Friday, December 31, 2010

Stand Out Books of 2010!


Welcome to the first annual Stand Out Books of the Year post!!!

As 2010 comes to a close today (by the way - Happy New Year!), it appears the final tally of how many books I've read for the year is: 95

Which is a total page count of: 28,727

Which leads to a daily page count of: 78

Among these are many, many, MANY books I have loved, liked a whole bunch, and overall enjoyed a ton. Not all of them are going to make this list. You may be surprised by some of the ones that are missing, but I can tell you right now that there are a number of titles that came really close to being on the list. This is not at all the only books I adored in 2010. Just the...

Stand Out Books of the Year!

First off, I need to make it clear that these books did not necessarily come out in 2010 - I just read them for the first time in 2010.

Second, I will not be listing them in any particular order.

Finally, this was a really, really good year for reading, so I decided not to limit my picks to any certain number. This is my honest-to-goodness, unrestrained WOWZA! books of the year - as perceived by me, your friendly, neighborhood Bibliophile Support Group leader.

So this year, that means a whopping 27 books made the list!!!

I think these books are a great shopping list for all of you luckies that got gift cards for Christmas! I have included an Amazon.com link for each one, for your easy shopping! ;)

Without further ado...

BirthMarked by Caragh O'Brien: An amazing YA novel that brings us a dystopia world where babies are taken from their mothers and brought to the society that lives well and the girl who does the taking. For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

Sea Change by Aimee Friedman: Perhaps simple tale of a teen girl that falls for a mysterious guy in this paranormal fantasy book. I can still smell the salty sea air when I think of it. For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

Golden Girl by Henry Melton: The first book I read by Henry Melton to really blow me away. An awesome new take on time travel in this YA science fiction book. For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong: One of the saddest moments of the year for me, blog-wise, was when my praise-heaping review of this spectacular final novel in the Darkest Powers trilogy was lost in a suddenly dead PC. I never got a chance to go on and on about how much I loved it, which I did. I am so ready for The Gathering in April. To get an idea of how I couldn't get enough of this supernatural YA series, check out my reviews for the first two books - The Summoning, here - The Awakening, here - and check out the Amazon.com page for this thrilling final book here.

Perchance to Dream by Lisa Mantchev: Wow. One of most dreamy, perfect fantasy books out there. Exceeded my expectations from Eyes Like Stars. Speechless. For more info read my review of it here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here. You can also read my review of the first book, Eyes Like Stars, here.

Middleworld by Jon and Pamela Voelkel: A sparklingly refreshing middlegrade book that infuses Mayan myths and gods with a modern-day adventure. For all ages! For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

The End of the World Club by Jon and Pamela Voelkel: The sequel of the above novel, Middleworld, which just came out a few days ago. A wild ride of a follow-up, creepy and hilarious! For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

Still Sucks to be Me by Kimberley Pauley: The sequel to Sucks to be Me (read my review of that here), somehow is even better! A unique, angst-free, funny look at a vampire story. For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer: Aliens will never be the same!!! If you thought the Twilight Saga was out of this world, check out this absolutely awe-inducing novel. Takes Invasion of the Body Snatchers (great movie, by the way) and mixes it with raw emotion, nail-biting suspense, and a fight to survive! For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

Tyger Tyger by Kersten Hamilton: One of my absolute favorites among the fantasy genre of YA this year. I cannot wait for the sequel to come out!!! Everyone must read this!!! Takes Irish legends and creates a modern world of magic and truly scary stuff! For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

Follow that Mouse by Henry Melton: I honestly am a fan of almost every book I have read from Henry Melton. But this one had to make the list as well. Throws a bit of fantasy in his normally sci-fi only YA formula. Down to earth, smart fun. For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

Kiss Me Deadly: 13 Tales of Paranormal Love edited by Trisha Telep: Phenomenal collection of 13 unique, creepy, romantic, and full-out awesome YA short stories written by some of the biggest names out there! For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

Love's First Bloom by Delia Parr: Truly romantic historical novel that is enriching and inspiring! For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

Within My Heart by Tamera Alexander: Stunningly involving story taking place in the West back in historical times. Romantic and heartwarming beyond belief. For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz: Visually dazzling historical Christian romance that mixes history with a lovely story. For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

Possessed by Kate Cann: Frightening. Scary. Awesome. For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: Werewolf novels can't get much better! Heart-stopping YA that thrills and chills! Holding my breath for the sequel in June. For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson: Hilarious, irreverent breezy fun in a YA novel. For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson: Entertaining, almost-better-than-the-first, laugh-out-loud Manhattan adventure, and sequel to the above Suite Scarlett. Plus, one hell of a cliffhanger end! For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

Rise of the Darklings by Paul Crilley: First in the brand-spankin'-new middlegrade Victoria-era fantasy trilogy, extraordinarily magical and cinematic!!! For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

The Butler Gets a Break by Kristin Clark Venuti: Flat out hilarious. Not just for the youngin's, bibliophiles! Insane family? Check. Crazy antics? Check. A proper English butler? Check. Lots of fun? Double check. For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

The Stowaway by R.A. and Geno Salvatore: The first in the Stone of Tymora trilogy. Need to read each one of this middlegrade/YA fantasy series to see why its so special and bewitching. For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

The Shadowmask by R.A. and Geno Salvatore: Second Stone of Tymora book. For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

The Sentinels by R.A. and Geno Salvatore: Epic-like finale to the Stone of Tymora trilogy! For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

Wish by Alexandra Bullen: Sweet, enchanting, touching tale of loss and healing. With a good splash of fairy-tale magic. For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater: A legend in modern-day times. A completely different kind of YA werewolf book. More of a tragic poem brought to life. Fantastic stuff. For more info read my review here, and buy the book at its Amazon.com page here.

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater: Sequel to the above Shiver. Even though I've read this awesome, tingle-inducing novel in 2010, there weren't enough Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to fit my review in this year. Look for my review on January 5th. In the meantime check out the Amazon.com page here, and read my review of Shiver (link above).

As you can see, it ain't a short list. They are all deserving of your attention and a place of honor on your bookshelf, in my opinion!

2010 has been a spectacular year of reading!!!

Bring on 2011!!!

See you all in the New Year, my dear book addict buds!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Shiver


Shiver is a YA paranormal novel, the first in a trilogy, that has received a lot of attention - written by Maggie Stiefvater.

When Grace was young she was pulled from the tire swing in her backyard into the cold, snowy woods behind her house by a wolf. She survived the attack, despite the numerous wolves biting and pulling on her small form. In fact, one of the wolves saved her - one with startlingly yellow eyes. To this day she can't remember how exactly he saved her, but every winter she stares out at the wolf - her wolf - and he always stares back. Her obsession is all-consuming.

Sam lives two lives. Every summer he is himself, a regular teenage guy with a part-time job and a love of reading poetry. But when winter comes he is a wolf, losing his human thoughts, but trying desperately to hold onto his humanity. It is in these cold times that he watches her. Grace. For six years he has only ever stood at a distance... but things are about to change.

When Grace and Sam finally speak - face to face, human to human - there is a love that has been held in those years of gazing, those years of secrets, that becomes known, and therefore unavoidable. But Sam has to fight to stay human and Grace has to fight to keep him, before it is too late and he is a wolf forever...

I had heard about Shiver and seen it in the blogosphere since it came out and have always wanted a chance to read it. I've always loved the cover, and when I found out the font has a matching blue color I loved it even more! But that is all appearances, which matter of course, but not as much as what is actually in the book. Which was...

Stunning, electric, charged chapters that hypnotized me with their lyrical and enigmatic words. Shiver is almost magical in its intensity. Author Maggie Stiefvater pulls you into Grace's psyche, to the point where you are as drawn to the wolves as she is. I was amazed at how instant this effect was on me, the bibliomaniac.

My particular reading tastes always tend to favor fantasy, sci-fi, and paranormal - and that certainly enhanced, I'm sure, my experience of Shiver. But I find it hard to believe that many bibliophiles could deny the exquisitely magnetic, heavily atmospheric, and incredible tone the novel evokes.

Shiver is suspenseful, mysterious, and even a little creepy as the book progresses. Early on it appeared to have the addictive quality of Twilight, especially with the element of impossible love, infatuation without a chance - obstacles in every direction.

Both Sam's and Grace's narrative voices are unique, and spotlighted as the viewpoints of the novel are switched back and forth between them. You get a good feeling of their individuality - Sam imagining lyrics in his mind to help him deal with situations that he can't handle, Grace who is voluntarily secluded, yet strong and independent - though at points I did feel like Shiver was lacking in any actual plot advancement.

How wrong I was.

But I do have to be honest here and let you know, my beloved readers, that there was a good bit of time in the middle of Shiver that I was losing my confidence in it. I began to feel that Grace lacked identification with the reader, and that though it was easy to relate to her love of reading (duh), her character felt a little disconnected. I was becoming disenchanted with what had begun as a spectacular tale and was turning into a lukewarm romance.

HOWEVER, as more is revealed as to why Sam is haunted by his childhood, beyond the inevitable fracturing of it caused by his condition, Shiver took on a darker and more starkly realistic tone. Even with this, I still felt at times that I was only going to really like Shiver, not love it. Something seemed to be missing, and there were points when I felt the novel came across as false. But the potential and creative writing kept me hanging in there until - BOOM! - my love returned.

Sam's painful past and horrifying memories caused me to feel deeply for him, and as my doubts about Grace fell away, I began to give in to what Shiver is: blissfully romantic without being mushy, sexy without going too far, undeniably gripping, and enthralling up to the euphoria-inducing end!!!

Maggie Stiefvater caused Shiver to refrain from being a "werewolf book", but instead made it an amazing, absorbing, captivating mythological-like tale of desperation, fragility, healing and love. My misgivings were merely faint memories in the wake of such crashing beauty. Wow.

And as I closed the book and set it down beside me, full of book-love, I was (dare I say it?) shivering for the next book in the series Linger. Thank goodness I had a copy ready and available immediately.

I know I'm a bit late to the game here, but if you are too - you honestly need to jump on the bandwagon!

Special Note: Remember to check out the Bibliophile Support Group before you go out partying on Friday! There will be an EXTRA SPECIAL New Years Eve post - highlighting the stand out books of 2010! Mark it on your calendar!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Wish


Wish is a YA contemporary novel with a splash of fantasy, written by Alexandra Bullen.

Olivia Larsen has always been the quieter, more timid version of her vivacious, outgoing twin sister Violet. But Violet died, and now Olivia is a shadow of her already in-the-background former self. So when her parents' move the family to San Francisco, Olivia doesn't miss her friends, really. They were always more Violet's friends anyway. She's aware that she should be upset at the sudden move across the country, but she doesn't feel anything anymore.

However, when her mother invites Olivia to a cocktail party for her work, Olivia decides to go. She takes the beautiful, but torn, dress Violet had bought, but had never gotten a chance to wear, to a seamstress... hoping to feel closer to her twin. But instead of the repaired dress being sent back, a stunning, but different, dress arrives on her doorstep in its place. There's a magic to it. A literal magic, Olivia finds out, when while wearing the dress, in a moment of utter despair she mutters the words aloud, "I just wish I had my sister back."

Because the next morning, her sister is back. And upon questioning of the seamstress, Olivia finds out she gets two more wishes. In her joy, Olivia can only think of how wonderful it is to have her sister back. But Violet is still dead. And Olivia is still broken. Will having Violet back help, or hurt, Olivia's healing?

One of the most astounding things about Wish, to me, was how the sense of Olivia's sadness really radiates immediately. Her personality is quickly fermented in the reader's mind, and her awkwardness and introvert tendencies are easily likable and relatable.

At first, I didn't know what to think when Olivia's wish brought Violet back, albeit still dead. I couldn't see where the plot would go in terms of a YA fantasy. What I didn't realize is that Wish isn't so much a paranormal or fantasy YA novel, as much as a story about a girl who needs to learn how to live, a girl who is in deep mourning. And despite my inability to see this early on, my attachment to Olivia as a character helped me to wait it out, and find out.

Wish is a sweet, gentle, sensitive, and charming tale - not what I expected and not as riveting and mysterious as I had thought it would be, but somehow better than my expectations. There is an understatedly realistic tone to Wish, as it always refrains from being a gossipy, back-stabbing cliche.

It's also quietly, hesitantly, clumsily romantic - perfectly believable. Alexandra Bullen flabbergasted me by how she portrayed the raw pain and heartbreak of loss, love, and fear. She caused me to have a lump in my throat more than once.

At first I was underwhelmed, but as the grief and healing of Wish was lyrically weaved into a slight, refined fantasy I was, instead, overwhelmed. This is one of those novels that leaves an impact. This is one of those novels that makes you deeply care about the characters and identify with them in an alarmingly personal way. This is one of those novels you have to read.

Wish is a book worth savoring, bittersweet and lovely.

Special Note: Remember to check out the Bibliophile Support Group before you go out partying on Friday! There will be an EXTRA SPECIAL New Years Eve post - highlighting the stand out books of 2010! Mark it on your calendar!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Spray


Spray is a new YA suspense novel written by British author Harry Edge.

A target for you to track down. An assassin on your heels wanting to track you down. An entire city to hide in.

This is Spray, a pressurized water gun game that has become hugely popular throughout the world. There's only one winner, and some players get really into it. Maybe too into it.

Among the two hundred players and three weeks of game play there are certainly some people with ulterior motives. Told from multiple viewpoints, you may feel like you yourself are playing Spray.

All right my beloved bibliophile readers, I can only be completely honest with you. This premise did not fit my fancy. It felt like an odd concept, not real appealing to me based off the back cover description or its cover.

The game itself is sort of confusing, and I honestly had a hard time in finding the point in it. What kind of prize would motivate two hundred people to stop their lives, whether school or work, to get this into it? It's never actually specified, beyond telling us that it isn't that big of a deal. We're supposed to be convinced that this water gun game is just so fun, that it is the experience alone that encourages people to want to play. I just couldn't wrap my head around that, sadly.

Also, the characters are given short names (Zed, Yogi, Mac, Green, Han, etc.) in order to be anonymous in the game. Unfortunately, these similar names made the characters themselves anonymous to me, the reader. I could not get down who was who, they became jumbled - making it even harder to get into Spray. They just became, for me, a big lump of confusion with nearly identical goals - to spray their target before their assassin sprayed them.

I don't want to slam the novel, because I am sure there are a lot of readers out there that would get into a concept like this. I encourage you to check it out for yourself, always! I, however, found it to be tedious - kind of like a drawn-out kids' game that lacked any lively characters or cleverness to grasp on to. And there is pretty much no stakes at all - the game appears to hold no actual danger, therefore no believable tension.

When some secret agendas begin to make themselves known much later in the novel, and the players have been reduced greatly making it slightly easier to know one from another, Spray becomes a bit more interesting. The pace picked up for me a little since I was more curious about these revelations. However, it still felt melodramatic to me and my patience didn't, in the end, feel rewarded.

Spray did become more fun as it progressed, but the oddly tense-less plot and conclusion and strange lack of stakes made it hard for me to really recommend it. But, like I said, READ IT FOR YOURSELF! Never, EVER take my word for it!!!

Be your own bibliophile!

Special Note: I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas tomorrow!!! I wish you all tons of books and Amazon.com gift cards! Please come back to the Bibliophile Support Group on Monday for another new review! And a week from today there will be an EXTRA SPECIAL New Years Eve post - highlighting the stand out books of 2010! Mark it on your calendar - and again, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Sentinels


The Sentinels is the third and final book in the YA/middlegrade fantasy trilogy The Stone of Tymora - written by the father/son team, R. A. & Geno Salvatore.

Don't read the review of this book if you haven't read the first two. Instead, read my review of the first book The Stowaway here. If you've read that, read my review of the second book, The Shadowmask, here. And get thee far away from this post before you find out spoilers!!!

Now, for those of you already fans of this fantasy adventure series - you already know all the trials poor Maimun has had to go through. Among them: dueling with a dragon and a demon, losing his stone, retrieving his stone, finding out that he is connected with the stone, realizing that the stone may cause danger and death to those he surrounds himself with, including his guardian Perrault, whom he loved.

Well, things aren't any better for Maimun now. Except that he has Joen for company this time. He's on the run again, but this time running toward answers. He is determined to find Malchor, a wise and famed wizard, whom is supposed to have those answers. Only Malchor asks a deep price: over a year of residence in his home, the Tower of Twilight, before a single word about the stone will come from Malchor's lips.

But as The Stone of Tymora trilogy barrels to its conclusion, there are no slow moments. Everything is meaningful, even if it isn't apparent at the time. Secrets become known. There are those who are revealed to be different from what we think. And the Sentinels are watching and scheming to control the fortune of the stone - even if that means someone will die...

I have to tell you, my book adoring friends, this was one heck of a book!!! Of course, being a fan of the first two books made me automatically eager for the answers that The Sentinels was sure to offer - but it wasn't just a wrap up to a story - it was a story!

And what a story at that!!! The Sentinels joined The Stowaway and The Shadowmask in being an expertly crafted fantasy action/adventure, combining a poignant coming-of-age tale with fierce friendship, perils of survival, magical creatures, swordplay, and a lush, fully imagined world.

This is one of those fantastic books that makes you really care about the characters - Maimun gained a place in my heart from the first novel, and has only grown to be even more courageous and lovable since. The Sentinels is a thrilling, epic-like fantasy, the kind where destiny and fate play a large, intoxicating role, with wondrous shades of the magnificent Lord of the Rings, while still remaining obstinately original.

Also strengthening The Sentinels, as well as the other two books in the Stone of Tymora trilogy, is the good sense of humor and sarcasm. It's equal parts ominous, scary, exciting, and intense! This tale is a quest, at its heart. A story about a boy that lives in a world unlike our own, a world that I as the reader would love to explore.

The Sentinels is a breathless journey and rousing conclusion to a truly rewarding trilogy. The surprises and twists burst forth among the revelations. And the heartbreaking final conflict is one that put my stomach in knots and brought tears to my eyes - a poetically written, horrifying scene. Wow.

This exhilarating, impassioned end left me desperate for more books, curious about the Drizzt books written by the author, and hoping for more answers and satisfaction. Could it be possible? I sure hope so!

The Stone of Tymora trilogy, and it's final book The Sentinels are worth your time no matter what age you are, especially if you are a fan of fantasy action/adventure. It is an underrated gem!!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Butler Gets a Break


The Butler Gets a Break is the sequel to Leaving the Bellweathers, a humorous middlegrade novel written by Kristin Clark Venuti.

If you have not yet read Leaving the Bellweathers, you may not want to read this review of the sequel. I, however, was unable to get a chance to read the first novel before reading The Butler Gets a Break and found it hilarious nevertheless. So you may be safe to learn more by reading below... Though of course I always recommend reading series in order whenever possible! Ditto to avoiding spoilers!!!

Benway, the well-educated butler of the eccentric, and quite often dangerous, Bellweather family, has only recently decided that he wants to continue to serve with the family when the ten-year-old triplets Brick, Spike, and Sassy inadvertently cause the poor man to break his leg as he descends the stairs. You see, they were experimenting with their new form of art: "negative space". This pretty much consists of cutting two stairs out of the staircase completely, and leaving it that way.

So, injured Benway is forced to take a "vacation" at the hospital - though he is hesitant to leave the Bellweathers to their own devices... Of which he is quite right to worry as the triplet's are sent by their father to camp, where they terrorize the archaeologist and become fanatical about their new project: digging. Spider, the oldest Bellweather sibling at fifteen, desperately attempts stopping the sudden Attack Squirrel epidemic in their town of Eel-Smack-by-the-Bay, of which he is afraid he may have caused. Ninda, the fourteen-year-old sister, finds a new cause to champion and is deadly determined to "help" a group of people being unjustly treated by their corrupt mayor. Hopefully, "helping" these people won't end up meaning holding them kidnapped in her bedroom and treating them like pets... like last time - until, that is, Benway intervened.

But the Bellweather family doesn't want poor, healing Benway to worry - so on their visits they go on and on about his lovely, perfect replacement (a nonexistent Paddywhack), leading the butler to wonder if he was ever truly needed after all.

Wow! What an incredibly, stupendously FUN and fast-paced read!!! The Butler Gets a Break immediately satiated my need for a quirky, humor-riddled story, calling to mind my much beloved A Series of Unfortunate Events in its clever wordplay and delightful lunacy.And the teasingly dramatic, amusing, entertaining storytelling method only helps to make The Butler Gets a Break be honestly, crazily good!

At first, since I was sadly unable to read Leaving the Bellweathers, the novel's predecessor, the whos-who of the Bellweather family is an immense thing to decipher, but the joyous, asylum-ready narrative makes it more than worth it. In fact, once I got down who everyone was - I found myself growing quite attached to these irresistibly insane characters!

A warm family feel mixed with absurd comedy, The Butler Gets a Break is ravishingly ridiculous, happily hilarious, and addictive (Benway's journal entries are priceless - I must read more of them!!!)!

I think I've made my point clear enough. The Butler Gets a Break may be a great read for younger readers, but it's also zany perfection for us older folk! ;)

I hope, hope, hope, hope for more Bellweather novels!!! Please Ms. Venuti, please?!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ruined


Ruined is a YA ghost story written by Paula Morris.

When fifteen-year-old Rebecca's father tells her that he is sending her to live with a faux-relative in New Orleans for part of the school year instead of going with him to China on his business trip, she's confused and hurt. It's just been the two of them since her mother died when she was very young, and they've never been apart nearly as long as he's suggesting. In fact, it appears that this decision pains him as well. Yet, before she knows it, Rebecca is settling in the post-Katrina New Orleans.

Though her tarot card reading "aunt" seems kind, her house is creepy - full of odd dolls and sculptures from different cultures, the sort of thing you don't want to stumble across when you want a glass of water in the middle of the night. Then there's the preppy, superrich crowd at the private school she's enrolled at, where apparently if you aren't somebody from New Orleans, you're nobody. Anton Grey, part of this elite clique, is an extremely attractive student of the boys' school. He, however, appears to want to talk to Rebecca. Or does he? He never seems quite upfront.

Finally, there's the issue of the ghost.

Yep. Across the street from Rebecca's new (hopefully very temporary) home, is a large, old-fashioned cemetery. As she's not fantastic at keeping her curiosity at bay, she checks the place out late at night - and finds a sweet girl about her own age named Lisette. Only she's dead. And may know something about why there's a rumored curse on one of the area's oldest families.

But she may also be Rebecca's only friend in this place.

How depressing.

Worse, though, is how there seems to be more secrets hiding in the shadows than Rebecca can figure out. Everybody may have a hidden agenda - one that may include Rebecca, with or without her permission...

First off - don't ya love the cover? I love the eerie, ethereal aura the cover gives off! Definitely matches the contents of this mesmerizing novel!

Ruined begins with an interesting, historical, ghostly opening of events in New Orleans in 1853 and then quickly switches to modern-day Rebecca and her predicament. Right when she gets to her destination there is a real essence of environment - the author paints a portrait of New Orleans in a naturalistic, hypnotic way.

Mysteries, questions, and suspicions begins popping up around Rebecca immediately, like moles in a Whack-a-Mole. Morris allows the atmosphere to build up the tension and Rebecca's character, letting the reader become encompassed by the smells and sights of the area.

Rebecca is an independent, freethinking heroine that helps make it easy to stick with Ruined, even when parts of the conversation with Lisette early on feel stale, and some of the logic when it comes to the details about ghosts comes across as murky. But later on these small criticisms were overshadowed by a truly enjoyable, suspenseful novel - because as Lisette brings Rebecca deeper into the world of ghosts it becomes a quite enigmatic one.

I still felt that some of the tension in Ruined felt false, forced maybe... Yet there was an undeniably alluring quality that kept me constantly interested and turning pages quickly. You see, some of the story was predictable for me, but Paula Morris managed to still make it somehow fascinating with the way she skillfully wrote it.

Especially when Ruined came to the halfway point - the magnetic pull that had already been there increased tenfold. There is a kind of fun to unraveling all the tangled webs of secrets, lies, and mysteries surrounding Rebecca, and how she may somehow be involved. The creepy factor is definitely there too, unless ghosts, murder, revenge, and strange, distorted, blank-looking Mardi Gras masks don't make you blink your eyes! And as it thundered to its very satisfying conclusion, Ruined became surprisingly nerve-wracking.

So, by no means is Ruined a perfect novel in my estimation - a bit of a lack of character development, and as I mentioned before some predictability in plots - but Ruined is one of those books that creates an experience. An experience you should check out, I think. ;)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Falling BAKward


Falling BAKward is another of YA sci-fi author Henry Melton's novels.

Jerry isn't the most social, athletic guy at his high school. But he has recently begun an interest in archaeology and exploring. That why when he notices an oddly perfect round patch of darker soil in his father's farming fields in a satellite image, he's curious. Soon enough he is digging - but what he finds isn't what he expects. Instead of Indian artifacts, he finds bones. But the bones... they aren't human. And they aren't from any animal he recognizes either.

This discovery is one Jerry quickly becomes obsessed with. But his obsession may put him in danger as he digs deeper and deeper - unearthing, perhaps, even answers to family mysteries that have been lingering for years, such as why his father's right hand is fingerless, why his uncle and dad rarely speak, and why the local Sheriff is always seeming to spy on him and his family.

But Jerry's going to find a whole lot more than that. Trust me.

Right off the bat, small-town intrigues and family secrets seem to be simmering below the surface of Falling BAKward. And Henry Melton spotlights this story around yet another underrepresented group in YA literature - the farming community. With a sci-fi spin, of course.

Though Falling BAKward starts a little slow, I was intrigued enough by the hinted mysteries to be patient. Not to mention I have read enough Henry Melton books to know that patience is usually rewarded. And it was.

I am truly astonished by the intricacy of Melton's writing - intricacy that could be taken as tedious to some or fascinating to others. I tend to be far closer to the fascinated end of the spectrum. I think most science fiction fans would be.

Falling BAKward has an interesting mix of survival and exploration in its plot and smart characters that make understandable decisions. Though it might not be as big of a blockbuster to me personally as some of Melton's other books, it is expertly plotted and intelligently written.

But as the novel began to reach its Jurassic Park-level tension in the climax, my questioning of it being a blockbuster was silenced. With its shades of the black-and-white, classic television series The Outer Limits and shock of unexpectedly heartrending moments, all of that focused detail lead to a surprisingly satisfying read!

Falling BAKward became quite exhilarating as I got farther and farther into it - another winner for sure! I believe you will find Henry Melton's ability to create aliens that are terrifying, violent threats and aliens that are utterly adorable to be as amazing as I did. Find out for yourself, bookworm!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Rise of the Darklings


Rise of the Darklings is the first book in a new middlegrade fantasy trilogy called The Invisible Order, written by Paul Crilley.

Victorian England is a daunting place when you're only 12-years-old and having to support your 9-year-old brother all by yourself. This is Emily's life after both her parents vanished years earlier. Things are tough for her, but she's determined to get them through it. That's why she's running to work that morning. That's why she took the shortcut through the alley.

That's why she saw the faeries.

It was a sight for delusional eyes, and she couldn't believe it. A war was happening right in front of her between creatures that in no way could be classified as human, or any other being of common-knowledge. And before she could think straight, two mysterious men - one extremely tall and thin, the other rather round and short - pop out at her, asking her odd questions.

She gets away, but her life changes.

Suddenly she is thrust into a faery war, without so much as a "how do you do", that has been raging for centuries, unbeknownst to human eyes. But now Emily's eyes have been opened. The results? Her brother is kidnapped. In order to save her brother, she must foray further into this world - a world of underground towns, enigmatic societies and secret agendas.

And it doesn't help that no one seems to be telling her the truth.

Ooooh, do I love fantasy trilogies! Rise of the Darklings was a winner!!! A Victorian-era fantasy adventure that crackles with magic and legend - a lethally entertaining combination that has that great sense of being just as exciting and mesmerizing for the adult reader, as well as the younger one.

Mature Emily is an amazing, smart, hard-to-rattle heroine that takes the supernatural happenings and strange encounters in stride. The colorful, bright, varied creatures and environments that Paul Crilley weaves into a tale of wonder create a truly fun, escapist ride.

Rise of the Darklings dips its toe in the water of darker folklore villains, such as Black Annis and Jenny Greenteeth, being just chilling enough to be suspenseful and dangerous without going too far. The sometimes menacing, always delightfully thrilling, Rise of the Darklings has a perfect, new mixture of influences (in my opinion) of Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, and European lore. It is a genuinely creative, eccentric, cinematic, epic fantasy!

Smile-worthy details, twists I did not see coming, and amusing dialogue left me famished for more of The Invisible Order! I cannot wait for the second book, The Fire King! What a fantastical, fantastical read!

Though its been days since I finished Rise of the Darklings, I still think about it from time to time. It left an excellent, enchanting impression. Believe the hype and read it!!! :)

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Practical Guide to Dragon Magic


A Practical Guide to Dragon Magic is a companion to the New York Times best-selling A Practical Guide to Dragons, written by Sindri Suncatcher, "The Greatest Kender Wizard Who Ever Lived" (a.k.a. Susan J. Morris).

This is guide for young wizards, or aspiring wizards that is! A Dungeons & Dragons book, this practical guide gives you tips on how to harness dragon magic for yourself - including, but not limited to, flying alongside your dragon on wings of your own, breathing fire, and casting spells. It teaches you about the different types of dragons, what makes each one special, therefore guiding you to your choice of dragon you want as your teacher!

After learning all of this fascinating information about dragons and your different options for becoming a dragon magic user - there is a quiz at the end to facilitate in your final decision of an apprentice.

Of course, based off the description alone you realize that this book is targeted for younger audiences. However, it is most certainly a fun read for any age - any reader that enjoys fantasy, which includes me!

The huge, nicely styled hardcover is a great selling point - it is unique and feels like a special textbook/magicbook type of guide. I think it would be a great Christmas gift for those friends and family members that love, well, dragons!

There are full-color pages with elaborate pictures and tips scatted throughout like notes in a school book, such as "dragon etiquette" and dragon writing, language, and important phrases you need to know (i.e., Where is the bathroom?). Also, how to be considered for the prestigious dragon master school, Darastrix Academy. A Practical Guide to Dragon Magic has interesting, intricate detail and I could easily see how all of the numerous Practical Guides (vampires, monsters, fairies, wizards, etc.) would become a set to enjoy.

Though it is primarily for kids, the good sense of humor and creative fantasy detail made it exuberantly diverting for a 23-year-old bibliophile as well (yep, me). A Practical Guide to Dragon Magic made me even more curious about the other guides, as it began to get a bit addictive - the more you know about this fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons, the more you want to know! At least, that was my experience!

One odd note, though, was that when I did the final quiz my answers did not end of matching perfectly with any result. They had numerous result options, but somehow I didn't fit in. A bit of a disappointment. But I went with the closest - which means that apparently I am to be apprenticed with a Gold dragon! Whoo-hoo! Bring on the blinding brilliance of the sun! What dragon suits your fancy? Read A Practical Guide to Dragon Magic to find out!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The House of Dead Maids


The House of Dead Maids (head-turner of a title, huh?!) is a prequel to Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, written by Claire B. Dunkle.

Little Tabby Aykroyd is hired and sent to Seldom House to be the nursemaid of a young boy that is none other than Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. He is a not a delightful, sweet child - he is savage and disturbing. Not only is her charge disheartening, but the house itself is eerie and strange and seems full of secrets.

But it is when a previous maid begins appearing, trying to share Tabby's bed that things become more dangerous. Because this maid is no longer among the living - but instead a dead, wet, sickly creature with empty eyesockets and a feeling of evil around her. And she might not be the only one...

I tried reading Wuthering Heights once and do own a copy. However, despite my love of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre I was unable to finish Wuthering Heights since I found the characters to be so despicable and unlikable that I couldn't fathom why I was supposed to invest time in them. I didn't realize that there is a pagan, ghost-story element to the story - until I read this slim, 143 page prequel by Claire B. Dunkle.

The super-creepy cover and immediately atmospheric, foggy scariness did make me interested. And Tabby is a strong, smart, surprisingly young (only eleven!) main character. Plus, the illustrations that adorn each new chapter add to the honestly frightening nature of the book.

The House of Dead Maids is told in a past-tense voice, giving it an ominous feeling for some reason. At first I didn't think it was as chilling as I'd suspected it would be - but that changed rather quickly once we meet the eyeless dead maid and begin to find out why she's haunting the place. Not to mention Heathcliff's disturbing personality - made especially alarming because of his age.

I was a bit confused at times, and some of the explanations and revelations came across a bit convoluted - but The House of Dead Maids because a bonafide horror novel by the end. Included are lots of, "Ew!" And, "Oh dear..." And, "Ah!" That last one was a small scream, by the way. Lol.

Though not a favorite of mine, and it still leaves me unsure if Emily Bronte is the author for me, The House of Dead Maids is written very well and has an essence of the time period and feel of the classic novel. It does its job of kinda freaking me out, but tends to be more on the disturbing not-so-fun side than I prefer.

But if The House of Dead Maids sounds like the kind of book you like - dare to read it with the lights down low! I'm not sure you'll make it to the horrifying end! ;)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Courting Morrow Little


Courting Morrow Little is a Christian historical fiction romance written by Laura Frantz.

Morrow Little's family was torn apart when she was only five-years-old. Her mother and baby sister were murdered by raiding Shawnee warriors, and her older brother Jess was taken. Since that day it has just been Morrow and her father, a pastor and strong man of faith. Morrow has found it difficult to come to terms with the past or let go of the horrors of that day, as she and her father continue to wonder if Jess is alive out there somewhere and if he would even remember them.

But now Morrow is eighteen-years-old and her father's health is not doing well. His wish is to see her secured in marriage - but her choices range from those she has no feelings for, to those she dislikes quite a bit. And the one that she almost dares not to believe she is falling for is an impossible choice. What can she do?

First off - I have to say that the cover of Courting Morrow Little is lovely, it entranced me and transported me to the time period (1778) the first time I saw it. Definitely one to pick up by sight alone. :)

The prologue is haunting, terrifying, and nightmarish - a raw showcase of Laura Frantz's skills, in that I was immersed in the moment with poor, scared, little five-year-old Morrow. Then going in the novel, I was almost instantaneously in love with the naturally placed period details and understatedly excellent writing.

Morrow is a feminine, believable character - heart-wrenching and sympathetic - constantly haunted by her past, as if ghosts are trailing her everywhere she goes. And at only eighteen years old, she is accessible to YA readers as well as those adult historical lovers.

Smooth, organic storytelling make it easy to get swept away, the Kentucky landscape soaked in the beauty of atmosphere and visual splendor. Plus, when romantic intrigue is introduced in the plot - one of which is a bold soldier, another a handsome Shawnee - the plot takes off and you can only sit back and enjoy Courting Morrow Little.

The rich historical issues refrain from feeling like a history lesson but give depth to the background goings-on. Exquisite descriptions and breathtaking scenery carry forth into rising warlike tensions and whispering hints of rapturous romance on the horizon. Pages begin to be turned with haste as the quietly, magnificently portrayed raw emotions hit peaks - I'm telling you, no romantic can pass Courting Morrow Little up!!!

One of the best things about Courting Morrow Little (and there are many) is that it is a complete story, no abrupt, fairy-tale end or wedding-cliche conclusion. Instead we have a novel that is equal parts heartwrenching, romantic, historical, suspenseful, and family based. An extraordinarily touching book that caused my trained-to-stay-dry-as-often-as-possible eyes to become watery.

Courting Morrow Little is a killer, truly. Talk about epic!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Uncle Eben's Christmas


Uncle Eben's Christmas is a modern-day, Christian retelling of the classic Dickens' tale A Christmas Carol - written by Stephen Alan Slater. (ISBN 978-193526538-2, Deep River Books, 2010, $12.99)

A new fiction twist on the story all of us know - Eben Johnson is the owner of a home-improvement store that is very successful, especially during the holiday season. In order to make sure and not offend any customers, he prohibits his employees from saying, "Merry Christmas." He continues to reject the idea of the Christmas story presented by his sister's church - until one evening he finds himself in the same position of Ebenezer Scrooge - taking a look at his past, present and future - and seeing if maybe he's made the wrong choice.

There is a festive flavor to Uncle Eben's Christmas - a short, 106 page tale for Christmas time. I really liked the cool storytelling method of keeping it in a detached third-person voice. The organization of the chapters and clever chapter titles enhanced the "holiday-special" kind of feel. The price is a bit high for such a slim novel, though.

Eben is a perhaps a less mean, but just as stubborn version of Ebenezer Scrooge. The main message behind the book will most likely only appeal to Christian readers but is an enjoyable Christmas story. It doesn't come off as preachy or pretentious and portrays the characters (Eben, his sister Hannah, his employees, etc.) in a realistic way. Near the end it begins to have a slightly more legalistic tone - but overall has a good message. Stephen Slater's writing ability is not at all lacking and he uses scripture in a great, encouraging way.

I must admit that the cover of Uncle Eben's Christmas leaves something to be desired, though. All the people look like they are from the 90s and its not eye-catching in a good way, sadly. Plus, they make Eben look like he's a lot older than the character actually is (about 30). However, it does give off the vibes of Christmas and hopefully people will check it out as a possible Christmas gift. The texture/feel of the cover is unique and pretty cool - I found myself obsessively touching it. Lol.

If Stephen Alan Slater were to come out with more books, I certainly would look into them. I think it would be his strong suit to see if there are any other classic stories (especially holiday-related) that he could retell in this sort of manner.

In the end I found Uncle Eben's Christmas to be a quick, inspirational, family oriented, sweet story - great for the holidays!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Scarlett Fever


Scarlett Fever is the YA contemporary sequel to Suite Scarlett, both of which are written by Maureen Johnson.

First off, you know what I always say when I review a sequel - avert thine eyes if thee has not yet read Suite Scarlett! Read my review of the first book here, and avoid some spoilers by passing this review up for a later time, eh?!

Okay... I am trusting that those of you book devouring deviants that are still reading this are those who have already read Suite Scarlett... hmm? Last chance to stop reading and avoid spoilers... Gonna start giving a synopsis of the plot of Scarlett Fever in 5... 4... 3... 2... 1!

Scarlett Martin, that witty, wild-haired, much-adored-by-me, fifteen-year-old protagonist of Suite Scarlett, has a fever. A non-literal one, that is. See, Hamlet has been running in the Hopewell (the art deco, small hotel her family runs and lives in) dining room for so long she had gotten used to seeing the cast all the time, one of which was the undeniably hot Eric, whom she'd had a sort-of relationship with earlier in the summer. But now the show is over and the dining room is back to being empty - and she can't stop thinking and obsessing about Eric. Her friends come back from their summer and school starts - yet nothing seems to get her mind off of him.

But, of course, life at the Hopewell is never at a lull for long. First her cancer-survivor little sister Marlene comes home from camp being eerily polite to Scarlett. Something is definitely up there. Lola doesn't seem her pristine self. Spencer's career is floundering after the Day of the Sock (what, you ask? read the book and find out!). And Mrs. Amberson wants to take on a new client to her agency - a girl Scarlett's age with one heck of a stage Mom! Scarlett is given the task of keeping an eye on the girl's surly brother who is now going to her school. Oooh, fun times.

If all of this can't keep Scarlett's mind off of Eric, then what can?

As soon as I finished Suite Scarlett I dived for Scarlett Fever (as I mentioned in my review of the former book in my review on Monday). I was blown away by how equal the sequel is to Suite Scarlett, if not even BETTER!!! My, oh, my! How have I not read anything by Maureen Johnson before this?

The back of the hardcover made me laugh and caused my bibliophile senses to quiver in anticipation (as my senses often do when about to read a sequel to a beloved book). I read it super-duper fast, because it is just addictive that way. Honest. Check it out. I dare you to not gobble it up in two days or less!

Scarlett is officially one of my favorite contemporary YA characters - sure, I admit, she is among many other favs, but this is still an honor I don't bestow without careful consideration. ;)

Scarlett Fever returns the reader to the Hopewell havoc and hilarity with a smooth, perfectly awesome ease. Mrs. Amberson's continuance as a character is a happy one, and she is as unpredictable and three-dimensional as ever! And what with all the new plot twists - Spencer's acting career, Marlene's evil-genius personality, Lola's relationship woes, and Mrs. Amberson's ever-present tasks for Scarlett (all of which I care about fervently, and hang on every word) - there are hijinks galore!

And with the Martin's financial issues and lack of money for college tuition's, Scarlett Fever manages to have a very down-to-earth awareness of the economy and its effect on this generation - without becoming a downer at all.

I absolutely, posituvely love this family (the Martin's of course, haven't you been listening to my crazy book addict ramblings?) and would love to get tangled up in some of the insane things that happen to them! The family life portrayed in Scarlett Fever has a genuineness to it, a sweetness and level of funny that has a realness to it. Maureen Johnson has an immense talent for exhilarating storytelling, clearly.

If you want to read a book that is laugh-out-loud funny, clever, madcap loony, and can't-put-down-able (and why wouldn't you?) - read Scarlett Fever. And when you do, tell me - is that not one hell of a cliffhanger or WHAT?!

There has to be a third book, right?! RIGHT???

Monday, November 29, 2010

Suite Scarlett


Suite Scarlett is a YA contemporary novel written by Maureen Johnson.

Scarlett Martin lives in the Hopewell, a small but arty hotel in New York City. Her family owns and runs it - which includes the tradition of giving full responsibility of one of the eclectic rooms to each Martin when they turn 15. Scarlett gets the Empire Suite, one of the most expensive and least used suites at the Hopewell. But it very quickly becomes occupied when the highly unusual and wealthy ex-actress Mrs. Amberson moves in for the entire summer. Since the hotel isn't in the best financial times, pleasing Mrs. Amberson becomes the ultimate goal for the family. Unfortunately, this mission tends to fall at Scarlett's feet more often than not, since Mrs. Amberson seems to take a liking to her.

And before Scarlett knows it, what looked to be a boring and eventless summer of helping out at the Hopewell is turning into a crazy succession of events. Especially when she meets the too-good-looking-to-speak-properly-to young actor, Eric, who is working with her older brother Spencer. Adding a splash of possible romance only makes things more hectic for Scarlett - but living in Manhattan in a family like the Martin's might just give her enough moxy to survive it.

The positive blurbs on the back of the paperback version of Suite Scarlett from some of my favorite authors (Meg Cabot, Libba Bray, and Michele Jaffe) was definitely a good sign when I got the opportunity to read the book. And may I just say that Suite Scarlett more than met the praise!

Suite Scarlett's cover gives off a lighthearted, fun feeling that was reflected in the contents of this delightful read. Maureen Johnson easily evokes a luxurious, charming image of the Hopewell that enticed the bibliophile in me. Before ten pages passed the vibes of family, siblings, and a truly colorful palette of characters already sparkled radiantly!

Not to mention, starting the story off with Scarlett's truly sucky b-day really set a great tone for the character and the path her life often takes - keeping the narrative voice joyful. There are so many chuckle-inducing lines, I can't even tell you!

I seemed to instinctually want to read Suite Scarlett slowly, wanting to really savor the almost rhythmical quality it has. One of the most fun (and funny) books I've read lately.

Mrs. Amberson is one of those awesome characters that just comes to life (though you can say that for pretty much every character in Suite Scarlett), sort of like Grandmere in The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot. She is kinda crazy and is quite the scene-stealer - throwing Scarlett into all sorts of whimsical shenanigans (I love that word, don't you?).

Plus, Scarlett's dealing with her crush on Eric is both relatable and hilarious - she is an excellent main character, one of many in a novel full to the brim with glow-in-the-dark personalities, refreshing family life, and entertainment up the whazoo!

Suite Scarlett is like cold lemonade in a sea of angsty YA hot cocoa. It's like a fluffy, enjoyable, irresistible dessert. Flavorful, scrumptious... yummy.

And with it's surprisingly gripping, must-read quality and smile-worthy end - I was more than happy to have the sequel Scarlett Fever waiting in the wings for me to crack open immediately.

So after all that, I'm sure you'll all be astonished to know that I highly, highly recommend Suite Scarlett. ;)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Time Quadrants


Time Quadrants is an ebook-only anthology by YA sci-fi author Henry Melton.

This is a time travel science fiction sampler that was put out to whet appetites before the publication of Golden Girl. Since I've already read Golden Girl and loved it (read my review here), I was super excited to read this anthology.

It's four short stories, and overall only a little over 100 pages long - and well worth reading!!!

Let's break each story down, one by one, shall we?

Litterbug: This story centers on seventeen-year-old Jerry who helps to clean up near the railroad to make sure his small town is spotless before the President of the United States makes a short stop there. He finds an odd-looking candy bar wrapper that he tries to put through a gadget he has made to sort recyclables - yet for some reason it refuses to work, unlike anything he has ever experienced. What is it? Well, you gotta read it to find out, don't you? I don't want to say too much more since in short stories there isn't much room to tease without spoiling! But I'll say this: it was a crisp, smart, interesting, and surprising tale! Just what I've come to expect from Henry Melton.

Echoes: A fascinating, extremely short and compact story that wowed me. With its amazingly brief length I can't think how to tell you what it is about without ruining it, except to perhaps say that it involves the inevitable ripple effects that a time machine would cause. Excellently written and astoundingly creative!

Far Exile: Starts fast with the awakening of a calm-minded 1930s man that is, at first, unnamed. He finds himself in an unusual, unknown place of extremely tall towers, where no one ever goes outside and the world is controlled, voluntarily, by a computer-like being. There is something so intriguing about the concept of a man from our past being in a future we have not yet reached. Again, can't give away too much... but what an awesome, stimulating story! The writing kept me constantly involved and absorbed in this futuristic world. It exercises your brain in a way that is actually fun. I'm not crazy, honest. You gotta read it to know what I'm talking about, bibliophile!

Making It Fit: This is a quieter, more scientific tale that actually is about a bunch of (whaddya know?!) scientists. But don't mistake quiet for dull - because it ain't. Focuses on some lab coat geniuses working on the possibility of a time traveling machine, and what happens when they start to use it to work twenty-four hours a day. Along with the more brainy smarts comes an unexpectedly romantic, touching story! Very well done and perfectly understated.

As you can see, I'm a fan. Science fiction can be one of the most intelligent, intricately plotted genres out there - as Henry Melton has constantly proved since I've begun reading his work earlier this year. I most definitely encourage you to check out this sampler of the kind of stories he writes. Check out his website here to see how you can read Time Quadrants!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Girl, Stolen


Girl, Stolen is a new YA thriller by author April Henry.

Cheyenne Wilder is sixteen-years-old and tired. She's waiting, sleepily, in the back seat of her stepmom's car as said-stepmother picks up the prescription that is meant to treat Cheyenne's pneumonia. She begged her stepmom to leave the keys in the car so that she could keep warm during the brief interval.

When Griffin sees the car keys in the expensive car, it is as if the car is beckoning to be stolen. He sees an opportunity to impress his father and create a big payday. He doesn't know that there is a sick girl in the back. He doesn't know that she's blind.

Everything turns from bad to terrifying as Griffin's dad realizes that Cheyenne's father is a rich president of a big company. Soon, Cheyenne faces the reality that she is going to have to somehow fight for her own survival.

Come on, bookworms. Tell me that synopsis doesn't send a chill up your spine. You know it does. At least it did mine. I mean, she is terribly sick AND blind AND kidnapped?! Scary. So, Girl, Stolen definitely swept me and my imagination away into a fast-paced, tense, teeth-grinding start.

Cheyenne's blindness makes her unique and causes an early sympathy and extra dose of suspense. The very thought of this frightening situation, plus the added handicap of not being able to see - wow.

I'll admit there were some moments that Girl, Stolen was a teeny-tiny-bit predictable. I guessed a couple of twists right before they happened. However, Cheyenne is a heroine to root for and the engrossing setup and writing often overshadowed any guess I happened to get right.

For me personally the pages were flying and I found it easy to finish within a two-day period - which is a big deal for a bibliophile that is working and is often sadly deprived of quality book time. Goes to show how lightening fast the pace is, and how determined a junkie bibliophile can be when motivated.

Besides the immediate situation of Cheyenne, we also get wonderful memories of how she became blind and how her mother died, etc. It is sad but emotionally effective and character driven. Made it more than just a thriller.

Girl, Stolen is full of shocks and scares, and a gritty realism that frayed my nerves. It made for a movie-like visual in the mind, and a highly entertaining and taut read.

Any more said and I might slip out some spoilers, so I shall zip my lips now and leave it up to you - the obsessive, insatiable book lover - to find a copy and start reading. :)

On a separate note: HAPPY THANKSGIVING! I am thankful for YOU reading my blog and helping to make it so successful this year! I hope you all have a great day gorging on turkey, or whatever food option may be your preference! And I WILL be having a new review up on Friday, so please check back! :)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Raised by Wolves


Raised by Wolves is a YA paranormal novel by author Jennnifer Lynn Barnes that came out last June.

Bryn isn't like most fifteen-year-olds. She doesn't have a boyfriend, nor does she care that much that she doesn't. She doesn't obsess over her looks. She doesn't think about college. And, oh yeah, she was raised by wolves.

And not just regular, Discovery Channel wolves. Nope. Werewolves.

See, when she was four-years-old a "Rabid" werewolf attacked and savagely killed her parents. She was going to be next, if not for the last-minute rescue of Callum, the alpha of his pack. He took her in and had her raised as one of the Pack, despite her relentless humanness.

This life is all she has ever known, and despite her resistance to being "obedient" to Pack rule - the Pack is her family. But when her security is upped by Callum, her curiosity is peaked. Her search for answers brings her to a startling discovery: a newly turned werewolf, about her age, locked in a cage in the basement of Callum's basement.

Bryn's entire life is turned upside down when she realizes that everything she has known to be true since she was rescued by Callum may have been a lie.

Raised by Wolves wastes no time in acquainting you with Bryn's witty, snappy voice - making it clear early on that she is a unique protagonist. At first she came across as a bit frustrating to me, especially with her dogged stubborness - but it didn't take long for me to find Bryn very, very likable and easy to root for.

Quickly, you realize that Raised by Wolves is an intense novel. And I mean intense in the best way possible. But this is lightened by humor-laced first-person narration. I'll admit that I felt some of Bryn's cleverness came across as forced, not as organic as I like - yet this later was disproved. Bryn's voice becomes more and more natural and believable, and I'm sure if I were to reread it, it would no longer sound strained in the earlier pages.

As the many layers of the plot are peeled back and more is revealed, the more nail-biting it becomes! With increased involvement in the Pack I became truly fascinated with the detail Jennifer Lynn Barnes gives to this world. It's fascinating and feels dangerous. Extremely cool.

I just have to say in plain English here that I LOVED Raised by Wolves. As the pages turned, the hypnotic pull deepened - especially at the halfway mark. And, whoo-boy, I know I've used the word intense more than my old English teachers would appreciate but, really, it is INTENSE. Unpredictable. Suspenseful. Epic. Obsessive. Addictive.

Definitely a must-read for fans of the Twilight Saga, I feel. Definitely.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes creates such a fully realized, barely explored, incredible world - her writing is extremely strong, writing that wraps you up in the story, writing that makes you forget about what else is going on around you.

The plot hums with electric energy - and then moments of laugh-out-loud dialogue shake you a little from the insane, edge-of-your-seat stuff. I was pretty much yanked through an amazing, paranormal story and couldn't stop reading unless I absolutely had to. Raised by Wolves leads up to a breathless climax, having weaved Pack-like, emotional connections to the expertly drawn, individualistic characters.

Raised by Wolves is an extraordinary YA novel that deserves a huge audience! With the heart-pounding action, goosebump-causing scariness, and exquisite storytelling - I was soooooooo relieved when I found out that there is going to be a sequel coming out in June 2011.

And if you take my advice and read Raised by Wolves (which I can almost guarantee will make your bibliophile DNA tingle), I'm pretty sure you will too.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Contagion


Contagion is a YA historical mystery recently released and written by Joanne Dahme.

Eighteen-year-old Rose Dugan is finishing up her first year of marriage to her long-betrothed, powerful husband, Patrick. On the surface everything is going very well for her - wealth enough for everything she'd need or want and a wonderful best friend, Nellie, to bring light to her days. Yet things take a disturbing turn when intimidating letters begin turning up, threatening Patrick and Rose, demanding he stop his petitioning of big changes to the city's Water Works systems - changes that could mean even more money and power for Patrick - and the destruction of the beautiful site.

But as harmless as Patrick finds the letters, Rose finds them worrisome - and when someone quite dear to Rose is murdered while wearing her cloak, her worries are proven. Or are they? Could it have just been a robbery gone bad?

Rose finds herself enlisting the help of the good-looking and kind young man that maintains Philadelphia's Water Works, Sean, as panic breaks out - typhoid is returning to the area and seems to be in the water. Is there any chance that all of these events are somehow connected? Rose can't get rid of the nagging feeling that they are. But how come everyone's finger seems to be pointing either to her husband Patrick or her newfound friend Sean?

Okay, so anytime I hear about a YA book that mixes historical fiction with murder and danger (usually can't have the former without the latter, I suppose) - I'm there! Usually a quite awesome combination...

The prologue to Contagion brings to us a picture of a thirteen-year-old Rose meeting her future husband, Patrick, who is already twenty. There was something so disturbing about seeing (in the reader's mind's eye) this young girl have no say about her future - and is no less disturbing when the novel picks back up in 1895, in which Rose and Patrick are married. It is so odd, yet fascinating, to have Rose and her best friend Nellie so young, yet mistresses of households.

However, despite this rather interesting beginning it doesn't take long for Contagion to switch narrative viewpoint to Sean (as it will do throughout the entire novel), where the talk of the Water Works system and grounds is full of passion, for sure, but not of much interest to me. Especially as it veers more into politics than I prefer, or care for...

And sadly, the suspense being created by the author felt, to me, superficial and never authentic... You could completely disagree with me and be on pins and needles the entire time - so don't take my word for it! Just gotta be honest here... I was disappointed with the lack of creepiness, with the lack of a true sense of danger or mystery.

Plot-wise, Contagion certainly takes its time, which is not necessarily a bad thing - as slowly I began to care a bit more for the characters, and the murder at least affects me a little. However, though the period feel is good and seems well-researched, the slowness of anything actually happening can't help but make me feel a little, well, bored.

The focus and detail of the city's Water Works is probably fascinating to some people - clearly a passion of the author and all of the characters in Contagion - and is certainly a worthy cause and work to magnify. Yet in a novel, in my opinion, it seemed to drag the plot down and the controversy surrounding it never reached a compelling point for me, and instead was tedious.

I felt like Contagion needed more to happen - as if there were far too many pages for far too little going on. It lacked the atmosphere and whodunit quality I expected after seeing the blurbs. I have to admit, regrettably, that I had to resort to skimming many of the later pages as the 399 pages continued to refrain from riveting me. I hope that many of you find more entertainment in the novel... as I am sure there are many reader's out there that will love Contagion.

One thing for sure that Joanne Dahme shows us is how terrifying typhoid was back in 1895 - the fear and panic related to such a ravaging, deadly disease. And the way in which she portrays someone able to, perhaps, purposely poison people's water and cause an outbreak for their own gain is quite rattling. However, I did feel that even this part of Contagion was told to us, not shown... like most of the novel, from my view.

As the final quarter picked up a bit of speed, I did see the admirable quality of the narrative voice of Sean and Rose, yet they still never connected with me. And though by the end I recognized the nobility in Contagion and the possibility of someone loving it - that person was just sadly not me, not this time.

But please read Contagion for yourself and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lockdown


Lockdown is the first book in a new YA horror/thriller series Escape from Furnace, written by Alexander Gordon Smith.

Alex isn't a good kid. It isn't just that he's a moody 14-year-old boy. No, he made a decision a while back that he liked money... and he didn't always get his hands on it legally. He knows it's wrong, but Alex keeps on down this wrong track, until something happens. Something horrific.

Furnace Penitentiary was created as a way to dissuade minors from committing violent crimes, after a wave of atrocious acts were perpetrated by young offenders. People became suspicious and frightened of kids... But Alex knows Furnace is no threat to him. He would never hurt anyone. He just likes money.

But when during the burglarization of an empty home, he is framed for a monstrous murder he did not commit - he finds himself running from the police. Before he knows what is going on, Alex is caught, tried, and found guilty - and sent to the underground Furnace... where no one ever comes back.

My synopsis is a little sparse because I'm trying to not give away some of the more shocking surprises that take place in the first few chapters. Hopefully, I kept it spoiler-free enough - yet allowed it to still sound interesting! Because, um, it most certainly is!

The opening chapter of Lockdown is instantly freaky, a tone that is set securely for the length of the entire novel. It gives you a whisper of the irrepressible intensity to follow.

After this prologue of sorts, time shifts to a first person narrative of how Alex will become an inmate of Furnace Penitentiary. The action slows (only for a short period) to let us get a real picture of who he is. Then a horrifying, startling turn of events kicks up the volume and you go flying into a fast-paced, breathless page-turner.

Thing is, for some reason, at first I was hesitant to connect with Alex and his story... I was skeptical of being sympathetic of him - but I believe this might have been purposeful on the part of the author. But once the questions and mysteries begin being presented, it doesn't even matter if you care about Alex yet - you just want to know what the heck is going on!

Once things started snowballing (and, man, do things start snowballing) and Alex ends up in Furnace, I became convinced. Smith's writing is very skilled in turning my opinion around and really throwing the reader into an entirely different world, which is presented as part of our world (almost makes it scarier). And before I really even knew my perception of Alex had changed, I found myself worried to death for him!

I don't know if I am explaining myself very well, but I am so reluctant to give any details away!

Here's the thing: Lockdown is one of those books that is very testosterone-driven and gory - but once you start reading you really can't put it down. Furnace Penitentiary isn't a regular prison - it's full of abnormal guards, dudes that have gas masks sewn on to their faces, and creatures that are supernatural and really, really creepy. I shudder just thinking of some of the scenes.

This is a book that I would kind of have to put out of my mind when I went to bed... because it is actually quite scary, crazy intense, and soooooooo nightmarishly suspenseful.

Lockdown had me in its grips up to the insane cliffhanger and definitely had me ready for the next book, Solitary, which is apparently not coming out until winter 2011. Ahhh! (If you are wondering, that was a cry of dismay.)

I don't always seek out these truly horrifying, don't-turn-out-the-lights novels, but Lockdown convinced me that every once in a while it is awesome to get freaked out... and lose some sleep. ;)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Blood on My Hands


Blood on My Hands is a YA thriller/murder mystery by author Todd Strasser.

It is with shock that 17-year-old Callie finds Katherine Remington-Day, her high school's most popular girl, dead in the dark woods during a keg party. Mindlessly, she finds the knife and Katherine's blood on her hands. Before she is fully aware of what is happening, her fellow classmates are snapping cell phone pictures of her in this guilty position.

She runs.

Callie knows she's innocent, but she doesn't trust the police to disregard all the evidence and believe her. She believes the only way to clear her name is to figure out who the real killer is. Before the police find her first.

Especially since, with her history with Katherine - she had motive.

But so did many others...

As a longtime fan of Joan Lowery Nixon when I was younger (I'm sure I'd still love all the novels if I were to reread them today), I was enthusiastic about reading Blood on My Hands, since it is a teen murder mystery. I love that kind of story.

Blood on My Hands certainly cuts to the chase - the murder is immediate and conclusions of guilt are drawn so quickly that before you know it Callie is on the run. On the one hand, this is a fast-paced way of jumping right into the action of the story - but on the other hand, I felt it was too fast. I barely knew who was who or what was what before the plot was taking off, expecting me to follow behind blindly.

What helped to make me identify with the characters a bit more was how Strasser does take moments to slow down the pace and flash back to past incidents with these characters, memories and moments between them. Some of them reveal a shocking, unexpected, dark family past for Callie that explains to the reader why her panic is so palpable and understand her reluctance to go to the police and talk to them instead of flee, which is easy to dismiss as ridiculous and dumb. And who ever wants a dumb heroine? So even though it is still, perhaps, unwise as a decision - at least the author helps you to understand the motivation behind it.

It took me a while to really become involved or invested in Blood on My Hands, mainly because my first impressions of the characters and plot felt shallow. But as layers were peeled back in the narrative and we start witnessing first hand how Katherine was the ultimate mean girl with a violent streak, and the various secondary characters begin to form a shape more secretive and suspicious - the novel starts to finally pick up.

Patience was necessary for me to get into the story, but that might not be the case for you. But if it is, I implore you to continue reading - because Blood on My Hands does begin to have that ominous, suspenseful twinge you usually get from murder mysteries and sleuth novels. The clue finding revs up, as well as the tension of Callie's situation on the run.

A sense of danger and violence brews beneath the surface and paranoia takes forefront. I started to have some good ol'honest fun trying to figure out whodunit! And since Todd Strasser did, eventually, turn up the heat on character development, it stopped feeling so superficial and became where I did care about Callie and the people in her life. The narrative became more thoughtful and introverted in an interesting way.

As Blood on My Hands picks up MAJOR speed later one, with the persistence of a seasoned bibliophile I became quite desperate to get answers. I was riveted to the final page, breathless with the conclusion (though I was partially correct with my guess - I was also partially wrong, which is always good!), and left feeling pretty satisfied, overall, with the book.

Todd Strasser has another YA thriller that came out earlier in the year called Wish You Were Dead, and is apparently going to write another one here soon. While early on in Blood on My Hands I wasn't sure how interested I was going to end up being in reading more of his work, I can say that I definitely wouldn't mind it now. I personally had to keep with it with more patience than I necessarily prefer, but I did feel rewarded for it by the end. I think you might be too!

Special Note: Because I am still super duper busy with reading and reviewing, the Friday posts will continue in November! In fact, because there doesn't seem to be enough Mondays and Fridays in the month to post all the reviews I am writing I will now be adding in a temporary WEDNESDAY posting for November, as well. Please check back every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for new reviews and ramblings from a crazy bibliophile (me)!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mockingjay


Mockinjay is the third and final book in the Hunger Games trilogy.

First off I want to say that I am super sorry for it taking me so long to review Mockingjay. I know it was a big release, as it was for me too - and probably most of the book bloggers out there have already reviewed it. My main reason for the delay is a lack of good writing time and an influx of reading material. I read it many books ago, just haven't gotten the chance to write about it. And since I bought my own copy, other deadlines pushed this one down to a lower priority. So, sorry about that. But here it is! Finally! ;)

You know the drill, reader. If you haven't read The Hunger Games and/or Catching Fire (the first two books in the trilogy) do NOT, I repeat do NOT, read this review. Read the other reviews and read the books, you crazy bookworm! To read my reviews of those books, simply click on the titles.

I was not able to reread The Hunger Games and Catching Fire before Mockingjay, which is my usual custom. Therefore, I have a harder time writing a decent premise of this final book. But I'll give it a shot. :)

Katniss Everdeen survived the Hunger Games. She survived the Capitol's hatred. But the Capitol's hatred garnered a way to rid themselves of the rebellion inducing Katniss. The Quarter Quell. Yet, again they failed. Because a long planned revolution made itself known in rescuing Katniss from the arena - a rescue that was in part planned by the long time thought extinct District 13.

But though Katniss is safe and her family is safe and her best friend Gale is safe - her District 12 fellow survivor Peeta has been captured by the Capitol and the bloody revolution has no end in sight. The answer to reaching the end of the war and freedom from the Capitol's longtime tyrannical grip, it seems, is Katniss accepting the role of Mockingjay - the symbol and encouragement of the revolution. But what will she choose? And how will any of it end well?

I was almost scared to start Mockingjay because of how crazy suspenseful I suspected it would be! But also super-duper, addict-like excited!

Mockingjay begins so hopelessly, so sadly, so discouragingly that it broke my heart. The pace picks up to a steady clip, building tension to the point where my teeth sat on edge. My eyes stung, there was a lump in my throat, and my heart ached and I hadn't even reached 100 pages yet. Suzanne Collins writing ability makes me care so much, it literally hurts.

As the pages kept flying by, I miss Peeta and I'm scared by the plot development. This is one of those really rare reading experiences, like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (not to mention the rest of the books in that series).

Mockingjay is, at times, truly painful for me to read as the phenomenal character studies and dismal dystopia barely gives me a chance to breathe as it stresses me out. Everything soon becomes about getting Peeta back and I realized that I was, and am, truly Team Peeta - I know many of you disagree. But I finally picked a team.

Somehow this final Hunger Games novel manages to be tragically romantic, increasingly heartbreaking, touching, inspiring, beautiful, and jarringly raw. The conclusion had me wiping tears from my eyes, stunned, and blown away by the poetic strength of one of the most depressing ends I have ever read. It still lingers in my mind.

To be honest, I hoped for a bit more levity. I hopes for a bit more excitement and thrill. Instead I was torn to shreds with excellent writing, but not the most happy of turns. But Mockingjay never was about fairy-tale endings. I don't want to give anything away, so I'll stop with my analysis and make sure you know that YOU might not find it sad and YOU might feel differently.

But I was flabbergasted, that is for sure. I'm just left feeling a bit, well, bittersweet. A mixture of different opinions and emotions. Maybe that is the point. But it was one hell of a book. Bravo, Suzanne Collins!