Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Iron Thorn


The Iron Thorn is an AWESOME YA fantasy by Caitlin Kittredge.

Aoife has always dreaded her sixteenth birthday. Both her mother and her brother went insane when they turned sixteen. And the day is drawing nearer for Aoife - something that she can't deny, but tries to anyway.

In the city of Lovecraft madness is an epidemic - a result of the necrovirus, a virus that causes all the horrifying creatures that haunt the darkness and the heretical magic and witchcraft that the Proctors stamp out with enthusiasm. There are many madhouses in Lovecraft, one of which houses Aoife's mother - and threatens to house Aoife as well if she begins to show any signs of following in her family's footsteps.

For now, Aoife focuses as much as she can on her schoolwork - having gained an impressive slot at the Lovecraft Academy where she stretches her intelligent mind and is fascinated by the engines that run the city. But as her sixteenth birthday looms even closer a letter arrives - it is penned in the familiar handwriting of her brother Conrad. He had escaped from the asylum a while back, and she occasionally received a forbidden correspondence with he who had once been her rock, but had tried to kill her on his sixteenth birthday as the madness consumed him.

In the letter is but this enigmatic message: Find the witch's alphabet. Save yourself.

Is it the ramblings of a mad man? Or could it be a warning from the brother who used to take care of her and love her? All Aoife knows is that her only hope of avoiding the mad houses and losing her grip on her mind, which she already feels slipping away, is to find Conrad and get answers. To do this she must leave Lovecraft, dodge militaristic Proctors, and slip into the outside world that doesn't offer the same protections against the night creatures. It's a world full of Heretics, people whom her very association with would garner her punishment, including air pirates.

What Aoife doesn't know is that her own family secrets may cause her the most danger of all...

But will she find any answers before her mind succumbs to the necrovirus?

Oh my goodness!!! I knew I liked the sound of The Iron Thorn - but wow!!!!! What a fantastically creative and original novel! I was absolutely flabbergasted by Caitlin Kittredge. In The Iron Thorn we have an ominous and suspenseful dark fantasy adventure filled with new, different creatures and origins which are terrifying both in their physical appearance and the psychological ramifications!

The alternate 1950s setting of Lovecraft, Massachusetts offers a perfect locale to begin this steampunk novel - featuring a feisty, flavorful tone and the ever-worrisome fear of madness. Amazing! I have honestly never read anything like The Iron Thorn before - and I was gobbling it up!!!

It's full of clockworks and engines and brilliance! Incredibly unique with dark fantasy, wit, a fully realized universe, and pure genius! I plain and simply loved The Iron Thorn! It shines brightly with promise and cleverness, it has a heavy but addictive plot, sparkling characters, and an involving, rousing adventure with unmatched spunk and style!

The Iron Thorn is a gem of a book - and should be embraced by all lovers of phenomenal YA fantasy!!!!!

And then there are the unspeakably stunning, terrific revelations that I never saw coming, charming romance, and breathlessly climatic end that leaves off with a cliffhanger that left me needing more. Thank goodness there is more coming!!!

I hope to follow Aoife for many more books and continue to delve into this colorful, awesome, nail-biting, multilayered world! More details would only ruin your own experience, so just please, please, please read The Iron Thorn bibliophile!!!

*Want some free books? Click here to enter my contest to win TWO books!!! Plus, there's gonna be TWO winners, so your chances are even better!!! Don't miss out, click here before July 5th!!! :)

Monday, June 27, 2011

So Shelly


So Shelly is a YA novel that imagines the famous poets Keats, Byron, and Shelley into present-day high school students, written by Ty Roth.

High school Junior John Keats met Shelly while working on the school newspaper. A poet, but a shy and agonizing one, he couldn't help but be entranced by her energetic spirit. That's also where he met Gordon Byron, already a published and lauded author of a best-selling YA book. He doesn't care for the arrogant, good-looking jerk - but Shelly has been friends with him since she was very young.

When Shelly dies by drowning in a sailing accident, Gordon and Keats can't help but be thrown together by their mutual grief. They steal Shelly's ashes, per her mysterious instructions before dying, and try to make it to Lake Erie where she wished to be scattered while her favorite song played.

In the meantime, Keats reflects back on his short but memorable time with Shelly - and the night she got drunk and told him almost every detail of Gordon's life. Gordon fills in the blanks. And they realize that might be what Shelly wanted...

So Shelly is surprisingly, scandalously sexual as we are briefed on Gordon's exploits. It was honestly quite a bit more than I personally prefer or expected! Now, it is vibrantly voiced by the less bold Keats and has an interesting tone - never boring - but so off-puttingly male-oriented and lascivious that I never could really come to like So Shelly at all.

The novel felt much more suited to the adult genre, and even then not a particular one that I would seek out. There is a determinedly uncomfortable and unrelatable quality to the novel that is strangely artistic and would appeal to certain tastes most certainly, I'm sure, but for me was not necessarily likable.

As it continued, I felt it became monotonous, seeming to focus on outrageous exploits, touching only occasionally on deeper issues, but never grounding the novel in reality. Thing is, I could clearly see Ty Roth's writing talent and could appreciate the understated reimagining of these romantic poet icons as modern teenagers, but So Shelly is definitely just not my type of book.

The afterword was enlightening and interesting, in which Ty Roth explains the correlation to his characters to fact and rumor involving these historical figures. I had no idea how crazy and, I'm sorry to say, gross all these poets were! It was rather fascinating to see how closely he portrayed the events in So Shelly to this information, and as I said earlier I am sure there are many readers who love to delve into the darker, more depraved mindset of these characters.

Sadly that is just not me.

*Want some free books? Click here to enter my contest to win TWO books!!! Plus, there's gonna be TWO winners, so your chances are even better!!! Don't miss out, click here before July 5th!!! :)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ashes, Ashes


Ashes, Ashes is a new YA disaster-movie-esque novel by author Jo Treggiari.

Lucy is only sixteen but she has seen and lost a lot. She has seen her home city of New York go from the shiny metropolitan we know it as to a crumbling, ramshackle ghost town. The reason? A small pox epidemic that wiped out nearly all the population, leaving behind a small number of primarily children and the elderly. Also the sudden weather changes in which half of the year is drought and the other half is flooding, overwhelming rains, which has drastically changed the environment of the land and made food scarce.

In quick succession Lucy lost all the members of her family to the disease, leaving her completely alone. She's made herself a little home with her very few belongings and a survival manual she got from an abandoned book store. Each day she works hard just to make it to the next one.

But when a pack of wild dogs pursue her, a good-looking, smirking teenage boy named Aidan helps to rescue her, pulling her into a tree. Its jarring to Lucy to meet another survivor of the epidemic, as she's been alone for so long. He encourages her to follow him back to his camp where there is a group of them, but she has become comfortable with her solitary life. His brief appearance in her life, though, has awakened something in her that has long been dormant: the need for conversation.

So when her shelter is destroyed by a flash tsunami, she finds herself relenting and entering Aidan's camp. Danger, however, is eminent when Sweepers terrorize the camp - grabbing up as many survivors at a time to take them to a clinic for who-knows-what against their will. They never return.

And it seems like, for whatever reason, they really want Lucy...

Ashes, Ashes has a startling opening in which Lucy tries to kill a turtle for food - sickening herself (and me) in the process. It instantly sets the tone. It's a unique one. This girl is more relatable than most of the heroines in dystopia novels. Lucy gives off the feeling that she is not up for this survival-type lifestyle but that she has absolutely no choice but to try. With that there is such a sense of loneliness and despair that permeates the pages of Ashes, Ashes, giving it a down-to-earth quality. So when you match this tone up with the details we're provided relatively quickly on what exactly happened (decimation of world's population, entire landscapes changed dramatically) you are riveted.

Lucy's solitude and bravery in the face of disaster soak through and devastate the reader with admiration for our main character. You get to worrying that there is no hope for a better life, for an easier future for her. There is also an element of mystery and suspense throughout Ashes, Ashes regarding her memories and various clues that there may be more going on than what you initially see.

Another refreshing thing about Ashes, Ashes is that there are no zombies!!! Now, I have nothing against a good zombie book - but I don't need every single post-apocalyptic book to feature them. They're gross. They turn my stomach. Sometimes it's nice to have disaster have a firmer grip on reality. The plague, floods, droughts, and lack of people and security can be scary enough!

As Ashes, Ashes began to reach a frantic pace near the end, my concern for the characters was most definitely there. But I was surprised to feel that the novel lacked the resolution and answers that I thought were coming and would have liked. It didn't seem like the climax fully rewarded us for the quieter moments we spent with Lucy and the investment we grew to have in her and the other survivors. However, Ashes, Ashes was still very good and I still recommend it thoroughly!

*Want some free books? Click here to enter my contest to win TWO books!!! Plus, there's gonna be TWO winners, so your chances are even better!!! Don't miss out, click here before July 5th!!! :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Abandon


Abandon is the first book in a new YA contemporary fantasy trilogy by the best-selling, beloved author Meg Cabot!

Ever since Pierce died almost two years ago, she has felt different. According to studies, this is normal. After all, she was dead - then brought back to life. Who wouldn't be different after experiencing that?

Thing is, Pierce has good reason to feel not as attached to the world of the living - she was, for a short time, attached to the world of the dead. And in that world she met someone.

And he wants her back.

Her Mom decides to move the two of them to a small Florida island community where she grew up, to see if that might brighten up Pierce. Pierce has been running into more trouble than she ever used to. Ever since she died.

Ever since she met him.

But Pierce knows that moving isn't going to stop him from following. He's always gonna be there when she needs help.

Whether she likes it or not...

OMG - I loved it!!!!!!!!!

I was excited for Abandon, as I am always excited for a new Meg Cabot book - but wow!!! Abandon is more reminiscent of the Mediator series that first introduced me to Meg Cabot, but with a unique, phenomenal fantasy plot - a retelling of the Persephone myth! She presents us with a heroine I've never met before - inattentive, both sweet and direct, plotting and naive, and amazingly amazing!

Trust me: Pierce is awesome, the plot is perfect, and Abandon is FANTASTIC!!! It's dark, mysterious, and layered in sizzling mythology updated by a brilliant, creative mind (a.k.a. Meg Cabot). John (the "him" stalking Pierce from the Underworld) is extremely hot - he's dangerous, forbidden, enigmatic, terribly masculine, complicated, tortured, and hard not to be enamored with!

I was glued to, obsessed with, and adoring of this book! Abandon awakened my pure book-loving passion! It is one of those stories that sweeps you up into it, an escape that is all-encompassing and cinematic in scale. I wanted to devour it, yet savor it. It crackles with paranormal romance and suspense, intense and electric.

We have an insanely attractive lead in John and chemistry between him and Pierce that is incredibly steamy, yet chaste. I loved the past-tense storytelling method and the slowly revealed moments from Pierce's sad, shocking life since her near-death experience. Everything is very ominous and tense - awesome!

As you can tell, I am more than ready for the next installment in this trilogy!!! Meg Cabot has done it again, folks! Thank goodness we have the sequel to Insatiable (Meg's witty adult-novel response to the vampire craze) coming out in July - Overbite. But I am dying (pun intended) for the next book in this trilogy!!! I must have more John and Pierce!!! :)

Thank you, Meg!!!

*Want some free books? Click here to enter my contest to win TWO books!!! Plus, there's gonna be TWO winners, so your chances are even better!!! Don't miss out, click here before July 5th!!! :)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Corsets & Clockwork: 13 Steampunk Romances


Corsets & Clockwork: 13 Steampunk Romances is a collection of Victorian era YA with an infusion of fantasy, science fiction, and steampunk attitude edited by Trisha Telep and featuring popular names in YA fiction.

I absolutely loved Kiss Me Deadly, another YA anthology edited by Trisha Telep, which introduced me to so many authors that I am now huge fans of - so I was super excited to read another collection of YA short stories. Especially since they are "steampunk" romances, which is a word that I hadn't been familiar with for a very long time until I began to notice that a ton of books I was a fan of, awesome period mysteries with flare, were being described with the term!

In Corsets & Clockwork you have feisty, smart heroines, genius inventors, magic, science, danger, bravery, romance and all kinds of shocking twists and turns! Here is a quick breakdown of what I thought of each story:

Rude Mechanicals by Lesley Livingston: This was a very interesting tale. I adored the Victorian tone and sci-fi jolt. It was a bit short, but cool.

The Cannibal Fiend of Rotherhithe by Frewin Jones: Ooooh, creepy, disturbing, riveting mermaid story nothing like a Disney movie. Very original and memorable long afterwards.

Wild Magic by Ann Aguirre: One of the most romantic offerings, in my opinion, with great adventure and danger. I love how Corsets & Clockwork presents such a wide-ranging variety of tone and creativity within the overall umbrella of YA steampunk.

Deadwood by Michael Scott: Perhaps not my favorite, but still extremely enjoyable, fun, and feisty tale of an airship being taken hostage with a great end.

Code of Blood by Dru Pagliasotti: This particular story had a more historical, convoluted bent in my opinion - it was bit harder to sink in and ride along. It was more confusing than entertaining for my work-wearied mind, unfortunately. Maybe with a reread it would be better.

The Clockwork Corset by Adrienne Kress: One of my favs! This story is chock-full of personality, spunk, and fun! Very romantic, but offering a unique, tomboy heroine that was a blast to follow!

The Airship Gemini by Jaclyn Dolamore: Surprisingly poignant offering about Siamese twins that was lovely and unexpected, both in its twists and its heart.

Under Amber Skies by Maria V. Snyder: Wowza of an end took this Nazi-era romance to a place that blew my mind!

King of the Greenlight City by Tessa Gratton: What an ethereal, mythical tale! It swept me away into a story that kept shocking me and ultimately amazed me.

The Emperor's Man by Tiffany Trent: A creative, fantastical, smart fantasy adventure with a whole lot of suspense and surprise. It takes alternate reality and turns it on its head. Pretty much every one of the stories so far has made me intrigued and excited about each of these authors, just like in Kiss Me Deadly - this one definitely included!

Chickie Hill's Badass Ride by Dia Reeves: Out of all the tales in Corsets & Clockwork, this particular one is the most "horror" in its genre leanings. Still has that excellent steampunk flavor and pizzazz, but gives ya quite a bit more gore in the midst of a 1950s setting a bit different from our own. A ton of fun with vibrant characters from an author with a unique thinking brain!

The Vast Machinery of Dreams by Caitlin Kittredge: A mind-bender of a story - the narrative keeps changing and mutating. There is something so intriguing about having almost no idea what is going on. It's a psychological thriller - puzzling but alluring. Still not quite sure what happened, but look forward to trying again! I have a copy of Kittredge's The Iron Thorn to dive into soon, and this tale has made me even more interested!

Tick, Tick, Boom by Kiersten White: Another of my personal favorites in the collection - though every story is excellent! This one features another phenomenal gal that may wear corsets and simper submissively as she is expected, but does the unexpected in her spare time! Jam-packed with secrets, shocks, and sizzling hot romance!!! Oooh-la-la!

Well, Trisha Telep has done it again! She has brought into one awesome book a collection of thirteen varied, fantastic YA tales, all of which are memorable and entertaining! A great way to find new authors to be obsessed with, as well. ;)

Check out Corsets & Clockwork: 13 Steampunk Romances you crazy, book-addict bibliophiles!

*Want some free books? Click here to enter my contest to win TWO books!!! Plus, there's gonna be TWO winners, so your chances are even better!!! Don't miss out, click here before July 5th!!! :)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Enclave


Enclave is a new YA apocalyptic novel by Ann Aguirre.

Deuce lives deep underground in an enclave where the oldest person is wrinkled and shaky at twenty-five. This is the way it has been since she can remember. Controlled breeding, carefully planned hunting for food, and rules to keep everyone doing their job - surviving.

She is thrilled to be named a Huntress. Always she has admired the strength of the hunters and the way they band together. But when her partner is named and it is Fade, the outcast boy that was not born in the Enclave but found wild and nearly dead in the tunnels at a very young age, Deuce doesn't know what to think. People still avoid him. It's unheard of to survive on your own like he did - and his stories of where he came from were touted as lies. He said he was from the surface, but that is impossible. All there is above is death. But they allowed him to stay if he would fight for them. And he has.

But when one of Fade and Deuce's first missions together has them checking out the neighboring enclave, only to find it has been decimated by Freaks - monsters with yellow skin and razor sharp teeth - the results of the knowledge start to grate on Deuce. They try to tell the leaders that the Freaks seem to be growing more organized, seem to be gaining more thinking and plotting, which proves terribly dangerous to their enclave. But they refuse to believe them, and she starts to realize that she doesn't want to blindly follow the rules of the Enclave...

Fade insists that there is life above ground, but how can Deuce believe him when all she's ever known is darkness?

At first I thought the cover of Enclave was boring, but then much later on I noticed the creepy, clawed black fingers in the bottom right corner. Do you see it? It's hard to see, but then very hard not to notice once you have. Oooh! And once I got a chance to see what the previous cover was, I think it is definitely an improvement!

Enclave has a fantastic, rousing first line that holds promise. We are introduced to our protagonist in a brutal, terrible ritual that presents a small group of people living underground for who knows how long, never living long enough to know their children or pass on much information - of which there is little. The book has that great quality of making you motivated to turn pages, hungry for more info on Deuce's world and its strange customs.

There are chilling reminders of a past - a long forgotten wedding invitation that puzzles them, as they've never heard of a wedding. And then we have our lesson in Freaks - aptly named zombie-like creatures that are more deadly than infectious. Again, we have no answers of where they came from because our characters have no idea, but they are definitely disgusting and deadly.

One disappointment to me, however, was that I did feel like Enclave shared a few too many similarities in tone with other YA dystopia's out there - The Hunger Games, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, etc., - but with a slightly blander feel. Yet Enclave was still suspenseful and scary with a simmering romance that is certainly appealing.

Without giving away too much, I will say that later developments peaked my curiosity all the more. I kept rooting for the novel to kick in gear, get a bit more something. But the positive comments I've made so far still definitely apply! I also loved how Ann Aguirre managed to show us the unmistakable wonder that comes from a story/book, especially in the eyes of someone who has never read/heard one. It felt like a send-up to books, which I liked a lot.

Though I never seemed to become fully attached and invested in the characters like I wanted to, Enclave did present a violent and disturbing apocalypse and a journey for hope that did give me goosebumps as it wrapped up its final pages. Ya know it did something right when ya get goosebumps.

I guess I just feel it could have been stronger and more original - but that could just be me. I can see it being awesome to a lot of you bibliophiles!!! So check it out, and let me know what you thought!

*Want some free books? Click here to enter my contest to win TWO books!!! Plus, there's gonna be TWO winners, so your chances are even better!!! Don't miss out, click here before July 5th!!! :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Stranger with my Face


Stranger with my Face is a YA suspense novel by Lois Duncan, updated to have more modernized text.

Laurie Stratton just had the best summer of her life. She caught the eye of Gordon, her high school's best looking and most popular guy, and began dating him. After spending her entire life as the girl who sits alone reading, suddenly being part of the popular group, going to parties, and being noticed is like a dream-come-true. So for once she is looking forward to the first day of school, because her senior year is looking to be the best by far.

She almost thought that she wasn't going to make it on the first day because she had gotten so sick the day before and had to miss an amazing party she was planning on going to with Gordon the day before. But it looked to be a 24-hour bug, just like her Mom suspected.

But when she got to the ferry, which took all the Brighton Island kids to the school, Gordon and her new friends seemed to be giving her a cold shoulder. It doesn't take her long to realize they believe she lied about being sick because they saw her on the beach with another guy. Gordon is mad, and Laurie's just plain confused and hurt. She knows she was in bed all day yesterday - how can they be so sure?

And similar occurrences begin piling up. Her dad mentions seeing her go up to her room when she'd still been at school. The outcast guy with a burned face in her class tells her she should be careful going too close to the slippery edge of the cliffs, when Laurie knows she never does. It's as if someone is stealing her life - someone who looks just like her.

She doesn't know the worst of it...

Stranger with my Face always had a very appealing synopsis to me. The idea of a double of yourself walking around is always disturbing, and I knew that Lois Duncan would bring the creepy, paranoid, who-is-impersonating me chill to the thriller, and indeed she did.

The novel also has a raw look at relationships and coming-of-age pains, while maintaining a constant level of suspense, scares, and mystery. The atmosphere of the secluded Brighton Island, especially the house Laurie lives in with her family, has a claustrophobic air to it. Add that to the frightening and worrisome revelations that come to light and you've got a horror novel for sure.

Out of the last two Lois Duncan books I have read, Stranger with my Face was a little slower than I prefer, which I found surprising. The tense quality was always present, and the writing was excellent and flowed smoothly, but I always seemed to be a step ahead of Laurie. So though the novel was still interesting, that become frustrating for me.

However, the ending was a total shocker for me. It was chilling and satisfying and quite something.

Stranger with my Face is not my favorite Lois Duncan book, I didn't love all the twists, but it was still a great read and still freaky enough to leave your night light on!

*I received a review copy of Stranger with my Face from Hachette Book Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

*Want some free books? Click here to enter my contest to win TWO books!!! Plus, there's gonna be TWO winners, so your chances are even better!!! Don't miss out, click here before July 5th!!! :)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Two Books, Two Winners! Contest Alert!!!






It's been quite a while since I had a contest, hasn't it? Well, that's why I am here and posting on a Tuesday - to give y'all an opportunity to win books!!! How about two books? How about two winners? Sound good? I thought so!

So Random House Children's Books (a big huge publisher, if you didn't know) just recently announced two new paperback imprints - Bluefire and Ember. Bluefire is going to feature beloved fantasy novels, while Ember is going to present us with award winners and bestsellers. Click on the names of the imprints to go directly to their websites to learn more!

Imprints can help you to know whether or not you're gonna be interested in the title. For examply, some of the authors that will be featured under Bluefire are: Tamora Pierce, Isobelle Carmody, Esther Friesner, Eoin McNamee, Henry Neff, N.D. Wilson, and Janni Lee Simner.

While under Ember you're gonna see options like: The Alchemyst; Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret; The Chocolate War; Fallen; Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist; and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Awesome right?! Right. So where does the winning books come in? Well, you get the opportunity to sample a little bit of both imprints! I will be giving away two prizes, each with two books, one from Ember and one from Bluefire, courtesy of Random House.

Prize One:

Torment - by Lauren Kate (Ember)
Thief Eyes - by Janni Lee Simner (Bluefire)

Prize Two:

The Necromancer: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel - by Michael Scott (Ember)
The Ring of Five - by Eoin McNamee (Bluefire)

All you have to do to enter is comment on this post between today and midnight PST on Tuesday, July 5th with your email (to contact you if you win, so don't forget!) and the answer to this question: Which imprint (either Bluefire or Ember) do you think you'll be reading more often, and why?

I'd love for you to help spread the world as well! The more people who enter, the better!!!

I'll be selecting and notifying winners probably around July 14th.

Thanks for participating and happy reading!!!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Daughters Take the Stage


The Daughters Take the Stage is the third novel in Joanna Philbin's YA contemporary series The Daughters.

Just as I said in my review of The Daughters Break the Rules on Friday, I strongly suggest reading every series in order to have the best reading experience. So, I'd recommend skipping this review if you haven't read the first and second books in the series yet, even though each one is about a different character so the spoilers aren't too bad. But any spoilers at all, in my opinion, are bad! :)

Anyway, in The Daughters Take the Stage Hudson Jones is the star. Being the daughter of super-famous, ultra-popular pop star Holla Jones makes the fact that Hudson is starting to have an interest in her own music career a bit more difficult. Because Hudson has a sound different from her mom's, and she still hasn't felt ready to have the spotlight on her yet.

Can Hudson overcome her stage fright? And even if she does, will she have the courage to sing the way she wants instead of the way her Mom wants her to?

Hudson is quieter and more introspective and shy than Carina and even Lizzie from the first and second Daughters books. But this makes her unique and offers a new relatable quality, despite being the daughter of a famous person. Joanna Philbin is excellent at carving out a layered characters and providing just enough drama and issues to be believable and honest. The fact that Hudson's Mom is overbearing and leads to self-doubts in her teen daughter is understandable - and you root for Hudson to gain a voice of her own.

The Daughters Take the Stage is a beautiful, raw portrayal of stepping out of someone else's prominent shadow and becoming your own person. There is a lack of romance in this third novel that is almost refreshing. After all, this series is fun and frothy, despite it also being heartfelt and emotional - and its nice to see Joanna Philbin is not taking the cliche route of by-the-numbers romance in each outing.

Then we have the healthy friendship that Philbin shows us, instead of backstabbing. We don't see quite so much in The Daughters Take the Stage, as it is more about Hudson's self-esteem and has an individualistic quality to it, but the friendship is in the background, always solid and steady and strong. The pain Hudson goes through makes you ache with her, and the lessons she learns along the way are not preachy but natural and true to life.

I loved it and I cannot wait for the next Daughters book!!! Apparently a new Daughter is going to be introduced, which sounds cool. But I admit, that I wouldn't mind a second round of these beloved characters anyway.

The Daughters Take the Stage is a meaningful novel that is more than just fun, but still totally fun. Check it out!

*I received a review copy of The Daughters Take the Stage from Hachette Book Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

-->Make sure to check back tomorrow for a special TUESDAY post in which I will be posting a CONTEST where FOUR books are up for grabs!!! Come back and enter tomorrow!

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Daughters Break the Rules


The Daughters Break the Rules is the second book in the YA contemporary series The Daughters written by Joanna Philbin.

In this second outing, Carina Jurgensen takes center stage and the story takes off at the exact moment it ended - which is awesome to me. I've never been a fan of "two months later" or "five weeks later." Now, I believe that it is possible to read The Daughters Break the Rules without reading The Daughters, but then you would spoil Lizzie's story and why would you want to do that? So, if you haven't yet read The Daughters, I strongly encourage you to do so before reading The Daughters Break the Rules!

Carina has never been close with her billionaire businessman dad. When her parent's got divorced when she was ten, she knew it was his fault - and she never totally forgave him for not letting her live with her Mom. But she's learned to artfully avoid him. Yet usually avoiding him isn't much of an issue since he seems to avoid her as well.

But when Carina leaks a damning story about the family business to the press she suddenly gets more attention from her dad than she wanted. He cuts her off, replaces her cell phone with an ancient model, provides her with a Metro card, and gives her a twenty dollar a week allowance.

Never one to back down from a challenge, Carina convinces herself that she was never a lover of money like her dad anyway and it won't be an issue. But being without her limitless credit card does take its toll, and Carina tries to find a way to make some extra cash. Especially since sophomore hottie Carter seems to be finally noticing her and invites her to a vacation home with his other friends - requiring a $200 lift ticket for the skiing.

When Carina does get a job, its not one that her best friends Lizzie and Hudson approve of. Nor are they fans of the way she's doing her job. Carina begins to feel more alienated from her friends than ever before. They don't understand that people expect her to be Karl Jurgensen's daughter, not cut off and broke. But would it be better to come clean before she gets in a deeper mess?

I am being deliberately evasive with the plot details. I don't want you to know too much and have the story spoiled! Thing is, if you read my review of The Daughters on Wednesday you know that I became a fan of the series - and if you've read The Daughters as well - well, I don't think you need much persuading to check out The Daughters Break the Rules.

Joanna Philbin has deigned that this is impulsive, bright, colorful Carina's chance to shine. She's very different from Lizzie and I wasn't sure what I'd think of her as a main character. But it didn't take long for me to be blown away!

The crazy beginning really sets the tone for the novel. It has a fun, adventure like feel but also an undercurrent of hurt and leftover resentments in her relationship with her dad that Carina herself doesn't want to fully recognize. The friendship between "the daughters" is as strong as ever, but this time Joanna Philbin lets it strain just a little as Carina continues to make impetuous, immature decisions that hurt more than just herself.

Thing is, even though we are being showcased girls who have money and fame (through their parents), the author still presents normal teenage feelings and thoughts - along with all the drama and romance that goes with it. And this time around Carina is walloped with the need to grow up and I was just shocked by how beautifully empowering, inspiring, and uplifting The Daughters Break the Rules ended up being!!!

The themes of family and friendship were still there, but from a different perspective. Without giving away anything, I can only say that even more depth and layers of Joanna Philbin's characters are revealed. This is a series with heart and an undeniable entertainment quality that made me gobble up this awesome book in a single day (which is a big deal for me because I am working full-time!). And it also features the single most hilarious cell phone in the history of literature. ;)

I was equally touched and gripped by the plot of The Daughters Break the Rules, and I think you will be too. In fact, I think I love this series!!! I am more than ready to dive into the newly released third novel The Daughters Take the Stage!!!!!

*I received a review copy of The Daughters Break the Rules from Hachette Book Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

And TOMORROW, stop by for a special Tuesday CONTEST post!!! Come back for a chance to win TWO books!!!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Daughters


The Daughters is the first YA contemporary novel in Joanna Philbin's series of the same name.

Katia Summers is drop-dead, stunningly gorgeous and a famous, instantly recognizable supermodel. She is followed by adoring fans and rabid paparazzi. And Lizzie Summers is her only daughter. At fourteen, Lizzie is finding that it becoming more difficult to be Katia's daughter, as she is no longer the adorable little girl of America's beloved model, but instead the awkward, odd-looking girl that takes after her plain, journalist father, without a trace of the beauty gene.

But Lizzie has her two best friends, two other girls that know what it is like to have famous parents and be under the radar by default. One is Carina, daughter of billionaire businessman Karl Jurgensen, and the other is Hudson, daughter of popstar icon Holla James. With them by her side, Lizzie tries to let go of her lack of looks and embrace the good news that her now-very-cute childhood neighbor Todd has returned and seems to share her love of The Great Gatsby and writing.

However, Lizzie ends up being approached by a fashion photographer who believes her unique appearance could be "the new face of beauty." And the choices she make turns everything sideways. Is there a chance she's not an ugly duckling after all? And what will her family - specifically her mother - think of her possibly gaining some spotlight of her own?

The Daughters has an instant joyful, fun, fluffy feel as we are introduced to the realistically insecure, yet trying to be confident, Lizzie and her close friends. Joanna Philbin writes in such a way that you feel like these girls are real, that they just happen to have famous parents, which brings out a fascinating glimpse of a life that the children of stars inherit without choice and what consequences that brings. This is made all the more interesting since we know that Joanna Philbin is a "daughter" herself, being the real-life daughter of Regis Philbin.

Romance and awesome details about a New York privileged life abound, but without it ever becoming Gossip Girl. There's tons of drama, but it is more personal and relatable - actually down to earth. And to be honest with you, reading such light, happy fare was refreshing after reading the very dark Summer of Fear!

Lizzie is a great character - she has that love of writing that so many of us readers relate to and image issues that aren't self-pitying, but more frank and sad. The Daughters is delightfully addictive and fast-paced, presenting fantastic themes of self-identity, self-confidence, family, friendship, and gaining acceptance of flaws. And all of this is done without dipping it in sugar, nor drenching it in Dateline seriousness.

I found The Daughters to be sweet, touching and very, very enjoyable. Plus, with a cliffhanger ending I was ready to head for the second novel in the series, The Daughters Break the Rules, immediately!!!

I was left feeling very enthusiastic about this series, and ready for more! I think you will be too. And don't let Lizzie's young age fool you - I'm 23 and loved it!

*I received a review copy of The Daughters from Hachette Book Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Summer of Fear


Summer of Fear is a YA horror/thriller by the revered Lois Duncan.

Rachel is ready for a relaxing summer hanging out with her best friend and childhood playmate/recently turned boyfriend. But then her mother receives a call telling her that her sister (along with her husband and housekeeper) all died in a terrible car accident. Immediately Rachel's Mom and Dad head out to pick up Julia, the seventeen-year-old daughter that had been waiting at home and become suddenly orphaned.

Since her aunt, uncle, and cousin had moved to a remote area when Rachel was young for her uncle's writing, Rachel has never met Julia and only vaguely remembers her mentioned in Christmas letters. But she feels bad for the girl and tries to ready herself for another girl living with them - making sure the sad girl will feel welcomed.

Yet when Julia arrives... she is odd. Rachel tries to give her the benefit of the doubt, since her cousin is grieving - but there is something about her unblinking, penetrating stare that is unsettling. And then when Rachel's extremely gentle, laid-back dog growls at Julia, sending Julia into a shockingly sudden fit of anger - Rachel can't help but feel that something is very, very wrong. In fact, Rachel starts to notice that whenever Julia's parents are mentioned and people murmur their apologies at her loss, there is no real sadness in Julia's eyes - in fact, no emotion.

But none of her family agrees with her. Everybody, even her best friend, finds Julia enchanting and interesting - and implores Rachel not to be jealous of having another girl in the house. Yet Rachel's suspicions continue to grow as more and more things happen - bad things - that she believes are at the hand of Julia.

Rachel has no intention of letting this girl hurt everyone she cares about. So, though feeling more alone each day, she sets out to find out what is going on - and stop her.

Well, Lois Duncan sure knows how to put you on edge right away! She starts Summer of Fear with an enigmatic, future-like remembrance from Rachel that ominously hints at the horrors to come. And she makes the introduction of Julia very creepy - the scene in which Rachel's dog first growls at her causing me shivers and making my poor animal-loving soul very worried.

One of the scariest things about Summer of Fear is the horrible sense of Rachel being alone, of her being the only one with the realization that there is something very wrong with Julia. You feel her isolation terribly, and hurt for her. Lois Duncan is an excellent writer and shows it well as you put yourself in the story.

Shocks and twists slam one after the other, overwhelming me and keeping me turning pages frantically. Summer of Fear made me so nervous!!! And like other Lois Duncan books, she creates a smart, likable heroine that's easy to root for and agree with - making it all the more scary than when you're following the typical dumb bimbos on horror flicks that are usually asking for their trouble.

Summer of Fear thunders along determinedly, keeping a terrible ball of dread in my stomach the entire time and doing its job extremely well: that is, totally freaking me out, entertaining me, and keeping me glued to the pages which fly by in no time. And by the end - whew! All I can say is that it was one heck of a story and I don't want to give anything away!

Not one to read right before bed, in the dark, or when you feel particularly edgy already! But an awesome thriller that sends shivers down your spine!!! In my opinion, even more frightening that the last Lois Duncan book I reviewed - Down a Dark Hall. Both are excellent updated versions of classic horror novels that many new readers should find riveting!

*I received a review copy of Summer of Fear from Hatchette Book Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.


*IMPORTANT NOTE: Inkpop.com has posted another Weekly Writing Challenge - this time in accordance with Divergent, a YA dystopian by Veronica Roth.

In it, Beatrice Prior finds herself in a society where you are only supposed to embody one persona: either Honest, Brave, Selfless, Peaceful or True. But what if she's more than one? What if she is nothing her society has ever had before? Who, or what, does that make her?

Hmm. Intriguing. A little lacking in detail, but I didn't try to look for more - because you know me! The less ya know, the better! ;)

Anyway, this week's challenge asks you to write a short story or poem revolving around a character that doesn't fit in - but in a more relatable, closer to home setting. You can do that! Knock their socks off! (Wow, I just totally gave away that I was a huge Archie comics fan, didn't I?)

Two winners (chosen by author Veronica Roth) will receive a copy of Divergent and three other books of their choice from the HarperTeen catalog. The same prize will be awarded to random commenters. To enter and find out all the info go here!

See y'all on Wednesday!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon


Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a middlegrade fantasy and Newberry Honor winner by Grace Lin.

Minli lives in the Valley of Fruitless Mountain where she sees her parents work very hard every day in the fields with very little to show for it. Her favorite part of the day is the evening when her tired but pleasant father tells Minli tales about the Valley they live in and how it became Fruitless, as well as about the Old Man of the Moon, who knows the answers to everything.

Then one day Minli decides to try and make things better for her family by setting out on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon - knowing that he will know how to change their fortunes. So she sets out on a journey that causes her to meet a talking fish, a dragon who can't fly, a powerful king, and more!

First off, I must say that I love the vivid, eye-catching cover and illustrations that decorate this charming, sweet, earnest tale of magic and fantasy. It didn't take long at all for me to be swept away in this quest for a better life, sought after by a loving, caring young girl.

The stories told throughout Where the Mountain Meets the Moon are intelligent and provocative, interweaving seamlessly in the plot and enriching it. It's an easy, fast book to read and ready for all ages - a beauty of a book.

Grace Lin's storytelling is entrancing and enchanting, a fun journey with lots of interesting stops. It's surprisingly poignant and touching, bringing the human element of family and love into the story. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is lyrical, lovely tale of kindness and generosity, highlighting the evils of greed and cruelty and the fruits of wisdom, compassion and thankfulness.

There are meaningful connections and plot twists that are astounding and so very sweet and heart-rending. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a truly magical, elegant, riveting tale that puts a new spin on Chinese folklore. It is stupendous and stunning - a simple yet powerful read!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Gathering


The Gathering is a YA paranormal by best-selling author Kelley Armstrong, and the first in the new trilogy entitled Darkness Rising.

Maya has never resented living in a tiny Canadian town. She loves her parents, she loves the wilderness and animals, and she loves her friends. The fact that the pharmaceutical company that owns the little town for their employees, in order to prevents the influx of corporate spies, gives them all the best of everything isn't too bad either.

But last summer Maya's best friend drowned in the lake when they were out swimming, even though she was on the swim team and an excellent swimmer. So when a reporter starts showing up asking questions about her death, Maya doesn't know what to think.

And the thing is, that's not the only thing that's weird. An older woman in a tattoo shop calls Maya a witch when she sees Maya's fading paw-print birthmark. More cougars than usual begin appearing in the town. A new guy with a sexy bad boy streak shows up and she finds herself more attracted to him than seems normal for herself. And when she touches a wounded animal, something happens.

Though she's never felt the urge before, Maya begins to wonder if this is the time to start asking questions...

I am a HUGE fan of Kelley Armstrong's Darkest Powers series!!! So I was psyched that she was writing another YA trilogy that seems to be taking place in the same world as the first one. And Kelley's awesome writing style is on display right away, offering up a cinematic opening!

Anyone who has read the Darkest Powers trilogy will recognize a name early on - a name that brings an ominous chill to the otherwise peaceful wildlife of Salmon Creek. That name? Dr. Davidoff. Mmm-hmm.

The Gathering is wild, feral, fast-paced and suspenseful! Maya is a feisty, vibrant, refreshingly outgoing and strong-minded heroine - completely different from Darkest Powers' Chloe, but just as awesome. The plot really sucks you in and won't let go. Plus, there's fantastic nature details and a great respect for wildlife that always gains points on my personal scale. I was loving it pretty darn quick, reading swiftly to find out what would happen next - knowing instinctively that Kelley had some secrets to unveil. And, oh yes, she did! ;)

I was surprised, however, that end was a bit anticlimactic with fewer answers than I was expecting. I mean, a ton happened I am still definitely clamoring for the second book and hoping it's coming out SOON - but I thought the story was gonna move forward a bit more than it ended up. But The Gathering was exciting, different, and riveting! I still loved it and that is only a teeny, tiny, minor complaint. In fact, I wouldn't even call it a complaint. More like a personal observation.

With its blockbuster feel, racing, breathless pace, great romance, excellent, personality-filled characters, and phenomenal paranormal plot The Gathering deserves to join the ranks of other best-selling YA novels - and gain a prized spot on bookshelves from fans of Kelley Armstrong's other books (like me!!!). I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end - and I think you will too!