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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Happy Debut YA Book Birthday

August 30th Birthdays --

Witchlanders by Lena Coakley

High in their mountain covens, red witches pray to the Goddess, protecting the Witchlands by throwing the bones and foretelling the future.
It’s all a fake.
At least, that’s what Ryder thinks. He doubts the witches really deserve their tithes—one quarter of all the crops his village can produce. And even if they can predict the future, what danger is there to foretell, now that his people’s old enemy, the Baen, has been defeated?
But when a terrifying new magic threatens both his village and the coven, Ryder must confront the beautiful and silent witch who holds all the secrets. Everything he’s ever believed about witches, the Baen, magic and about himself will change, when he discovers that the prophecies he’s always scorned—
Are about him.

Fury by Elizabeth Miles

Sometimes sorry isn't enough....
It’s winter break in Ascension, Maine. The snow is falling and everything looks pristine and peaceful. But not all is as it seems...
Between cozy traditions and parties with her friends, Emily loves the holidays. And this year’s even better--the guy she’s been into for months is finally noticing her. But Em knows if she starts things with him, there’s no turning back. Because his girlfriend is Em’s best friend.
On the other side of town, Chase is having problems of his own. The stress of his home life is starting to take its toll, and his social life is unraveling. But that’s nothing compared to what’s really haunting him. Chase has done something cruel...something the perfect guy he pretends to be would never do. And it’s only a matter of time before he’s exposed.
In Ascension, mistakes can be deadly. And three girls—three beautiful, mysterious girls—are here to choose who will pay.
Em and Chase have been chosen

September 1st Birthday --

Witch Song by Amber Argyle
The world is changing. Once, Witch Song controlled everything from the winds to the shifting of the seasons-but not anymore. All the Witches are gone, taken captive by a traitor. All but Brusenna. As the echo of their songs fade, the traitor grows stronger. Now she is coming for Brusenna. Her guardian has sworn to protect her, but even he can't stop the Dark Witch. Somehow, Brusenna has to succeed where every other Witch has failed. Find the traitor. Fight her. Defeat her. Because if Brusenna doesn't, there won't be anything left to save.

There are also a lot of well-established authors with titles coming out this week (FYI), so lots to choose from on the shelves.  But, of course, I like to support the newbies!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Review: MOONGLASS by Jessi Kirby

As you may have gleaned from the types of books I read, I'm not as big into contemporary novels as I am paranormal/UF, but I loved the past few I've read (Where She Went and Anna and the French Kiss), and since I used to collect beach glass as a teen (who am I kidding, I still do), MOONGLASS seemed like a must-read for me.

I read once that water is a symbol for emotions. And for a while now, I've thought maybe my mother drowned in both.

Anna's life is upended when her father accepts a job transfer the summer before her junior year. It's bad enough that she has to leave her friends and her life behind, but her dad is moving them to the beach where her parents first met and fell in love- a place awash in memories that Anna would just as soon leave under the surface.

While life on the beach is pretty great, with ocean views and one adorable lifeguard in particular, there are also family secrets that were buried along the shore years ago. And the ebb and flow of the ocean's tide means that nothing- not the sea glass that she collects on the sand and not the truths behind Anna's mother's death- stays buried forever.

There were some things I absolutely loved about this book.  The way Anna's mother's death was slowly explained, so we could understand the true tragedy of it right along with Anna.  The relationship between Anna and her father felt very real and I loved that they were able to grow together when Anna was finally brave enough to face the truth.  I loved how brave and strong Anna was on the surface (cliff diving, cross country running), but that she was still vulnerable on the inside and we got to see that too.

I also liked the fact that Anna really pursued the guy she was interested in, but not in the way it seems to happen in paranormal (you know, that draw where the characters can't stay away from each other).  This seemed more realistic.  She saw a cute life guard, decided she wanted to date him, and then kept putting herself in situations where they'd be around each other.  While Tyler did put her off for awhile (Anna's dad is his boss, after all), and he seemed a little cocky, it all felt very real to me.  I liked that.

The only thing that bugged me was the portrayal of Anna's first new friend, Ashley.  Now, let me just say that based on the Goodreads reviews, A LOT of people liked Ashley so I may be totally alone in this peeve.  But she was this really wealthy girl who was so clueless that she says hurtful things without realizing it's hurtful (like telling Anna she should diet in addition to exercise because imagine how good she'd look then), but turned out to have this generous heart and showered her friends with gifts. 

I'm pretty sure I get what the author was trying to do here, which is show that not all spoiled rich girls are mean, stuck-up snobs.  And that's admirable.  We see too much of that stereotype in YA.  My problem was that these two personality traits just seemed too much in conflict to me.  And this is totally based on my own personal experience.  I know a girl who says the clueless hurtful things, and I know wealthy women who love to give their friends gifts. And those two personalities do not intersect at all.  But really, that was the only thing I didn't love -- and with something so minor, it definitely shouldn't keep you from reading the book.  At let me assure you, the ending is awesome and you will love it.
Overall, I give MOONGLASS 3 out of 4 Greek coins -- a URA* rating.  If you like realistic, issue-based contemporary with a splash of romance, this is the novel for you.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Happy Debut YA Book Birthday

Tuesday YA Book Birthday time again... and it's also the first day of school for my girls, so double YAY!  Only 1 debut this week, but it's one I've been anxious to read.  What about you?  (And isn't that cover gorgeous??)

Possess by Gretchen McNeil

Fifteen-year-old Bridget Liu just wants to be left alone: by her over-protective mom, by Matt Quinn, the cute son of a local police sergeant, and by the eerie voices she can suddenly and inexplicably hear. Unfortunately for Bridget, the voices are demons—and Bridget possesses the rare ability to banish them back to whatever hell they came from. Literally.
Terrified to tell her friends or family about this new power, Bridget confides in San Francisco’s senior exorcist, Monsignor Renault. The monsignor enlists her help in increasingly dangerous cases of demonic possession, but just as she is starting to come to terms with her freakish new role, Bridget receives a startling message from one of the demons. And when one of her oldest friends is killed, Bridget realizes she’s in deeper than she ever thought possible. Now she must unlock the secret to the demons’ plan before someone else close to her winds up dead—or worse, the human vessel for a demon king.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: HOURGLASS by Myra McEntire

I'll admit -- I was spellbound by the cover and by Myra's sweet personality, so I've been itching to read this book for a long time even though I had no idea what a "time slip novel" was.  It was another awesome read that I got to soak up on my vacation and I really, really liked it.

One hour to rewrite the past . . . 
For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn’t there: swooning Southern Belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents’ death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She’s tried everything, but the visions keep coming back.

So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson’s willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may change her past.
Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he’s around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should have happened?
Full of atmosphere, mystery, and romance, Hourglass merges the very best of the paranormal and science-fiction genres in a seductive, remarkable young adult debut.

Emerson wasn't a character that I immediately loved.  She was a little too grumpy and didn't seem to enjoy her cool gift of being able to see people from the past.  Then we find out why, and Emerson grows into this girl who I wanted to be friends with.  She's smart and sassy and has some really cool people in her life who support her.  Her biggest fault IMO was how headstrong she was -- if someone asked her not to do something, she barely paused before doing it anyway.

Then Michael enters the picture.  Now I know, that whole "electric charge" running between them might seem cliche, but you've not seen it like this before -- a real, light bulb-breaking charge that pulses to life whenever they touch.  I'd say break out the candles (since the light bulbs have all exploded), but Michael continues to push Em away even as we as readers sense that he wants to be with her.  We know he's keeping secrets, but we still inherently root for the two of them to get together.

I don't want to give away any spoilers, so it's hard for me to really get into the plot too much.  The bottom line is that Em is the last key needed to time travel into the past to stop a murder -- and that not everyone we meet along the way is as good or as bad as they might first appear.  The plot has some major twists at the end and while your heart will be wrenched out at times, the novel concludes wonderfully.

Even if sci-fi isn't your thing (it's not typically mine), if you like UF or paranormal, you should really enjoy Hourglass.  Since the time travel aspects are embedded into each character's personality (much like magic would be for a witch or shifting would be for a were), this novel doesn't have a back-to-the-future, load-up-the-time-machine feel to it at all. (Rejoicing!)
I give this novel 3 out of 4 Greek coins -- a URA* rating.  I'd heartily recommend it to anyone who loves paranormal YA.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

2011 YA Mythology Challenge

I happened across a YA mythology challenge for 2011 and just KNEW I had to participate (seeing as how I love mythology and DESTINED is pretty much steeped in it).  So here's the scoop:
The challenge is hosted by Tiffany at About To Read

Think broader than Greek mythology -- you can read mythology from ANY culture to participate.

To participate, sign up here and do a blog post that links back to the sign-up page.  You can check out a list of books that qualify for the challenge -- or add your own -- to this Goodreads list.

So naturally, I've read a BUNCH of the books on the list, but not all of them in 2011, so I'll just include the ones I've read this year:

Abandon by Meg Cabot (Greek)
The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter (Greek)
Chime by Frannie Billingsley (English)
The Willows: Haven by Hope Collier (Greek)
Bridger by Megan Curd (Irish)
Haunted by Joy Preble (Russian)
Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble (Russian)

Hope everyone who loves mythology as much as I do will consider joining.  What a great challenge!!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Review: ALWAYS A WITCH by Carolyn MacCullough

I read ONCE A WITCH when it first came out (what seems like forever ago), and was lucky enough to receive this next installment as an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.  I shouldn't have waited so long to read it, because it was not hard at all to dive back into Tamsin's story.

The adventures of Tam and Gabriel continue with more time travel, Talents, spy work, and of course, the evil Knights. 

Since the gripping conclusion of Once A Witch, Tamsin Greene has been haunted by her grandmother's prophecy that she will soon be forced to make a crucial decision—one so terrible that it could harm her family forever. When she discovers that her enemy, Alistair Knight, went back in time to Victorian-era New York in order to destroy her family, Tamsin is forced to follow him into the past. Stranded all alone in the nineteenth century, Tamsin soon finds herself disguised as a lady's maid in the terrifying mansion of the evil Knight family, avoiding the watchful eye of the vicious matron, La Spider, and fending off the advances of Liam Knight. As time runs out, both families square off in a thrilling display of magic. And to her horror, Tamsin finally understands the nature of her fateful choice.

In this adventure, Tam basically has to go it alone.  Since her Talent allows her to fend off harms, Tam is the only one who can risk an extended stay in the past -- for anyone else, a few days is all they can take before they die.  So Tam ditches Gabe (poor boy!) and ventures back to the past to save her family.  This is sort of mixed bag because on the one hand I loved that Tam was so courageous and had to work things out on her own.  On the other hand, it meant no real development of the love story with Gabe (and I do love a good romance).  

Other than missin' some kissin' the book had me thoroughly engrossed.  The plot is quick and kept me flipping the pages.  To be honest, I didn't remember much about Once a Witch, but I didn't feel lost in this one either, which was awesome.  The author gives us enough backstory so that everything makes perfect sense, even if your memory isn't picture perfect.  And once I got a splash of the colorful Greene family, I remembered why I enjoyed the electric bunch of witches so much the first time around.

Despite how engrossing the entire novel was, my favorite part was the ending.  Not because it all turns out roses (that's not the case), but because of how vulnerably human Tamsin appears.  Throughout she's forced to be courageous and strong, but in the end, the consequences of her decision come bearing down on her. I loved that even though she did the right thing, she wasn't completely selfless about it and still had some regrets (that's as much as I can say without giving away spoilers).  But I thought that was awesome and made Tamsin even more three-dimensional.
On my Greek coin rating system, I give this one 3 out of 4 coins -- a URA* rating.  If you love a good mystery and some powerful magic, you should really enjoy Always a Witch.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Happy Debut YA Book Birthday

 Ok - so I missed a week, but I'm back and ready to celebrate.  Who's with me?!?!  Let's give a huge shout out to this debut YA novelist celebrating her first ever book birthdays:
August 18th:
Sign Language by Amy Ackley (this book won the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for YA Fiction)
Inspired by the loss of her father and two close friends to cancer, Sign Language tells the story of twelve-year-old Abby North. Her first hint that something is wrong with her dad is the scar that appears on his stomach after he goes in for kidney surgery. Soon, the thing she calls "It" has a real name: cancer. Before, her biggest concerns were her annoying brother, the crush unaware of her existence, and her changing feelings for her best friend, Spence. Now, her mother cries in the shower, her father is exhausted, and nothing is normal anymore. Nancy Werlin said the novel "tells its story beautifully and movingly, and it earns its hopeful ending. Ackley is without question a talented writer."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Friday Update

I've been out of touch for awhile and even missed my happy debut book birthday feature on Tuesday.  A thousand apologies, but I assure you, I did have a good excuse: VACATION.
Although I'd planned on being back in time to do my book birthday post, we had to unexpectedly change our travel dates at the last minute.  It turns out that when you leave the country, your husband's passport cannot have expired two months ago.  Figuring that out on a Friday night when you're supposed to travel on Sunday sort of put a wrinkle in our plans.  But never fear -- passport expediting service to the rescue.  Two flight changes, a two-night stay at the Biltmore and more money than I care to think about, we had a new passport in hand by Wednesday morning and made a 10:10 am Wednesday morning flight.  (A particularly huge thank you to FedEx, who really does deliver it's 8am packages prior to 8 am -- I don't know how they do that.)

I'm sure there's a story thread in there somewhere.  I picked up some more threads on the trip too.  One of our fellow tourists managed to get stuck on a zip-line twice (requiring rescue from a guide) and then was the only person who flipped off her inner tube in the "rapids." I'm thinking that's a great opportunity for a girl to meet her hunky rescuer??

Of course, I didn't do too much thinking about writing, since I read basically the whole time I was gone. I started with Hope Collier's The Willows: Haven, then read Always a Witch, Hourglass and Moonglass.  I'm glad to say I was pleasantly entertained by them all.  Now I just need to get my rear in gear and post reviews!

And then there were the views.  Who could possibly think too hard about anything when you're looking at this?  *Sigh*  When can I go back?  (This is the Almond Beach Resort in Hopkins, Belize.)
Happy weekend, everyone!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Review: CHIME by Franny Billingsley

I moved this one to the top of my TBR pile after hearing that it was the #1 book that editors at BEA said they wished they'd published themselves this year.  Since I think that speaks volumes about the novel, I dove in.
Before Briony's stepmother died, she made sure Briony blamed herself for all the family's hardships. Now Briony has worn her guilt for so long it's become a second skin. She often escapes to the swamp, where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. But only witches can see the Old Ones, and in her village, witches are sentenced to death. Briony lives in fear her secret will be found out, even as she believes she deserves the worst kind of punishment.

Then Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair. He's as natural as the sun, and treats her as if she's extraordinary. And everything starts to change. As many secrets as Briony has been holding, there are secrets even she doesn't know.

Let me start off by saying that this novel is wholly unlike anything I've read before.  It's a historical novel, set in the early twentieth century, so the speech and customs were a little foreign, but the writing was absolutely stunning.  Take these lines for example:

"Wine and bread. This has always seemed rather ghoulish to me, as though one were smearing the threshold with Puree of Christ."

"She spoke in a dark-river sort of voice, as though her throat were filled with dusk."

"The sun was orange and setting fast. Its reflection oozed up and down the river in thick marmalade ripples."

And then there are the main characters.  Briony has some quirks, more than a her fair-share of self-hatred, and a quick tongue.  She's convinced she's a witch, and her belief in her own evil persists long after readers know it can't possibly be true.  Briony's twin sister, Rosy, is basically certifiable, but in a totally believable way. The pair of them make such a delightfully new combination, you just want to keep reading on about them.

And then enters Eldric. Readers will love him from the start. He's intuitive, sensitive, and a bad-boy in all the best sorts of ways.  He makes "fidgets," which are little trinkets out of old scrap he finds lying around.  I think I'd absolutely melt if I was 18 and a 22 year old boy-man (as Briony calls him), fidgeted me a charm for my necklace.  So sweet!

The book took me a little bit to get into from a sense of world-building.  The characters drew me in instantly, but the paranormal elements were so new, that I wasn't always sure what was what.  There are all sorts of creatures that live in Briony's swap -- the Boogy Man, the Dead Hand, Dark Muses, etc. -- and to ward them off, one has to carry a Bible Ball.  So yeah, it took me a little while to grasp all of what was going on.

My only real critique of the book is that I wish it had moved a little faster toward the climax.  The first half of the novel seemed to take awhile, and then I flew through the second half.  It became one of those books that you just can't put down, I only wish that'd happened a bit sooner.  Also, while I saw one of the ending revelations coming for the better part of the book, the more shocking revelation caught me completely off guard.  I love being surprised like that!
So, overall, I give Chime 4 Greek coins -- an OMG! rating.  This is NOT your typical paranormal romance novel and if you're looking to break out of the mold and try something new (heavy on the historical side), I definitely recommend you pick up this novel.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Happy Debut YA Book Birthday

This Tuesday, I am on vacation from my computer.  I apologize in advance for not responding to your comments, but it doesn't mean you still shouldn't rejoice over the book birthdays of these debut YA novelists.
August 1 --
Cleopatra's Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter
"The Luxe" meets the ancient world in the extraordinary story of Cleopatra's daughter.
Selene has grown up in a palace on the Nile with her parents, Cleopatra & Mark Antony--the most brilliant, powerful rulers on earth. But the jealous Roman Emperor Octavianus wants Egypt for himself, & when war finally comes, Selene faces the loss of all she's ever loved. Forced to build a new life in Octavianus's household in Rome, she finds herself torn between two young men and two possible destinies--until she reaches out to claim her own.

This stunning novel brings to life the personalities & passions of one of the greatest dramas in history, & offers a wonderful new heroine in Selene.

Populazzi by Elise Allen

Cara has never been one of those girls: confident, self-possessed, and always ready with the perfect thing to say. A girl at the very top of the popularity tower. One of the Populazzi.
Now, junior year could change everything. Cara’s moving to a new school, and her best friend urges her to seize the moment—with the help of the Ladder. Its rungs are relationships, and if Cara transforms into the perfect girlfriend for guys ever-higher on the tower, she’ll reach the ultimate goal: Supreme Populazzi.
The Ladder seems like a lighthearted social experiment, a straight climb up, but it quickly becomes gnarled and twisted. And when everything goes wrong, only the most audacious act Cara can think of has a chance of setting things even a little bit right.

August 2 --
The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab
The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children. 
If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company. 
And there are no strangers in the town of Near.

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.

But when an actual stranger—a boy who seems to fade like smoke—appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him.

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know—about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.

Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab’s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won’t soon forget. 

Dark Parties by Sara Grant

Sixteen-year-old Neva has been trapped since birth. She was born and raised under the Protectosphere, in an isolated nation ruled by fear, lies, and xenophobia. A shield "protects" them from the outside world, but also locks the citizens inside. But there's nothing left on the outside, ever since the world collapsed from violent warfare. Or so the government says...

Neva and her best friend Sanna believe the government is lying and stage a "dark party" to recruit members for their underground rebellion. But as Neva begins to uncover the truth, she realizes she must question everything she's ever known, including the people she loves the most.
Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik (note: Claire has written other novels and non-fiction, but this is her first YA)
Will Elise’s love life be an epic win or an epic fail?
At Coral Tree Prep in Los Angeles, who your parents are can make or break you. Case in point:
As the son of Hollywood royalty, Derek Edwards is pretty much prince of the school—not that he deigns to acknowledge many of his loyal subjects.
As the daughter of the new principal, Elise Benton isn’t exactly on everyone’s must-sit-next-to-at-lunch list.
When Elise’s beautiful sister catches the eye of the prince’s best friend, Elise gets to spend a lot of time with Derek, making her the envy of every girl on campus. Except she refuses to fall for any of his rare smiles and instead warms up to his enemy, the surprisingly charming social outcast Webster Grant. But in this hilarious tale of fitting in and flirting, not all snubs are undeserved, not all celebrity brats are bratty, and pride and prejudice can get in the way of true love for only so long.

The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill (Kelly's prior published works are non-fiction)

When Jack is sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his crazy aunt and uncle, he expects a summer of boredom. Little does he know that the people of Hazelwood have been waiting for him for a long time. . . .

When he arrives, three astonishing things happen: First, he makes friends-not imaginary friends but actual friends. Second, he is beaten up by the town bully; the bullies at home always ignored him. Third, the richest man in town begins to plot Jack's imminent, and hopefully painful, demise. It's up to Jack to figure out why suddenly everyone cares so much about him. Back home he was practically, well, invisible.
The Mostly True Story of Jack is a tale of magic, friendship, and sacrifice. It's about things broken and things put back together. Above all, it's about finding a place to belong.