger ($14.95)
2. The Shack by William P. Young ($14.99)
3. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson ($14.95)

Mass Market Paperback Fiction
1. The Quickie by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge ($7.99)
2. Dean Koontz's Frankenstein: Dead and Alive by Dean Koontz ($9.99)
3. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris ($7.99)

Children's Books (Chapter Books)/Young Adult Fiction
1. L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad ($17.99)
2. Daniel X: Watch the Skies by James Patterson and Ned Rust ($19.99)
3. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater ($17.99)

My Thoughts:
* South of Broad seems epic in scope (timeline and setting) and comes from a heavy-weight author. Might be worth a look, in my opinion.
* I refuse to acknowledge what happened with the #1 spot on the YA list (I guess by writing that I just acknowledged it, didn't I? Crap.). But, at #3: the NY Times summarized Shiver as "Love among the lupines," but the summary on did it a little more justice. I've been on a real YA SciFi/Paranormal Romance kick (giving my brains over to zombies, etc.), but I haven't really read anything involving werewolves. I'm adding this one to my TBR list for sure.

Your Thoughts: Post in the comments and let me know which of these new books flips your switch.

Friday Finds

This week I put a lot of books on my "look into this" list, then I went over to and whittled it down to three. Here they are:

Troy High by Shana Norris - This book is a modern YA-retelling of the Homer's epic poem, The Illiad, in the form of a high school football rivalry between the Trojans and the Spartans that gets amped up when the head cheerleader of the Spartan squad, Elena, transfers to Troy High School. Found in the side bar of Melody's blog, Melody's Reading Corner, while checking out her Booking Through Thursday meme response.

Crossed Wires by Rosy Thornton - This book tells the charming tale of romance from unlikely sources--a telephone call to the insurance company complaint line. Witty dialogue and memorable characters rated this book high in 90% of people's opinions. Found as a Teaser Tuesday from Margot @ Joyfully Retired.

While I'm Falling by Laura Moriarty - The story of a college junior who's life is falling down around her ears (parents' divorce, school work, boyfriend, family pet?) that leads to investigating the complexities of mother/daughter bonds. (I'm a sucker for college-aged protagonists and books about moms and daughters). Found as a Teaser Tuesday from Staci @ Life in the Thumb.

What did you find this week? Post it over on the Friday Finds meme.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Book Review: Ninth Grade Slays

Title Ninth Grade Slays (The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod Series, Book #2)
Author Heather Brewer
Genre YA Science Fiction
Rating C-

Summary (Read my review of Book #1, Eighth Grade Bites.) Vlad, teenage half-vampire, is now in high school and he's learning all sorts of new things: quadratic equations, how to kiss a girl, how to read and control other people's minds, how to evade vampire slayers, and what it means to be a Pravus.

First Line "Jasik gripped the photograph in his hand and scanned the face of the boy. Except for his pale complexion and clever eyes, no one would suspect the teen was anything other than human. But Jasik knew differently."

Review Many of my comments in the review of Eighth Grade Bites are also applicable in Ninth Grade Slays. The characters are still fun to read (although their sense of humor with making vampire-related puns isn't that witty), they're getting further fleshed out, the plotting (weaving together the mundane and the mythological) kept my interest, and the writing was stiff and kind of boring.

Actually, the low-quality of the writing got to be so irritating to me that I started underlining and writing "What?" comments in the margin. Examples:
"Vlad tucked the letter inside his pocket and, reaching into the freezer for a bag of A negative, allowed himself a smile," (p. 75).
Really? He had to allow himelf to smile? Vlad isn't a particularly negative or mean kid. He smiles and laughs quite often. Plus, in this particular scene, he'd just received a letter from his uncle--something he looks forward to. Why is the smile allowed? Bad verb choice, I think.
"...Quite a few [of the books] had been banned in both the school and the town library. Vlad couldn't understand the logic behind banning books. Tell kids they can't do something and then be surprised that your efforts drove them to do whatever you didn't want them to do? Some grown-ups could be so inherently stupid," (pp. 79-80).
Really? Does anybody else find this tangent on book banning to be a little heavy-handed? Also, did anybody else notice that she slipped in the modifier "inherently" in front of the stupidity of book-banning adults? (Note: I do not support book banning or challenging. I also don't support condescending name-calling.)

Some of her writing is kind of clever, though. Example:
"Most were older, classic novels--like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which had seriously freaked Vlad out as a kid and still did. Who wouldn't be scared by the tale of a girl falling into a bizarre world infested with talking animals and a queen with a thirst for blood?" (p. 79).
Nice irony.

But here's my biggest issue with this series: this plot feels like a rip-off/re-working of Harry Potter. Orphan with a big prophecy about his future who's parents' old friends help to raise and teach him and gets relentlessly pursued by others of his own "kind" who have turned evil. And what I find most befuddling about the whole thing is that the HP series was intended as Middle Grade fiction, but was written with a prose that appealed to even adults, but this Vladimir Tod series is YA/Teen fiction, but reads like Middle Grade.

I guess the up-side for Brewer is that I liked HP enough that the overall story-line of destiny, magic, and good v. evil will still keep me reading her series. (But I'll probably check them out of the library--sorry, no money in her pocket.)

Recommended Fans of the Harry Potter series who are looking for a derivative series.

Booking Through Thursday

Today's Booking Through Thursday meme question is:
What is the lightest, most "fluff," book you've read recently?

I'm having a hard time answering this question.

If you were to look at my book reviews from the past month, you'd see books that are about Teenage Zombie Love; Life as a Teenage Vampire; Girls on the Football Team; Girls Playing Soccer; Teenagers Stuck Inside a "Bubble" Who Start Killing Each Other With Super Powers; Guys Trying to Start a Rock Band; Teenagers Having Sex; Teenagers Falling Down and Bumping Their Heads; and Teenagers With Porn Star Moms. That all sounds "fluffy," right?

But, if you read the reviews or thought about what the books mean in the bigger, cosmic sense, they could also be classified as books about Overcoming Prejudices; Finding Yourself; Fighting Against Odds; The Psychology of Human Nature; Healing Old Wounds; Becoming Your Own Person; Going Against What's Popular; and Defining Your Own Identity. For teenagers, the target audience of these books, those are some of the most important topics that they can be considering, right?

It's hard to say because "fluff" is a relative term.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Book Review: Generation Dead

Title Generation Dead (Book #1 in the Generation Dead Series)
Author Daniel Waters
Genre YA Science Fiction
Category Paranormal Romance
Rating C-

Summary Teens all over the United States are waking up from the dead as zombies, but not as the eat-your-brain-type zombies, more along the lines of we-talk-and-walk-slow-but-we-can-go-to-school-with-you-type zombies. Phobe (a not-zombie goth) starts to develop a deep relationship with undead student Tommy Williams, which draws the ire of fellow "blood bag" students who don't support zombie rights.

First Line "Phoebe and her friends held their breath as the dead girl in the plaid skirt walked past their table in the lunchroom."

Review Let me just put it out there, the reason I bought this book was because the back flap contained an excerpt from the Kirkus starred review that stated, "Stephenie Meyer meets John Green in debut author Waters's wry, original supernatural romance..." That got me to pick up the book because 1) I tend to like John Green's writing (more often than not); and 2) I am on the lookout for paranormal romance that isn't campy Twilight-y stuff and I wanted to see if this met that criteria (I put stock in the fact that this involved zombies and was written by a guy as indicators that it might not be too purple). I read the opening pages, which were okay, and I decided to take the $9 plunge to buy this book in paperback.

Unfortunately, for me, this book fell short of my John Green and anti-Twilight expectations. There were good things about the book (more on that later), but most of it wasn't that great. First off, Waters's writing was stilted and pretty boring. There wasn't any gripping action or moving poetry in his stylings that kept you glued to the page. This was Waters's first novel, so I'm going to hold out and hope that things improve as time goes along.

Second off, the paranormal romance was cut out of a tired mold. Tommy Williams had a hard, cold body, he was a gentleman, and he's undead. Sounds like another character in the long-line of mythical boyfriends that are making the rounds in YA paranormal romance these days (and let's be honest, adult paranormal romance is pretty much the same stuff). The one original thing about Tommy comes out in pages 380-381 where you discover that there are underlying motivations behind Tommy's "feelings" for Phoebe that were complex and interesting. Unfortunately, other events halt Tommy and Phoebe's conversation, so those issues aren't resolved, but I'm sure this will come up later in the series (fingers crossed that we'll get to revisit Tommy's motivations and see if he's as "pure" as he was made out to be).

Now for the good stuff...

First, as said before, there is the potential for some interesting developments in the character of Tommy. Is he all good or does he have some selfishness underneath that hard, cold exterior? There's also some interesting opportunities for narration from Adam (Phoebe's all-American nextdoor neighbor who takes a bullet for her and comes back as a zombie). The first couple of chapters of Book #2 in the series were in the back of this book, and the chapter from Adam's POV is interesting to read--the zombie mindset is a unique "voice" to read.

Also, there are other issues being examined in this book besides just "paranormal romance." Waters is using zombies as a metaphor for something else... he mentions the rights of illegal aliens, but could it also be same-sex marriage or some other hot-button political issue? I think so. I also think that presenting the idea of equal rights inside this "zombie book" was a something I hadn't seen done before. Kudos to him.

In summary, this book was not a very good read, but there was just enough potential for development for me to commit to reading the next book in the series, Kiss of Life. (I'll just wait until it's in paperback.)

Recommendation People who are looking for an extension of their paranormal romance fetish will like this. Tommy's no Edward Cullen, but who knows? Maybe Adam will turn out to be Phoebe's knight-in-rotting-flesh.

Book Review: Jerk, California

Title Jerk, California
Author Jonathan Friesen
Genre YA Literary Fiction
Rating A

Summary Sam Carrier is about to graduate high school--the end of his torturous existence of managing his Tourette's Syndrome around less-than-sympathetic classmates. But that's only the beginning: he gets a job with the town "crazy old coot" to escape the abuse he gets from his stepfather, meets the girl of his dreams, and goes on a surprising road trip (with the girl of his dreams).

First Line "'Sam has it. Question is, how bad?'"

Review This book choked me up from nearly start to finish. I read the first five pages while standing in the book store--to see if the book was worth getting because I'd eyed it a couple of times, but never made the commitment--and decided I had to have the book. Then I had to go home and read it right then.

Sam's disease (and his efforts to control it while still suffering through the regular problems of hormones, family problems, school drudgeries, and self-discovery) was compelling to read. He was a good narrator. The other characters were pretty interesting as well. His relationships with George (the crazy old coot), his mom, and Naomi (aka, the girl of his dreams) were complex and you could feel the emotion; you could even feel the negative emotions between him and his step dad.

Sam's trip of self-discovery was fulfilling to read. The only thing that was not-quite-so-fulfilling was that, at times, Sam was obtuse (when at other times he's clearly self-aware) and is slow to figure things out that are pretty clear to the reader. It happened most often in the second half of the book, but the ending resolved well (without me knowing exactly how everything was going to sort itself out), so that's redeeming.

Recommendation Fans of YA fiction with less-than-traditional narrators that allow you to get a two-for-one (typical YA self-growth book coupled with getting to learn something about a topic they don't know much about--in this case: Tourette's Syndrome) bonus will enjoy this book.

Book Review: The Sign for Drowning

Title The Sign for Drowning
Author Rachel Stolzman
Genre Literary Fiction
Category Women's Fiction
Rating B+

Summary Anna's life appears to be dominated by two main events: the drowning of her five-year-old sister (when Anna was eight); and the adoption of Adrea, a five-year-old deaf girl in the foster care system, whom she met as part of her work as an ASL teacher at a Deaf & Hearing Center in New York City. How these two events twine together to bring wholeness to Anna is the story told in The Sign for Drowning.

First Line "My father and Carla towed the yellow inflatable boat carrying the girls into the water," (Prologue, Page 1).

Review I read this book with a smile on my face and a lump in my throat nearly the entire way through. Then, when I was done, I returned to the front of the book and immediately re-read some of my favorite passages. My favorite parts centered around the character of Adrea and how she touched those around her. The stories of when Adrea's adoption certificate comes, Adrea finding the African violet plants at the market, Adrea getting dressed up for the poetry reading, and Adrea making her first cow-related sounds in France were charming and moving to read.

Further solidifying this short novel as a sheer pleasure to read was Stolzman's prose. Her background as a poet came through in her wonderful turns of phrases. From the beginning scenes that gripped you, as Anna watched her family frantically realize that her sister was drowning, the language of this book worms its way into your heart and mind.

But lest I give you the impression that this book was perfect, let me justify my rating of a B+.

First, as I read this book of a child adopted out of foster care, my mind immediately went to the young people I work with each summer who are part of the foster care system (check out Royal Family Kids Camp for details on this organization), and I was surprised by the language development of Adrea. Most of our children are delayed in their speech and reading skills because they haven't been in a supportive, nurturing environment that will develop those skills, but Adrea actually had exceptional communication skills. Her understanding of abstract concepts exceeded what I have learned in my educational theory classes is standard for a five-year-old. I ran this discontinuity past my stepmother, who is an ASL interpreter, and she was surprised at the idea of a deaf child being in a foster home that wasn't with deaf foster parents from the age of 15 months to 5 years (as is the case with Adrea in this story). She said that in most major cities, it holds true for Indianapolis and she imagined it would be the same in NYC, that the deaf community takes great pains to work with the CPS system to make sure that all deaf children are placed into deaf foster homes. Maybe it's not that way in NYC, but it was just a little detail that seemed out of place--in all actuality, a big detail, but nonetheless. On a side note, when Adrea is going to be left in her Parisian class by herself for the first time (page 108) and she regresses to gripping her hands--that detail was heart-breaking and beautifully written (inconsistencies about language development aside).

Another detail that I discussed with my step mom: On page 58 the narrator says, "There isn't a sign for 'drowning,'" which I asked about and my step mom said, "Sure there is," and she performed a sign that clearly looked to me like somebody drowning. She then did point out her typical ASL-related caveat--sometimes signs are regional and just because in the Midwest there is a commonly-accepted sign for a word, doesn't mean that's true in the East. I'll say this: ASL has to be a very difficult language to learn. I'll also say this: My step mom concurred that there is not a word for "suicide," as the narrator points out on page 160, you tell how the person killed themselves (shot themselves, took pills, etc.), so that detail was consistent. All that to say that sign language is a complex and variegated language that probably shouldn't be overly-scrutinized (I didn't really lower the literary rating for this book because of these language-related questions).

I did lower the grade because of the ending. Now, I'll be honest, I try to review books critically, not personally, so even if an ending isn't what I wanted or expected, it can still be good. And this ending was good, but it definitely could have been better. The first reason I think it could have been better was from an editing standpoint: On page 191 the author writes a beautiful line, "For this moment all things were well placed," and then she continues on for another seven paragraphs. The actual ending line of the book is, "I would clap [my hands] together so fast that they sang, and that they made a new shape, that they threw sparks." The last line, as the way it's written, doesn't have the finality of the "... well placed," line. I felt the book should have ended with the realization of the placement of things--not with the swimming and on and on. All this would have required is moving the paragraph with the "... well placed" line to the end of the book. This would have made a monumental difference.

But here is what, in my opinion, would have moved the ending to the category of phenomenal: All throughout the book we've been looking at how the two events--the childhood death and the adoption--were correlated and I think this should have been shown in the ending. I think that the ending should have been some kind of epilogue or post script about Anna coming home, with everything "well placed" to manifest that in her external relationships. In her relationship with Adrea at least (but there's also a dad and a boyfriend and friends where this could have been shown). One additional scene of closure for the other half of the book--the entire storyline of mother/daughter bonding--would have moved this book into realm of awesomeness. It might have made my top ten of books with that additional piece.

Don't get me wrong, it's still good, probably top 50 books. But just a little lacking in the very final scene, in the place where I got my last taste.

Recommendation Lovers of literary fiction (think Jane Smiley and Anne Tyler) will love this in-depth look at family dynamics.

Book Review: Eighth Grade Bites

Title Eighth Grade Bites The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod Series (Book #1)
Author Heather Brewer
Genre YA Science Fiction
Rating B-

Summary Vladimir (Vlad) Tod is your average, everyday eighth grade vampire with two dead parents and a human best friend. He lives with his "Aunt" Nelly, slogs through school, and stresses about girls. All while trying to figure out why people around him are disappearing.

First Line "A tree branch slapped John Craig across the face, scraping his skin, but he kept on running and ignored the stabbing of pine needles on his bare feet."

Review I have a mixed review about this book. I liked pretty much all of the characters--I'm hoping they get fleshed out a little more in future books (which is a big advantage of series). I enjoyed the way that Brewer freshened up the vampire lore in the book--vampires can go out in sunlight if they wear sunblock and vampires can eat normal human food (in addition to drinking blood from various sources)--while also giving a nod to the traditional--they tend to be most productive at night, they can levitate, and their fangs retract and descend depending on their "thirst." Also Vlad is half human (his mom was a human), so he ages, which should be interesting to see.

I also liked the generalized plot of the book, watching Vlad navigate the treacherous world of Junior High (where bullies and girls that make his tongue twist are in abundance) mixed in with the surreal story line of Vlad figuring out who killed his parents and his teacher and why he might be in danger. I also thought quite a bit of the events of the story were pretty realistic for how Junior High guys might act and think.

On the subject of "believability" for eighth grade: I wasn't super crazy about some of the dialogue--it was just a little stilted and not as clever as Brewer's prose. It came off as more Middle Grade fiction, instead of YA. Sure, you might be thinking that Vlad is in 8th grade, perhaps that is Middle Grade, except that this is the first in the series--Vlad goes on to high school in future books. I'm not sure, perhaps Brewer was just trying to allow Vlad's dialogue to grow up as he does, but it felt pretty juvenile at times. We'll see how that goes as the series progresses.

(Tip: I've started reading the second book in this series, Ninth Grade Slays, and Brewer--bless her heart--isn't doing too much back-story information dump, so check out Eighth Grade Bites first. You'll be glad you did.)

Recommendation Fans of the vampire Sci-Fi sub-genre who want a male protagonist who neither sparkles nor is a gentleman (cough *Edward Cullen* cough).


I've been very YA SciFi Series-tastic with my reading and reviewing lately.

  • I recently reviewed the first two books in the Gone series by Michael Grant. (By the way, he messaged me on and there are six books planned for this series. Book #3 Lies is "in the can" [with some trouble in store for Brittney... I lamented and he may try and fix things up for her in Book #4].)
  • Today I'll be getting up the review for Eighth Grade Bites by Heather Brewer (Book #1 in the The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series). I just started the second book in the series, Ninth Grade Slays, and I should be able to finish and pop that review up shortly.
  • And last night I finished the first book in the Generation Dead series by Daniel Waters, which I'll be reviewing later this week.
So, it shouldn't be surprising that I'm pimping out Jenna Likes to Read's The Hunger Games give-away. Skip on over to Jenna's blog to sign up (today!!) for the contest. Sorry about the late notice, but I just found out today as a result of her awesome teaser that she posted. But when it comes to this fantastic YA dystopic series, better late than never is my mantra!

Teaser Tuesday (Double Meaning)

Just today (about one hour ago while I was riding the elevator up to the 5th floor at work) I began reading The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Ninth Grade Slays (Book 2 of 3... so far... in this YA Sci Fi series). That being said, I'm going to pull a teaser out of this book and, if you enjoy, come back later today to read my full review of book one in the series (Eighth Grade Bites). [See what I mean about the double meaning? A tease for this book and a tease for the review. I'm so slick.]

I picked this teaser (from the next page that I'll be reading) which is Vlad giving a little back story on "Aunt Nelly" catering to his "odd diet":
"One big plus of living with Nelly--who was actually no relation to him at all, but his mother's best friend for years and years before his parents had passed on--was that she could bake cinnamon rolls so sweet and delicious that if she had the determination and funding, she could easily give Cinnabon a run for their money. Just stay away from her meat loaf," (p. 7).
You'll see that the book is a humorous, tongue-in-cheek take on life as a teenage vampire (who ages... definitely a different twist on the traditional lore); you'll also see that the struggles of being a teenage vampire aren't that different from the struggles of being a teenage guy. Period. (Except for wanting to drink your friend's blood.)

While you're waiting for my review of Eighth Grade Bites, check out some other teasers over at the Teaser Tuesdays meme.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Musing Mondays Meme Response

Today the question on the Musing Mondays meme is:
Do you prefer to read stand-alone books, or books in series? Do you stick with a series the whole way through or stop after the first instalment? Are there any particular series you enjoy?

I don't have a preference for or against series (or stand-alone books). I think, if pressured (like with a gun to my head) I'd say I do have a fondness for series because I enjoy spending lots of time with characters that I like. That being said, series can get me in trouble with my reading because I'm a sucker (with a tiny touch of tendency toward O.C.D.) who feels compelled to finish a series, even if the writing becomes worse as time goes on (which it often seems to do as the author [and editors] get a little lazy because readers are hooked). Some times I'll get lucky and the books get better as the author gets more experienced (which I recently saw with the Pretty TOUGH series), but that seems to be the exception to the rule.

My big things about series are:
1. I have to read the books in order; and
2. I hate when authors include backstory from previous books in the series. I think authors should write the books and trust that people will read them in the order intended. Please, please, please stop recapping book #1 in book #2. As much as it pains me to use her as an example, Stephanie Meyer did a pretty good job of this in the Twilight series--it's been over a year since I've cracked any of the books open, but I don't remember her doing any recapping/summarizing in books 2-4 of the series. (Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Best Sellers (08/21/2009)

Weekly Feature: Here's a run-down of what's hot at the book stores this week (according to the NY Times lists posted online on 8/16/09, print version 8/23/09):

Hardcover Fiction
1. Bad Moon Rising by Sherrilyn Kenyon ($24.99)
2. That Old Magic Cape by Richard Russo ($25.95)
3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett ($24.95)

Trade Paperback Fiction
1. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger ($14.95)
2. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson ($14.95)
3. The Shack by William P. Young ($14.99)

Mass Market Paperback Fiction
1. Bengal's Heart by Lora Leigh ($7.99)
2. Dean Koontz's Frankenstein: Dead and Alive by Dean Koontz ($9.99)
3. The Quickie by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge ($7.99)

Children's Books (Chapter Books)/Young Adult Fiction
1. Daniel X: Watch the Skies by James Patterson and Ned Rust ($19.99)
2. L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad ($17.99)
3. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen ($19.99)

My Thoughts:
* I'm so excited for one of my favorite authors, Richard Russo, to hit #2. And with a heavy piece of literary fiction, no less. Quite a feat. I'm a little perplexed about The Help making it up to #3 (it was #4 last week) but it came out back in February, so I'm surprised that people are buying it now. Usually this particular portion of the list is so flash-in-the-pan-genre-heavy that this one suprises me.
* No change on the trade paperback list this week. I wish I'd put forth the effort to look at actual numbers of units sold (if that information were available) because I'll be interested to see just how much The Time Traveler's Wife fluctuates immediately after the release of the movie.
* I was a little confused about the plotline of Bengal's Heart, as written by the NY Times ("A reporter and a sexy Bengal try to uncover why the Breeds have been accused of harboring a serial killer.") until I checked out the author's website and saw that The Breeds is a serial romance series. That cleared things up a little for me.
* No changes on the YA list. I wish things would switch up more often, but at least Lauren Conrad didn't reclaim the top spot. There's something to be said for taht.

Your Thoughts: Post in the comments and let me know which of these new books flips your switch.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Book Review(s): Pretty Tough and Playing With the Boys

Title Pretty TOUGH
Author Liz Tigelaar
Genre YA Commercial Fiction
Rating D+

Summary Charlie and Krista Brown (yep, you read it right--Charlie Brown) are sisters who hate each other. Charlie isn't happy with her life; she's a high school sophomore who doesn't have any friends (her best friend spread a rumor about her freshman year), and she thinks Krista is full of herself. Krista is under intense pressure to stay with her uber-popular boyfriend who's already been accepted early admission to Yale, and her best friend (a D-list Hollywood actress) doesn't think that Krista is all that. When Charlie crashes Krista's senior season of soccer, they both learn something.

First Line "For nearly twenty seconds, Charlie was convinced she was dead."

Review Imagine reading a book where you don't particularly like reading the protagonist's POV. Now imagine that the book in question is told in alternating POV's between two sisters, and you don't like either of the voices. Charlie is whiny and Krista is a narcissist. Good times, right?

The story was moderately interesting and the ending, although a little bit obvious from a long ways off, was actually written pretty well. I finally saw why Charlie and Krista hated each other. Too bad it took me 200 pages to get to that point. The author didn't do a good job of fleshing out the sisters--you knew they hated each other, but you didn't know why. This book would have been infinitely better if the author had elaborated on the complexities of the sisters' relationship before page 174. She made me work way too hard to finish this book.

Also, just as a side note, doesn't the cover look like that girl is missing a foot? That might make it sort of hard to play soccer, right?

Title Playing With the Boys (A Pretty TOUGH Book)
Author Liz Tigelaar
Genre YA Commercial Fiction
Rating C

Summary Lucy Malone is transported from Toledo, OH, to Malibu, CA, with her dad after her mother dies. The loss of her mom and the cross-country move are tough to deal with, but she meets Charlie Brown (remember her?) and some other great girls when she tries out for the soccer team. Unfortunately, she doesn't make it, but she can really bend it and when the place kicker for the football team gets injured, Lucy gets goaded into going for the goal.

First Line "Lucy Malone had always felt that she was just one letter short of 'lucky,' and in her fifteen years on this planet, her theory had definitely been proven true."

Review Remember the problems with Pretty TOUGH? (You should. The review's right up above... go read it again if you've forgotten.) Well, Tigelaar cleaned up her act on this book.

Lucy is an instantly-likable narrator. Her problems are complex and you understand why and you care pretty much straight-away. The drama surrounding the boys/crushes/let's just be friends situations were much more compelling in this second book. The only hang-up for me was that the tension about Lucy's dad's prohibition of her being on the football team was too melodramatic. Everything else was pretty good (not high-brow literature, sure, but decent reading), but this just rang as not all that believable.

I almost didn't read this book (because Pretty TOUGH was so bad), but I'm glad I did. Tigelaar is definitely evolving as a writer and I'll be looking forward to future books in this series.

Recommendation People who like their YA literature with a little "girl power" thrown in.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly meme where "players" post a couple of sentences from their current read (avoiding spoilers) to give "spectators" a view of what could be in store if they'd pick up the book to read too.

My tease this week comes from The Sign for Drowning by Rachel Stolzman. This little tease comes from a scene where the protagonist, Anna, finds out that her adoption of five-year-old (now six years old) Adrea, who is deaf, has been made official, as marked by the delivery of an adoption certificate:
"She was perched forward on my lap, hands flat on the kitchen table, twisted around to watch me. Then she examined the document again. When she finished, she leaned back against my chest, smiling. She pulled my arms around her, and raising my hands, made them clap together," (pp. 29-30).
This little vignette made me smile... I could just picture it. So beautiful. This whole book has been simultaneously beautiful and sad to read so far (at a little less than half-way through).

Friday, August 14, 2009

Best Sellers (08/14/2009)

Weekly Feature: Here's a run-down of what's hot at the book stores this week (according to the NY Times lists posted online on 8/7/09, print version 8/14/09):

Hardcover Fiction
1. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson ($25.95)
2. The Defector by Daniel Silva ($26.95)
3. Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner ($26.99)

Trade Paperback Fiction
1. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger ($14.95)
2. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson ($14.95)
3. The Shack by William P. Young ($14.99)

Mass Market Paperback Fiction
1. Dean Koontz's Frankenstein: Dead and Alive by Dean Koontz ($9.99)
2. Smoke Screen by Sandra Brown ($9.99)
3. Mastered by Love by Stephanie Laurens ($7.99)

Children's Books (Chapter Books)/Young Adult Fiction
1. Daniel X: Watch the Skies by James Patterson and Ned Rust ($19.99)
2. L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad ($17.99)
3. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen ($19.99)

My Thoughts:
* No big surprises on the hardcover fiction list. (Actually, if you take a peek at the whole list, I thought #4 and #5 were interesting... but that's beyond the scope of this blog post.)
* No real changes on the trade paperback list this week. Larsson is holding steady on two of the major charts. (Too bad he's not around to see it. But you have to wonder if he'd be doing as well if he were still alive.)
* I've never read a Koontz book, but that title seemed awesome. I may have to check that out... $10 isn't bad for a book.
* I never thought I'd say this, but I'm so glad that James Patterson cranks out books because he has finally unseated Lauren Conrad. It is a joyous day and the angels are rejoicing in heaven. (Okay, maybe not on that one.) I may have to check this one out too... just to ensure that this non-LA Candy best seller phenomena lasts longer than a week.

Your Thoughts: Post in the comments and let me know which of these new books on our list seems most likely to be right up your alley.

Friday Finds

There weren't a ton of Friday Finds this week... all impulse buys at the store.

Hunger by Michael Grant: This was a major impulse. A couple of weeks ago I picked up the book Gone, read it this past Monday, and made an emergency run on Monday night (at 9:30 p.m.) to pick up the second book in the series, Hunger. [I finished Hunger on Tuesday and you can read my reviews of both of these fantastic YA SciFi books right here.]

Pretty Tough and Playing With the Boys by Liz Tigelaar: I've looked at this series of YA books about "girly-girls" who play sports and aren't afraid to get rough and tumble (and see how it affects their social life) a couple of times before, but never committed. But last week I had an extra $15 bucks and picked up both in paperback... I've started reading the first in the series and it's a pretty good story with a strong female protagonist (but also not the greatest thing I've ever read, but it was only $15, after all).

The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Eighth Grade Bites by Heather Brewer: Again, an impulse buy at the book store because I had an extra $8 to blow, and this book (the first in a series) about an eighth grade vampire--who is neither sparkly nor a gentleman--seemed like something different. [I'm tired of vampire books trying too hard to make vampires not be vampire-ish.] Plus, I'm a sucker for reading female authors doing the voice of a male teen--I have so much to learn for my own writing. Here's to hoping it's an educational experience.

What about you? What did you find this week?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Book Review(s): Gone and Hunger

Title(s) Gone and Hunger (Books 1 and 2 of the "Gone" Series)
Author Michael Grant
Genre YA Science Fiction
Category Dystopic Fiction
Rating A

Summary A mysterious and inpenetrable dome appears surrounding a 10-mile radius sphere of land, centered around a power plant, and all adults (and teens over the age of 14) disappear in an instant. The kids left behind in the FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone) have to figure out how to survive--survive their loneliness, survive the bullies scrabbling for power, survive their hunger, oh yeah, and survive the raging battle between two factions of kids that reaches epic proportions as some of the kids find out they have supernatural powers. Let the carnage begin.

First Line (of Gone) "One minute the teacher was talking about the Civil War. And the next minute he was gone."

Review(s) And the action takes off at a gallop right off the bat. No diddling around with setting up the scene or introducing characters, all back story is woven right into the prose and dialogue. Very nice, Mr. Grant. Well played.

Here's an example of Grant's spectacular-ness: this book is 558 pages and I read it in one day (and then went back to Barnes & Noble at 9:30 p.m. to pick up the second book in the series, Hunger, because I was hooked). Very nice, Mr. Grant.

Here's another example of Grant's amazing-ness: In addition to the kids developing mutant powers, some animals around the FAYZ are mutating as well, and I couldn't help but feel that, even though the idea of flesh-eating worms was definitely science fiction, it was so well-realized in Grant's descriptions that I was creeped out for a couple of days, thinking there might be flesh-eating worms lurking in the grass. Seriously his science fiction is so real (as real as it can be) that it sinks into you. I found myself thinking about it for days afterward. It felt, to me, like reading Stephen King (most notably Needful Things).

Here's another example of Grant's awesome-ness: There were times that I wanted to cry. I read the last line of Hunger and actually thought, "Oh my God, what's she going to do?" That's not blasphemy, I was actually crying out to God (okay, maybe not really). The characters are so richly-drawn that you come to understand their inner-workings (which Grant allows to happen by using alternating POV's... tons of them... so you see each kid's thought process) and you nearly feel for them. It's almost too much to bear.

Here's the one teeny-tiny flaw in the series: Grant included back story from Gone in Hunger to catch up any late-comers who didn't read the first book in the series. I hate that. Just write them and trust that people will read the books in the series in order. I didn't need stuff re-explained and you could have probably lopped off 25 pages (of the very weighty 590-page second book in the series). I do have to hand it to Grant, though, he didn't do an information dump and just put it all in the outset--he sprinkled it throughout as needed. That made it ever-so-slightly more bearable.

One final comment on this series (of which there are two more in the works): I applaud Grant for being able to keep things pretty PG-13. The language and amorous feelings are PG and the action is pretty intense (I'll be honest, there is a lot of death in these books), but it's done well in my opinion. I'm getting the impression that Grant might be a Catholic, I could be wrong, so be advised if you hate religious parallels in your reading because they're there.

Recommendation Fans of Stephen King (and his upcoming book looks like an adult version that carries a lot of dome-related similarities) will enjoy this YA series.

Book Review: Boy Toy

Title Boy Toy
Author Barry Lyga
Genre YA Literary Fiction
Rating B+

Summary Josh Mendel is trying to get through his senior year--get a baseball scholarship, figure out how to relate to girls, and figure out how to control the sexual compulsions that are a result of having been molested by his teacher in seventh grade. Oh, and did I mention that his teacher has just been released from jail?

First Line "'Lucky thirteen,' my dad said when I blew out the candles on my birthday cake, and my mom shot down his lame attempt at humor with a disgusted 'Oh, Bill!'"

Review There was so much I liked about this book and only a little bit that I didn't like (but it's a pretty major thing).

What I did like: the seduction by the teacher (which, I believe, is actually called "grooming" when it comes to child molestation) scenes are done really tastefully and are told from Josh's POV and are so eye-opening. That sounds weird to say, and you might think, 'Why would you want to have your eyes opened to that?' And I guess the reason I found this book so fabulous is that every year I volunteer at a camp for kids who are in the CPS system because they've been abused (physically or sexually) or neglected. It's reality, but everyone likes to pretend it doesn't happen. But I think books like this, that show how it can happen even in white middle-class America, and the effects it has on kids, can help open the discussion up so that we can start to really address the underlying issues and start to move toward solutions.

Lyga thanks a number of people at the back of the book in the acknowledgements section, but I didn't see anyone who gave him insights into the psychological profile of sexually abused kids. I don't know if he did a lot of reading, or how he did it, but Josh's confusion and misinterpretations and latent manifestations of the misplaced shame and guilt were so poignant. Very well done.

What I didn't like: The resolution of the student/teacher situation. Most notably I didn't like how it happened, or more specifically, where it happened. The situation was just so unbelievable. And everything else up to that point (up to page 392 of 410) was so believable and well done that it just left a sour taste at an otherwise exceptionally well written book.

This book isn't funny or exciting or even easy to read. But it's good and worth your time. Sure, most teens who might pick up this book are past the point where they might be prime targets for predators, but this book is fantastic reading material for parents of young children and tweens. I don't mean this to be all, "Lock up your children!" because it's more than that. It's about abuse and its effects (there are long-term effects to all forms of abuse) and it shows what life after abuse is like for the victim (and a small glimpse at the life of the predator).

I don't know that this is the best book I've ever read from a literary stand-point (okay, I know it isn't... the dialogue was really lacking in some parts), but the way the subject matter is handled earned this a good grade in my book.

Recommendation Anyone who doesn't want to have their head stuck in the sand.

Book Review: King Dork

Title King Dork
Author Frank Portman
Genre YA Literary Fiction
Rating B-

Summary Tom Henderson is a nothing at school--taking hits from students of all social classes (and some teachers and school administrators as well). However, when he finds his dead father's copy of The Cather in the Rye, and stumbles upon a cipher that links his dad's teenage library (which is available for perusal in their basement), he starts to see the world differently. (And he finds out that being in a band has the potential to get you some major action with the ladies.)

First Line "It started with a book."

Review I've been really lucky lately, reading and reviewing some funny books. (Check out my reviews of Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac and Lost It.) And this one didn't fail in that regard either. Nor was it perfect.

I heartily enjoyed Tom, and his family and friends were sufficiently complex to keep me interested. What did allow my interest to wane was the "mystery" surrounding his father's adolescence and death. In theory they were interesting, but the mystery was really complex and (eventually it comes out that) a great deal of the mystery you've been slogging through was random and not relevant to the plot or character growth of the protagonist. All of that silliness just made the book easy to put down at points.

But the wry humor made the times when I was reading pretty enjoyable. Check out this scene when Tom is introducing us to his stepfather:

"The current man in my mom's life, technically my stepfather, is a full-on hippie... There's just no getting around it. He'd say 'former hippie' probably, but that's too fine a distinction in my book.
Our official legal relationship is pretty recent, though he's been around for quite a while. I don't know why they decided to get married all of a sudden. They went away for a weekend to see Neil Young in Big Sur and somehow came back married. They still refer to each other as partners, though, rather than husband-wife. 'Have you met my partner, Carol?' Like they're lawyers who work in the same law firm, or cops who share a squad car. Or cowboys in the Wild West. 'Howdy, pardner.'
Unfortunately, Carol's [his mom's] dogie-wranglin' varmint-lickin' yella-bellied pardner's name happens to be Tom also. Just my luck.
He has tried to establish the system where I call him Big Tom and he calls me Little Dude. So that any observers (like, say, if someone planted a spy cam in the TV room) could tell us apart. See, you can't have two Toms in the same room. It would be too confusing for the viewer. Well, he can call me what he likes, but I hardly ever say anything at all, so it never comes up from my end. He's the one who calls himself Big Tom. Which is funny because he's very small for a full-grown man. The spy cam doesn't lie: Big Tom is little," (p. 25).
That gives you a taste of Tom (aka, Little Dude's) take on the world. He's pretty spot-on with his assessments. Like when he cuts through all the B.S. surrounding the "coming-of-age" masterpiece Catcher in the Rye and he talks about how the title of CitR comes from a mis-quoted poem by Holden Caulfield where he imagines he's standing at the edge of a field of rye and catches kids who are too close to the edge and puts them safely back in the field, but Tom Henderson thinks the field of rye is a metaphor for life and people trying to make us conform and says, "I'm rooting for the kids and hoping they get out while they can. And as for you, Holden, old son: if you happen to meet my body coming through the rye, I'd really appreciate it if you'd just stand aside and get out of my fucking way," (p. 247).

There is definitely spicy language and quite a bit of teenage "yearning" (and second-hand accounts of third base), but the humor and insights of this book are worth the read. [I'd recommend checking it out from the library or picking up a used copy to save your money, and preparing to read it with an open mind.]

Recommendation Teens who like to think, who like to question, and who like to consider where they fit into the big cogs of the world.

Book Review: Lost It

Title Lost It
Author Kristen Tracy
Genre YA Commercial Fiction
Rating B+

Summary Tess Whistle's life is falling apart... her friend is plotting death to a neighborhood dog, her parents are running off to "find themselves" in the wilderness, her grandmother is forcing Tess to learn to drive, and Tess's first boyfriend doesn't know how long he can put up with her insanity. (And her shoes explode.)

First Line "I didn't start out my junior year of high school planning to lose my virginity to Benjamin Easter--a senior--at his parents' cabin in Island Park underneath a sloppily patched, unseaworthy, upside-down canoe."

Review This book was laugh-out-loud funny. Tess was quite unlike any character I'd ever read before, her worries and anxieties (and knowledge of survival tactics for freak situations) were a hoot to read. Also, Tess's friend, her parents, and her grandma contributed to the laughs as well. The whole thing was chuckle-inducing nearly the whole way through.

The only drawback to me was that the climax of the book was precipitated on Tess making up a lie (as a survival tactic to not have to admit that she still drank juice boxes) that went on a little too long. I guess it was funny in that the big blow-up of the book was all because Tess told a (really dumb) lie and through a series of crazy and zany events, it blows up in her face. But throughout it all, Tess stays relatively un-whiny (and when she gets a little whiny, she bucks up pretty quick).

How's this for funny: When her grandma suggests that Tess save a whale in her boyfriend's name, because he's reportedly a big fan of marine life, Tess thinks, "Until that point, I'd had no clue that you could save a whale in somebody else's name. In fact, it wasn't totally clear to me how you went about saving a whale to begin with, other than not harpooning one," (216).

Book Review: Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac

Title Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac
Author Gabrielle Zevin
Genre YA Literary Fiction
Rating B-

Summary If Naomi hadn't fallen on the steps outside of her high school and smacker her head, her whole life would have been different. She wouldn't have to re-learn secrets about her family, figure out why she's friends with the people that she's friends with, why she's dating one guy and dying to kiss another guy.

First Line "If things had been different, I'd be called Nataliya or Natasha, and I'd have a Russian accent and chapped lips year round."

Review This book made me laugh out loud. Hard. To the point that I actually might have passed gas when I was laughing. It's that funny. The premise and the set-up of this book was quirky and charming, the protagonist was only moderately irritating--but then again, she was irritated at her life as she had to re-learn even the most simple of tasks--and some other characters were really engaging. Good things all around.

The only big hang-ups for me were in the character and storyline surrounding the mysterious "other guy," James. I kind of liked this character, but the author actually made him, in my opinion, a little too different, a little too much of a bad boy, and the final event before the splitting of their relationship required me to completely suspend disbelief. Suspending reality is pretty common in reading, some genres more than others, but commercial and literary YA fiction rarely require you to completely throw reality out the window. Without going into too much detail that will ruin the events of this (more often than not) really great book, it's just too far fetched and reduced the love-ability of this book in my opinion.

The other problems were that part-way through the book, the narrator develops a secret and I think she holds on to the secret too long--another hit to believability--and I saw the final resolution coming about 75 pages before the ending. (Still read on though, so that's a testimony to the author's humor.)

That being said, I'm going to hang onto this book, I'll probably re-read and recommend to tons of people--the theme of "finding yourself" wrapped up in this funny/charming novel is captivating and worth reading. Go into this book knowing that it's not entirely perfect, but it'll definitely get some laughs.

I'll leave you with a funny bit [The First Time She's "Reintroduced" to her Boyfriend] for your digestion. (For reference, this wasn't the passage that made me fart with laughter):

"'Here, I brought you something. I was at the camp Pro Shop, and I guess these reminded me of you.' He took a pair of white terry cloth tennis wristbands out of his pocket.
I wondered what about me screamed tennis sweatbands to him. Had he meant it as a joke? I could tell by his mouth--a think pink line of determined patience and anticipation--that he hadn't.
It certainly wasn't the most romantic gift ever, but you know, it was obvious the guy meant well, so I put the wristbands on.
'Looks nice,' he said. 'With your, um, pajamas.'" (p. 50).

Recommendation Fans of smart YA fiction (that can read through a few sticky points and obvious plot points coming from far away). Also, anybody who likes their literature with a laugh.

(Horribly) Booking Through Thursday

Today's question on the Booking Through Thursday meme is, "What’s the worst book you’ve read recently?"

This is a little bit of an easier question to answer than the worst book you've ever read. The quick one that comes to mind (that I need to get around to reviewing) is Homecoming Queen (Carter House Girls Book #3) by Melody Carlson. I couldn't finish it. Put it down at around 90 pages. I was trying, really trying hard to read this whole series, but I should have known I'd never make it, seeing as how low I rated the first two books (Mixed Bags and Stealing Bradford) in the series.

And, just as a side note, I think it goes to show how truly awful this book was because I really can stomach some really bad crap when it comes to YA commercial fiction. But this one, it just went too far. One particularly stupid line from Book #2 that was so awful it got cited in my review post was actually re-used, verbatim, in Book #3. C'mon, Melody, that's just lazy. It's like she has macros on her computer for crappy inner monologues and just recycles them, assuming nobody will notice. Horrible!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Musing Monday Response... Again

This week's Musing Mondays question is:

Do you have a favourite publishing house -- one that puts out books that you constantly find yourself wanting to read? If so, who? And, what books have they published that you've loved? (question courtesy of MizB)

I could only, off-hand, think of favorites I have in the YA genres.

I think that Simon Pulse does really great books--both in the light, fun, teen contemporary melodrama sub-category and the heavy, drug-using, seedier-side-of-life teen contemporary drama sub-category. I kind of have a wannabe-author crush on them... I think my Work-in-Progress novel series could fit in their list well and yearn for them.

I also read quite a few that are printed by Speak (a YA imprint of Penguin Publishing)... but a lot of that is due to their rock-bottom prices ($7-$9) for trade paperback quality books. They've also got a good stable of reliable authors that they work with, so I tip my hat to them.

All that being said, I don't specifically seek out books by either of these publishers, it's more that Simon Pulse will advertise other books you might like in the backs of their books (which is kind of a nice feature) and the Speak books I notice by their branding when I flip them over and check out the great pricing on the backs of their books.

What about you? Do you play favorites?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Book Review: Something, Maybe

Title Something, Maybe
Author Elizabeth Scott
Genre YA Commercial Fiction
Rating B

Summary Hannah wants to be really normal, but that's hard to do when your mom's job is doing internet chats in her lingerie and your dad is a Hugh Hefner-spin-off. Hannah does her best to be invisible, going through school and work (with her crush-of-ultimate-proportions Josh and irritating Finn) and biding her time until she can start college and get away from home.

First Line "Everyone's seen my mother naked."

Review That's a pretty good first line. And the book's pretty good too. Hannah is an interesting enough character, and you get enough of a glimpse at her home life that her ever-so-slightly whiny inner monologues are understandable. But the best part of the book is that Scott does a good job of portraying Hannah's parents in a two-dimensional light as well--they're clearly not perfect (or even close), but they're sufficiently complex and interesting to read about.

The rising action of the book and the climax were pretty gripping (as far as contemporary YA fiction goes) and caused a lump to rise in the back of my throat. Sure, I knew what was going to happen with Hannah's love interests, but there was enough meat on the bones of this story to make it a satisfying read.

Note: I read this book because I'd previously read Scott's Perfect You, which wasn't that great, but had a teaser for this book in the back, and this book was far better. I'd encourage anybody who had even a little bit of interest in Scott's earlier works (even if it wasn't jaw-dropping awe) to give this one a shot.

Recommendation Anybody who is a fan of light, fun YA fiction (with romantic undertones and family drama) should enjoy a good bit of quick reading in this one.

Book Review: Sunshine

Title Sunshine
Author Robin McKinley
Genre Science Fiction
Category Paranormal Romance
Rating D+

Summary Rae "Sunshine" is a seemingly normal 25-year-old who works at her family's coffee shop/cafe, she's dating a normal guy, but things become decidedly un-normal when she's captured by a gang of vampires and locked in a house as a "gift" for another vampire. But she escapes... and helps the vampire (Constantine) escape and then finds that she's got all sorts of latent magical powers that, when combined with Constantine's, are down-right formidable.

First Line "It was a dumb thing to do, but it wasn't that dumb. There hadn't been any trouble out at the lake in years. And it was so exquisitely far from the rest of my life."

Review This book was just kind of okay for me. It moved fast enough, in general terms, but there were a few places were the book would get stuck. Most often it was when Sunshine was dealing with the "police" who were responsible for keeping Other attacks (vampires, were-creatures, demons, etc.) under control. The back story of the mythical creatures and the bureaucracy of other-handling were pretty boring.

But the action sequences and romance sequences (as Sunshine vacillates between her human boyfriend and Constantine) were pretty interesting and kept things moving at a good clip. The climax was dramatic, but the denouement was boring... I skimmed. It was weird, in my opinion, because it felt like Sunshine wasn't making a decision about how her life would turn out in the end. She does thinking and introspection, but nothing is ever really "decided." The book didn't feel like it would be part of a series, so the end was pretty unsatisfying.

Additionally, McKinley uses some non-traditional prose, writing like a stream of consciousness, and it gets a little tedious to keep up because the thoughts are so swirled and divergent (and not entirely interesting). The book was okay, a nice escape read if you've been in something heavy for a while, but nothing that really knocked my socks off. It felt like a grown-up Twilight.

Recommendation People who haven't had enough Bella & Edward in their life (or want a racier Bella & Edward) would probably enjoy this one.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Unbuckle by Anita B. Cheek

I saw a fun little meme on Kerri's Book Ends Blog... self-publishing at it's finest. It is your chance to create your own YA novel cover. The hostess of this meme (Amanda) is also diligently linking all the other participants. There are some really good ones so stop over to see her post.

1. Go to “Fake Name Generator” or click The name that appears is your author name. (Anita B. Cheek)
2. Go to “Random Word Generator” or click The word listed under “Random Verb” is your title. (Unbuckle)
3. Go to “Flickr” or click Type your title into the search box. The first photo that contains a person is your cover.
4. Use Photoshop, Picnik, or similar to put it all together. Be sure to crop and/or zoom in.
5. Post it to your site along with this text.

What's your new novel?

This Week's Best Sellers (08/07/2009)

Sorry I missed last week... I was out of town.

Weekly Feature: Here's a run-down of what's hot at the book stores this week (according to the NY Times lists posted online on 7/31/09, print version 8/7/09):

Hardcover Fiction
1. The Defector by Daniel Silva ($26.95)
2. Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner ($26.99)
3. Swimsuit by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro ($27.99)

Trade Paperback Fiction
1. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger ($14.95)
2. The Shack by William P. Young ($14.99)
3. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson ($14.95)

Mass Market Paperback Fiction
1. Smoke Screen by Sandra Brown ($9.99)
2. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult ($7.99)
2. TailSpin by Catherine Coulter ($7.99)

Children's Books (Chapter Books)/Young Adult Fiction
1. L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad ($17.99)
2. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen ($19.99)
3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins ($17.99)

My Thoughts:
  • I'm sorry I missed last week (and the chance to congratulate Jennifer Weiner because she's one of my faves). I haven't read Silva's work before, but the blurb on the NY Times page says the protagonist is a art restorer and occasional Israeli spy. (Interesting combo, huh?)
  • Amongst trade paperback, we've got a new number one and I think The Time Traveler's Wife is being helped by the upcoming release of the book's film adaptation (which I won't be seeing because I loved the book way too much).
  • Amongst mass market paperback, I haven't read anything by Sandra Brown but the blurb ("Scandalous deaths thwart the investigation of a fatal fire at the police headquarters in Charleston, S.C.") actually kind of caught my interest.
  • No change on the YA list, and it still baffles me. Are teens (or their parents) just not buying books? I don't get it. Could somebody explain this phenomena to me?
Your Thoughts: Post in the comments and let me know which of these books you've read, which you plan to, which you wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. [Or try and explain the L.A. Candy situation.]

Friday Finds

I have quite a few books to put up here on my Friday Finds post, but it's not really my fault. I was un-computer-able last Friday because I was gone chaperoning my nephew's band camp. So here are two weeks worth of finds:

I checked out Boy Toy (Barry Lyga) and Something, Maybe (Elizabeth Scott) from the library. Both are second (or third) YA novels by authors I've previously read and somewhat enjoyed. I already finished Something, Maybe (review forth-coming this weekend), a quick read about a girl who's family takes the shape of something Hugh Hefner might spawn and it's associated confusions. I just started Boy Toy last night and am already enjoying the voice of the narrator. It's an unconventional plot of a guy who was seduced by his 7th grade teacher and now she's back (while he's navagating the already-confusing world of high school graduation). Good Times.

I picked up King Dork (Frank Portman), Gone (Michael Grant), The Accidental Mother (Rowan Coleman), and Marshmallows for Breakfast (Dorothy Koomsman) as relatively spontaneous purchases last week. King Dork was a quick YA read that I grabbed at the book store because the first chapter of this book about a high school junior who finds his dead father's old copy of Cather in the Rye and unravels a mystery involving dead people, religion, naked people, rock bands, and mayhem was told in a voice that really grabbed me. Gone is another YA read about a small town in California where all of the adults suddenly vanish and the teens left behind have no contact with the outside world. It's the first in a series and the book starts off-bam!-with the action.

The Accidental Mother and Marshmallows... are both books that I'd seen around for a while, I'd picked them up and put them back down in the book store (probably more than once each) and decided to finally take the plunge. Both are relatively similiar stories of single women who are living complex lives, but they find themselves suddenly having to care for other people's children--in Accidental... it's the adoption of the protagonist's childhood best friend's daughter after the death of the mother; in Marshmallows... it's a relationship with her landlord (and his two seven-year-old twins).

What did you find (in the past two weeks)?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Book Review: The Black Rood

Title The Black Rood (Book #2 of the Celtic Crusades Series)
Author Stephen R. Lawhead
Genre Science Fiction
Category Historical Fantasy
Rating C-

Summary Duncan, Son of Murdo, takes up his own pilgrimage to the Holy Land to recapture the Black Rood (a holy relic that is purportedly a piece of Christ's cross). In the process we find that this journey in the 1100's is related to some work being done by an underground organization in the 1900's, but that connection remains hazy.

First Line "The summons came while I was sitting at my desk."

Review This book is just another example of Stephen Lawhead doing the things that he does well, well (and continuing to do the things he does poorly, poorly). Read my review of Book #1 in this series.

In comparison to Book #1 in this series, I think The Black Rood built off that set-up and provided additional interesting glimpses into life in the Middle East in the 12th Century. Lawhead does active description really well (I have the mental imagery of a pig torture scene in my mind and it's probably going to haunt me for some time) and scenes are very well drawn. I also enjoyed that there was the added complexity that Duncan spent a great deal of time in this narrative in captivity, much of the book takes the form of a letter recounting his experiences. This further fleshed out Lawhead's interesting take on the cagey nature of monarchs and various rulers.

What I didn't like was the loose threads at the end of this book. There are relationships severed and relationships forged, but you don't see any of that resolved. Book #3 takes up the story of Duncan's daughter (which should tie some of these dangling pieces together), but it was all felt too unfinished at the end of this book.

Recommendation Fans of religious conspiracies (a la, Dan Brown) would probably enjoy this book.