Friday, December 30, 2011

Stand-Out Books of 2011!!!

Happy New Year’s Eve!

It is now time for the second annual Stand-Out Books of the Year (2011) post! It has been a crazy, reading frenzy this year! Anybody who’s been frequenting the blog for a while now, will know this is the most review-ridden year I’ve had! Don’t believe me? Here are the stats for 2011:

How many books did I read?


That is 76 more than in 2010!!!

How many pages did I read?


That is 26,310 more than in 2010!!!

How many pages (on average) did I read per day?


That is 73 more than in 2010!!!

Yep, it’s been an insane, wonderful, bibliophile-friendly 2011. Hopefully for you too!

So, now it’s time to pick my Stand-Outs! I can never name anything my “favorite”, because there are far too many – and that is just too hard for me! Especially when there are just SO many amazing books out there!

All this extra reading make it even HARDER to pick Stand-Out titles and keep the list short! Inevitably, it is going to be longer than last year’s. However, to make it a little easier I’m going to be listing the books that stood out to me the most over 2011 by categories. For example, I’ll list books as “Sweeping Historicals” and “Contemporary Tear-Jerkers”.

I’m doing this to simplify things and be a bit more organized, but keep in mind that a historical novel might very well also be a tear-jerker! This applies to all categories. I’m going to place them in what I consider the most obvious, easy to identify category. Also, this year I will be imbedding the link to my direct review right in the title of the book, so feel free to read more on each title, as I will only give a tiny bit of my opinion of each here.

Just like last year, these are the books that stood out to me the most over my reading this year. It doesn’t mean that ALL of these books were published in 2011, just that I read them in 2011. Also like last year, I loved/liked MANY books in 2011 – so believe you me, I’m being tough keeping the list down to 43. In fact, I'm still struggling with not including books like Anna Dressed in Blood, Faerie Winter, and others. Yet, I figured that being tough on myself would be the only way to keep from having 100 books on the list!

Are you ready? Hopefully, many of you bibliophile maniacs got gift cards for Christmas and are ready to go purchase some of these absolutely AWESOME titles!!!
Okay, here goes:

Contemporary Tear-Jerkers

Bitter Melon by Cara Chow
A story about an Asian girl’s struggle with fulfilling her mother’s high expectation for her academic future and her desire to find her own path. Stunningly simple, yet anything but.

Life, After by Sarah Darer Littman
A novel taking the perspective of an immigrated Argentinian teen girl, following her as she tries to acclimate to American culture, language, and homesickness – while also watching her family life disintegrate.

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Profound book about two brothers who have grown up with next to no normalcy, but a strong, unshakeable bond to each other – the older of which begins to experience what life might be like outside of the hard, sometimes mad hand of his ever-traveling and thieving father, after he meets a girl his own age at a church.

Forgotten by Cat Patrick
Wowza of a unique story about a girl who “remembers” the future, but never remembers the past. She writes down notes to herself about what happened each day, before she “resets”. Fascinating and fast-paced, and absolutely unforgettable.

Kindred by Tammar Stein
Down-to-earth college freshman story about a girl who is confronted with a message from an angel, whose twin brother seems to be getting supernatural visits from the opposite spectrum. Some of the most memorable parts of it are the character development, honesty, and raw emotion of sibling love and coming-of-age.

Rotters by Daniel Kraus
Shocking, gruesome foray into the world of grave digging, in one of the year’s most original novels. Teen boy loses his mother only to be reunited with a dad he never met, and begin to become involved in the age-old, hard-core, illegal career and how it affects his entire life.

Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray
This reimagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet from a contemporary standpoint, giving up Ophelia as our main character is tragic, painful, and flat-out gripping.

Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman
A horrifying story of a young teen girl meeting up with an older online chat friend – and what happens.

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
Sara Zarr almost got two slots on the list this year, but like I said, I’m being tough! We are introduced to two hurting teen girls as one mourns her father and the other comes to give her baby to them and has her own secrets to hide.

Unique Sci-Fi/Dystopia

Memento Nora by Angie Smibert
This was a thrilling, futuristic, short novel that presented us with a time when everybody literally forgets their troubles. And what happens when certain teens decide they want to see what happens when they don’t.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
I think this may be the scariest book I read all year. Zombies have never been presented in such an expertly crafted way, in my opinion. Whoa.

Star Time by Henry Melton
Sci-fi extraordinaire Henry Melton outdid himself with this end-of-the-world meets aliens epic. I was floored by the originality mixed with classic themes. Quite something.

Dark Parties by Sara Grant
A dystopia featuring a controlling, enigmatic governing body that encourages procreation even among teens. A world where everyone looks so similar that they go to extremes to find individuality.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This is why sometimes it is worth it to read something besides YA. A brilliant hodgepodge of virtual reality, 80s pop culture and thrilling adventure in a future where next to nobody lives out their life in reality, but instead inside of a giant videogame where an embedded puzzle of clues will lead to complete ownership of the creator’s fortune.

ROFL Hilarious

You Killed Wesley Payne by Sean Beaudoin
A refreshing new twist of black-and-white film noir with a teen private detective and his investigation into the death of one of the more dangerous high schools out there. Super clever, super fun!

Seven Kinds of Ordinary Catastrophes by Amber Kizer
Frank and laugh-out-loud funny as our heroine tries to figure out romance and the further expectations in high school. Shocking and maybe a bit inappropriate for younger readers, but always in good fun and delightful.

Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris
Take a geeky, smart girl that is relatable and has big doctor dreams and place her in a situation where almost the entire student body is turning into zombies. Fresh, original, and awesome!

My Life Undecided by Jessica Brody
There’s a classic romantic comedy feel to this book, but that is part of its charm. We have likable characters and interesting romantic tension that makes you frustrated in the best way – not to mention tons of humor as we follow a girl that is so fed up with her never-ending display of bad decisions that she begins a blog to have other run her life – by multiple choice polls!

Jane. Jones. Worst. Vampire. Ever. By Caissie St. Onge
One of the best vampire books I have ever read! Imagine a teen vampire girl who is allergic to blood! Therefore, being a vampire really really sucks since she’s sick all the time with malnourishment! A dash of romance and mystery mixed with hilarious situations equals amusing joy!

Starstruck by Cyn Balog
Overweight girl finds out her best friend/long distance boyfriend (who hasn’t seen her since she was at least fifty pounds lighter) is coming back to town! That’s horrifying enough, but then he seems oddly obsessed with the sun, and her, to be normal. What’s up? Gotta read this gem to find out!

Fantastic Fantasy

The False Princess by Ellis O’Neal
This is a traditional-feeling fantasy story about a princess that finds out she may be false. But there may be even more lies and sorcery going on than is easily noticed. The human elements of betrayal and finding one’s place in the world after having everything you thought you knew turned on its head brings this fantasy YA novel to another level.

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
A sweet, epic, classic-in-the-making about an orphaned boy going on the adventure of his life as he helps a dragon and his friends try and find a place where the dragon race will be safe. Surprisingly poignant and easily readable, this is a children’s novel that reminds you that when they’re done right – they can be read by any age!

Reckless by Cornelia Funke
Another side of Funke is shown here as we are given a set of older characters and an alternative world full of refreshingly different, and quite often creepy, creatures. This starts off what will hopefully be a series of many books featuring the dashing Reckless. In this novel he races to save his younger brother from becoming something entirely inhuman.

The Faerie Ring by Kiki Hamilton
A delightfully fun and festive-feeling Victoria-era fantasy/adventure. We get the perspective of pickpocket teens as they try to survive in life lacking in guardianship. Then, of course, the main character of Tiki ends up mixed up in an age-old truce with rather menacing faeries – a truce that she may have accidentally broke.

Phenomenal Paranormal

Thirteen Days to Midnight by Patrick Carman
One of the darker, more unique novels of the year. It’s hard to even explain, really. Except to say that after a teen boy’s guardian speaks a few words to him and then dies in a car crash that leaves the boy unscathed, he seems to become next to impossible to hurt. He and his friends try to figure it out… but may be too late.

Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore
The newest YA novel from Clement-Moore is stock full of wit, romantic tension, and ghostly mystery. It’s tons of fun to read and left me hoping/wishing for a sequel.

Corsets & Clockwork edited by Trisha Telep
This anthology of short stories by some of the biggest names in YA fantasy/steampunk is something to behold. You get numerous tales of Victorian era faeries, mechanical people, mermaids, and more – some of which are super creepy, some of which are lighthearted, and some of which are just flat-out romantic. It’s a great introduction to many fantastic authors and an overall excellent read!

Abandon by Meg Cabot
Meg’s newest YA paranormal series is hot, dark, and super entertaining. It’s a new spin on the myth of Persephone and makes the underworld a whole lot more appealing. With an amazing mix of scariness, humor, and expert plotting this is a book that I’m sure many of us are anticipating the second novel for!

Fallen by Lauren Kate
This was a hard pick. I almost put the sequels Torment and Passion on here as well, as I read and thoroughly enjoyed all three this year. However, like I said, I’m being tough on myself. And despite all three being great, Fallen was the spookiest, most enigmatic experience for me. Having a novel take place almost entirely in a sort of “mental hospital” sort of school was so different. Finding out the beginning of Luce and Daniel’s connection was entirely hypnotic.

Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton
Quite possibly the bloodiest novel I read all year – I was floored. Here we have a new sort of magic. It’s not cool or sweet – it’s weird and kind of masochistic (which is better than the alternative, we learn later). We have a couple of unique, sympathetic teens characters that are slowly falling for each other while they’re also experiencing this dark, scary sort of magic that the main character’s murdered father may have been involved in. Twists like crazy!

The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge
I am so on the bandwagon with this novel. I am practically jumping up and down knowing the second book in the series, The Nightmare Garden, will be out in February! This book takes place in an alternative 1950s where otherworldly creatures have eaten away at society (sometimes literally) and a girl who slowly learns more about the secrets hidden from society – while she struggles with her oncoming, genetically-inherited madness. Wowza! This is steampunk and awesomeness combined!

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini
An epic start to a new, magnificent series! We meet characters descended from gods, and find out about prophecies and curses passed down over the years to now torment two new lovebirds. I hate to give too much away because of all the twists and turns – all I’ll say is that it is a fantastic new take on mythology and is both romantic and suspenseful from start to finish!

Sweeping Historical

Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicki Alvear Shecter
Historical fiction can’t get much better as we follow Cleopatra’s only daughter navigate through enemy-ridden Rome to keep her and her brothers safe from those who wish to harm them. An untold, fascinating story given life – infused with horror, compassion, and human emotional depth.

The Measure of Katie Calloway by Serena Miller
Soon after the civil war in the South, Katie Calloway escapes from the heavy, abusive hand of her husband and takes her young brother to the North. They don’t know where they’re going or what they’ll do, but she knows that they can’t survive any longer with the madman that is her husband. In this touching, down-to-earth, rich novel we follow their journey to a work camp deep in the woods as she works as a cook and begins to fall for a man that treats her with kindness.

A Heart Revealed by Julie Lessman
I loved this family of Irish Christians in 1930s Boston! Emma Malloy is a scarred, previously abused wife that has lived in Boston and become successful for many years now. Her morals and fears war with her as she begins to fall in love with someone she’s known for a long time. Also we follow married couples, some for a long time, some newlyweds, and become increasingly involved in this loving, realistic family.

A Lasting Impression by Tamera Alexander
This historical novel takes place in 1800s Nashville in a huge, beautiful place called Belmont Mansion. Our main character is hiding her past, and trying desperately to escape from it, as she finds a job with the wealthy, powerful, demanding woman of the manor. Infused with character development and raw human flaws, this is a lovely tale of redemption and love.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
A fantastic children’s novel written with both words and pictures, we follow young Hugo in 1930s Paris as he struggles to fulfill his and his now deceased father’s wish of fixing an old, forgotten automaton. This is an adventure full of secrets and a brilliant foray into original filmmaking. This is an unforgettable book that is poignant and meaningful, while also being a unique feast for the eyes and imagination.

Spectacular Sequels

Trial by Fire by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
For the sequel portion I won’t be giving too many details – because all of the plots should be kinda secret until you read the first novel! But oh my is the books stunning! This is the sequel to Raised by Wolves, a truly original take on YA werewolf novels – full of terror and a more grounded main character. I cannot wait for the third book!

Forever Princess by Meg Cabot
I finally got to read the final book in The Princess Diaries and I was more than satisfied. If you haven’t yet, you totally should!

In the Forests of the Night by Kersten Hamilton
A fantastic, extremely well-written follow-up to Tyger Tyger in which we continue the story of Teagan, Finn, and Aiden as they explore the dangerous, horrifying, mesmerizing world of goblins and Irish folklore come-to-life.

A Web of Air by Philip Reeve
It was soooo hard not to add Fever Crumb, the first novel in this series, to the list! This is an amazingly different, futuristic, dystopia London and a girl engineer who is carving her own place in it.

So Silver Bright by Lisa Mantchev
Beautiful, stunning, heart-stopping conclusion the elegantly magical Theatre Illuminata trilogy. Oh how I wish there were more!!!

The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson
Touching, incredibly, genius follow-up to her previous The Adoration of Jenna Fox.

Ascendant by Diane Peterfreund
A unicorn novel like you’ve never read before – frightening, powerful, and unforgettable. I struggled with not putting Rampant on the list… Oh, so there are so many amazing books that I’ve read in 2011!

The Empire of Gut and Bone by M. T. Anderson
Again, I sooo wanted to place The Game of Sunken Places and The Suburb Under the Stars on the Stand-Out Books of 2011 list, too! This is the third and penultimate novel in the fun, intelligent, amazing Norumbegan Quartet of sci-fi YA novels.

Alright, so that completes the list of Stand-Out Books of 2011 this year! I hope you all are ready to go out and purchase some of these titles as I can put my Bibliophile Support Group stamp of approval on each one!

I’m excited to enter a whole new year of reading and I want to thank all the authors, publishers, editors, and publicists still in the business of promoting the written word for continuing to offer such high-quality entertainment every year!!!

Most of all, though, I thank YOU – the reader and follower of the Bibliophile Support Group! You have made 2011 the most successful year yet! I hope you all help to make this blog grow and support even more admitted, mad bibliophiles that want to hear about books, books, books!!!!!

I’ll see you all in 2012!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Murder at Midnight

Murder at Midnight is a middle-grade adventure/mystery novel by Avi.

Fabrizio has only recently found a home among the city of 1490 Pergamontio, Italy. He’s been taken in by a magician and his wife, but only the wife seems to be finding him pleasing so far. Fabrizio is entranced by his Master’s magical talents, and yearns to do the same tricks – but his Master seems intent on kicking him out one of these days.

When Fabrizio’s Mistress goes to visit her ill sister, she implores Fabrizio to make himself indispensable to Master.

But then the trouble begins.

When potentially rebellious papers begin showing up all over the city, each one exactly the same without the inevitable mark of uniqueness from the human hand, suspicion falls on Fabrizio’s master, Mangus. His magical talents are placing the blame on him, though Mangus insists there is no such thing as magic – that what he does is mere illusion.

A plot of unknown proportion seems to be amongst them – a plot of politics, revolution, and murder! Fabrizio finally has the opportunity to make himself invaluable to Mangus – by saving his life!

I have head of Avi, though as far as I can remember this is the first novel I’ve read by him.

Murder at Midnight was most certainly a fun, extremely quick read, though I was never quite sure if it was supposed to be humorous or serious. I lean toward the former, and find that quirkiness to be one of its strongest points. That is, if I’m right!

I did enjoy the story, but overall I couldn’t really sink my teeth into it. There wasn’t enough detail of the time period and setting for me to feel like I was there, and I’ll admit that I was usually a step ahead of Fabrizio in the plotline. Perhaps the intended audience is a bit younger, as sometimes I found Murder at Midnight to be on the staler, juvenile side.

However, Murder at Midnight is a sweet, good-natured, excellent way to be lightly entertained!

*Remember, tomorrow is the big Stand-Out Books of 2011 post! Don't miss it!!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Other Countess

The Other Countess is a YA historical romance set in Elizabethan times by Eve Edwards.

When Ellie (titled as the Lady Eleanor Rodriguez, Countess of San Jaime, worthless and penniless as it may be) was twelve, her father was turned out of the house they had been living in. Her father's shared obsession with the Earl of Dorset of the alchemical search for turning items into gold left the Earl quite destitute in death. So, when William Lacey (at the time only fourteen) became the new Earl his first order of business was to get Ellie and her father off their property.

That was the first time Ellie and Will met. It was not pleasant.

Four years later, Ellie's affection for her father wars with her frustration with his alchemy pursuits. They are often poor and certainly never well-liked. Her witty tongue and surprisingly learned mind makes her even more of a pariah in Queen Elizabeth's court. However, her Spanish-infused beauty and feisty spirit make her eye-catching to some undesirables - one of which is Will Lacey.

Will doesn't know of his past with Ellie when he firsts sees her on his return to court. He's there to find a wealthy bride and save his family from financial ruin - all of which started with his father's time with Ellie's father. But Ellie entrances him, beguiles him, and intrigues him like no other - and before he knows it, he's convinced he's in love with her.

Yet to be in love with Ellie does not help his family - she has not a penny to her name and the suspicion of being the daughter of a Spanish Countess - a country England is not at peace with. Not to mention, there are others who most certainly don't want them together. What will they do?

The Other Countess is foray into the rowdy, randy, complicated world of the Elizabethan court, mixing family pride, misconceptions, and political intrigue with attraction and allure. It's definitely a fun, frothy historical to enjoy.

However, I did have a hard time liking Will all that much. His character tended to be judgmental, mean, and self-absorbed. With time and patience, a better Will did begin to surface and chemistry with Ellie became more romantic, yet I was still never completely convinced of them as a couple.

Now, Ellie I liked. She's smart and self-sufficient and honorable. She's, in my opinion, in the worse situation here. We see the difficulty of being a female with values and self-respect in a time when being a mistress might be the easier choice. The forbidden love that develops between the two leads is certainly ooh-la-la, but not as spicy and authentic-feeling as I would've liked it to be.

Yet The Other Countess is quite entertaining with it's view of class differences, social life, and hidden intentions. It's fascinating and scintillating with it's historical details and many characters, some with very questionable morals.

Overall I found it a good start to a series, though it lacked the depth that would have lifted it up a notch, in my opinion. When later some depth was attempted, it felt a bit overdramatic to me. It was effective, but not as honest and raw as I felt it could be. But I will most assuredly be keeping my eyes open for the next installment - The Queen's Lady - and look forward to it being as good, if not better, than The Other Countess!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Daughters Join the Party

The Daughters Join the Party is the fourth and final book in the YA contemporary series by Joanna Philbin.

I personally recommend reading the Daughters books in order, if you can, to save you from spoilers. They go: The Daughters, The Daughters Break the Rules, and then The Daughters Take the Stage.

We have long been introduced and become invested in Lizzie, Carina, and Hudson - best friends that share a common understanding of having famous parents. Now we meet fifteen-year-old Emma Conway - she's a bit of a rebel and has spent the last year at a boarding school - breaking rules.

Being the daughter of a New York senator tends to give her less-than-perfect ways some leeway - but once her dad tells her that he is getting a campaign for President together - that leeway is gone. The things her parents already didn't like - such as her vibrant hair colors and modern fashion choices - are now becoming verboten.

And when she accidentally lets it slip on network TV that her dad is running - the lease is even tighter. Between her dad's intelligent charisma, her mom's lawyer past, and her brother being an ideal son in pretty much every way - Emma has gotten used to being the disappointment of the family. But now it's more public.

Fortunately, she's now enrolled at a New York school where she meets Lizzie, Carina, and Hudson. They know exactly what it's like to be in the spotlight against your will - and maybe screw it up. Emma hopes that they can help her deal with her sudden new life and scary future...

I have loved the previous Daughters books. I wasn't sure what I thought about being introduced to a new daughter, since I would've been happy with just more stories about the three we love already - but Joanna Philbin has done it again!

The Daughters Join the Party, like the others in the series, has an easy, smooth, engaging manner that presents us with realistic, complicated issues of parental and sibling issues - as well as things like self-esteem and self-worth. It doesn't take long to realize that Emma may be putting up a facade of toughness.

Despite the trouble she gets in, Emma is very likable - she's an animal lover, that's clear. Plus she has dyslexia, making her unique in YA, as well as more relatable. Joanna Philbin is excellent as portraying the hidden hurts in those who pretend to be unaffected - the fear in the "fearless".

The Daughters Join the Party is subtly poignant and insightful. We are shown the struggle to feel wanted, needed, and competent - and it's executed simply and intimately. This final book manages to be fun, addictive, and satisfying just like the others! Plus, we always get a good, hearty dash of romance in there, too!

Though it's a great way to end the series, I don't think I'll ever accept that we can't rejoin these characters in the future. Their lives are fascinating and foreign to us, yet they are just like any other teen when it comes to growing up and realizing the need to mature.

Read the series from start to finish, and you'll see what I mean!

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

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Eleventh Plague

The Eleventh Plague is a futuristic dystopia YA novel from Jeff Hirsch.

The America we know is gone. Through a series of events and a brutal war, America was hit with something the survivors now call the Eleventh Plague. It was an airborne agent that caused a new, deadly strain of flu - and killed two-thirds of the population. Very few people are left. And many of those who are should be avoided.

Fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn never saw any of the actual war or carnage, he was born after. His parents were already living a mobile life, finding happiness in their love, along with his grandfather. His family are salvagers, those who travel the desolate countryside looking for things of value and importance to trade for food, weapons, and clothes. It's their survival.

It's been many dark years since Stephen's mother died and it's been just him, his dad, and his grandpa. But when his grandfather dies - a mean, bitter, tough old man - trouble begins to snowball for the two remaining generations of Quinn men.

Stephen's dad seems lighter out from under his father's brooding, angry shadow - and when he sees a couple of Slavers (a different kind of survivor, those who buy and sell people for their livelihood, as well as snatch them up whenever they can), he intervenes. One thing Stephen's grandfather always stressed was not to intervene - keep to your own business, protect yourself.

And in Stephen's father's heroic moment, he is injured so badly that he is in a coma. And Stephen is suddenly all alone. But then he meets up with people from a place called Settler's Landing - a community with houses and civility and even a school! It seems impossible and suspicious to someone who has grown up like Stephen...

When things spiral out of control, Stephen knows that he was right - nothing as good and well-intentioned as Settler's Landing was meant to last after the Eleventh Plague...

The Eleventh Plague is very effective in the beginning in setting a grim, stark tone of a world completely different from ours - but realistic enough to believe, making it scarier. It's a dirty, unpleasant life surrounded by multiple dangers - but you root for Stephen right away.

Jeff Hirsch has created a well-done, good, futuristic world that is hopeless - yet hopeful. Especially as we come to Settler's Landing. There's a tone of classic paranoia and survivor-instinct in The Eleventh Plague. Yet, for me, the most fascinating thing about the story was Stephen's psychological adjustment. His distrust warring with his deep-set desire for a place to call home, a place to be safe is certainly effective.

I don't want to give too much away, as the premise is already meaty enough - but I'll say that The Eleventh Plague is a very good novel - and will find many fans, I'm sure. I liked it quite a bit, but the last third or fourth of the story just didn't keep me as hooked as I expected. I was still very satisfied with the novel overall, I just wasn't jumping up and down about it.

It happens. But - of course - you may jump up and down with book-love! So go pick up a copy! :)

Friday, December 23, 2011

How to Save a Life

How to Save a Life is a YA contemporary novel by Sara Zarr.

Jill MacSweeney has managed to sabotage all of her friendships, and even her longtime relationship, while grieving her father's death. Her Dad understood her, they were alike. Now, Jill feels so achingly alone. But then her Mom decides she wants to adopt a baby. Jill hates the idea of replacing her Dad with a new family member, and is frustrated with the way her Mom is going about it.

Mandy Kalinowski is pregnant. She arrives at the MacSweeney home a little further from her delivery date than they expect. She just couldn't stay at home any longer. She couldn't be around her Mom and her Mom's boyfriend one more second. So, she fudged the details a bit. Mrs. MacSweeney seemed like a nice person. She didn't mean to lie, she just knew that something had to be done. She's determined to give her baby a better life than she's had with a family that actually wants her. Like Mandy's never had...

How to Save a Life is extraordinary. It's told from both perspectives, switching narrators every chapter. The premise sounds simple enough, but it's when the plot line is straightforward that you can see just how amazing an author is - and Sara Zarr is amazing!

This novel brings grief to the table. In it, we experience the major life changes through the stark, raw, realistic voices of two young women in pain: Mandy and Jill. Each of them are awkward is social situations, but in polar opposite ways. Jill is grumpy and a bit selfish, but entirely relatable as she isolates herself in her utter sadness. Then we have Mandy who is talkative and sweet, but doesn't realize that she puts people off with her forwardness. She doesn't read signals well. Both of these girls intrigued me from the get-go, and Sara Zarr fleshed them out so thoroughly and believably, that by the end of How to Save a Life I was fully invested in them both. In fact, I was fully invested way before the end.

How to Save a Life feels personal, intimate, honest and messy - like life. Sara Zarr's characters talk like real teens, make choices like real teens, and are overall some of the most relatable characters in the YA world. Sara Zarr is becoming an author like Sarah Dessen for me, poetic and poignant and inspiring through the painful times of life.

I cannot stress enough how beautiful, sincere and absolutely touching How to Save a Life is! I mean, whoa - tear-jerker alert! This is a stunning must-read - I implore you to read it!!!

*I received a copy of How to Save a Life from Hachette Book Group. Their generosity no way influenced, or tried to influence, my opinion of the novel.

**By the way - Merry Christmas! Have a wonderful weekend full of presents and family fun - and hopefully many new books!!! :)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Faerie Winter

Faerie Winter is the YA dystopia fantasy sequel to Bones of Faerie, both by Janni Lee Simner.

I strongly recommend reading Bones of Faerie before reading any synopsis' or reviews of Faerie Winter. If you have yet to do so, I suggest avoiding this review and picking up a copy of Bones of Faerie. Then, after you are riveted by it's story, come back here. Okay?

As I've said before, as a rather crazed, eccentric bibliophile I not only shun spoilers like they'll give me the plague, I also don't read the book jacket unless I absolutely have to. Especially when it comes to sequels. I'm just weird that way. Maybe you are to. We bibliophiles tend to be strange, right? But that's what gives us our charm!

Anyway, if you've already read Bones of Faerie - I would hope that the fact that you loved it is more than enough reason to pick up Faerie Winter. If so, skim over the next few paragraphs to get to my opinion of it, without reading the summary. However, if you want a little idea of what happens in Faerie Winter, read on. It'll be lightweight though, nothing more than bare bones - so you can be swept away by the magic of it all, like I was!

Liza found her mother in the world of faerie - nearly dead from radiation poisoning. Now she's back, but their relationship is still strained. She now knows that every child that began to get magical abilities knew to go to her mother, except for her. She had no idea. Her mother kept it from her. She didn't trust her with the secret.

Yet Liza's own powers of Summoning have manifested now, and it is her talents that are now drawing forth life - sometimes even beyond death - and driving away dangers from her family and town. One of those dangers was her father, whom she's banished. With him gone, those with magical abilities aren't as frightened and are finding a semblance of acceptance and learning - though not all in the town are happy with it.

As Liza struggles to get a handle on what she can now do, and grows closer to Matthew - the boy that can turn into a wolf that went with her on the dangerous journey of searching for her mother - the world around them, which has been stuck in a state of perpetual life since the War between humanity and faerie ended, is suddenly deadened. It's winter now, and the crops aren't growing - starvation looms.

Thing is, this doesn't feel like an ordinary winter. There's something dark and purposeful behind it. And Liza realizes she's going to have to come into her powers more and face the stories told by her mother and others who lived in the days the faeries walked among them, fighting them, before she can confront it...

Faerie Winter returns us to Liza and company soon after Bones of Faerie ended, and takes us a whole lot further.

Wow! Faerie Winter, for me, was an improvement on it's predecessor - and that's saying something, because I was quite impressed with Bones of Faerie! But Faerie Winter has an ever stronger plot, more romantic hints, and a more complicated look at human nature, as well as deeper, darker mystery. It didn't take me long at all to be liking - no, strike that - loving it!!!

This is an original coming-of-age story in the midst of a ruined, post-apocalyptic world. The mother-daughter dynamic feels so realistic, painful, and ordinary, while taking place in the war ravaged world. Makes for an amazing fantasy thriller.

In Faerie Winter, the stakes are even higher, the danger feels even stronger - truly frightening and suspenseful. I was hooked as new characters were introduced and Jannie Lee Simner delved deeper in the all-encompassing fear that she presents us as we see the darker side of faeries. Absolutely gripping!

Faeire Winter was fantastic! It's startling, gruesome, scary, and most certainly a page-turner! Simner's lovely and poetic way of writing meshes with the fantasy/magic plot to present a novel with character development, nerve-wracking twists, and a hunger for more. Much more.

I seriously want more novels featuring Liza!!! Faerie Winter was just too good, too satisfying, too amazing of a treat for fantasy/dystopia bibliophile fans (of any age, honestly) to be the end. You can't do that to us, Janni!

What say you, fellow bibliophiles? Shall we start a petition?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bones of Faerie

Bones of Faerie is a YA fantasy/dystopia novel by Janni Lee Simner.

It's been many years since the War - when faeries crossed over to our world and began attacking with their powerful magic, turning even the plants violent. The modern world fell, or so they've told fifteen-year-old Liza, and many died because of magic and those who brought it here. It's been many years since the faerie folk left, but the results remain.

New rules apply now. Everybody knows not go out alone in the dark. Everybody knows not to touch a stone that glows with faerie light. Everybody knows to cast out those who are born with magic, before it can eradicate the town.

That's how Liza's baby sister died. She was born with the glass-clear hair of a faerie, so Liza's father immediately took the baby outside and left it. Liza's mind can't forget the image of her sister's bloody bones in the moonlight.

And then the next day, Liza's mother disappeared. Nobody expects her to live, wandering around alone in such dangerous lands - so her father gives her up for dead. Now it's just the two of them.

But the brutality of her father haunts her... and after witnessing an event that turns everything she knows to be true upside down, Liza escapes the town to find answers - and her mother.

I had very high expectations for Bones of Faeries - the excerpt was chilling and the reviews are excellent. And the opening did not disappoint! It was disturbing, sad, startling, and well-done - capturing my attention and keeping it.

Disquieting fear has taken hold of people after the faeries brought magic to our world - but the origins of the War and everything that happened was not witnessed by Liza, or us. So, we stand by Liza's side as we wonder if the story told is true, or shaped by the horrifyingly irrational, all-too-believable panic left behind.

Janni Lee Simner has created a dangerous world - in more ways than one. The journey she sets us on with Liza, who becomes an outcast, and the mysterious Matthew is one written simply and openly. I constantly wanted more details than I was getting, and Simner fed that hunger.

Bones of Faerie is a compelling novel mixing a dystopia with the fantasy of faeries. It met emotional peaks and plot depths that were quite good, but I thought might be even more powerful. It could be because my expectations were so high that I didn't think it was as fantastic as it could have been... I guess we'll see once I read Faerie Winter, the sequel.

Yet there is no question that Bones of Faerie is an excellent story with a likable heroine. Of that there is absolutely no question. I would put Bones of Faerie in the same category as Lois Lowry's The Gift, Gathering Blue, and The Messenger - magical realism with undercurrents of humanity becoming the biggest threat of all... Definitely worth the read!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sound Bender

Sound Bender is a middle-grade/YA sci-fi novel by Lin Oliver and Theo Baker.

Thirteen-year-old Leo Lomax has just lost both his parents in a plane crash. He and his brother Hollis go to live with their odd, wealthy uncle Crane. He deals rare (and possibly illegal?) antiques out of his Brooklyn warehouse. Soon after they move in, Leo receives a birthday present from his dad - something he sent before dying. It breaks Leo's heart as he reads the handwritten letter - he misses them so much.

But cutting through his grief is the message in his father's gift - new information on Leo's birth and hidden ability that may just now be beginning to show itself...

Leo's always been fascinated with sound, but now he's hearing things he logically shouldn't. When he picks up the spoon to eat his soup, he hears the cook arguing with her husband. And then he begins to hear something haunting - a cry, human-like and so very sad - and feels it is connected to an object in his uncle's warehouse that practically radiates evil.

Suddenly, Leo is faced with a new destiny. He's determined to help whatever's cry penetrates his mind, even if he has no idea how he's going to do it. Because, he must have been given this ability for a reason...

Sound Breaker is a goodhearted novel with a bit of mystery and suspicion as Leo's powers begin to manifest. I liked the solid friendship presented and the smartness of the characters, but I could quite connect to the book in an adult level. I wasn't as interested as I'd have liked to be, unfortunately.

For me, the dialogue didn't feel genuine 100% of the time and the writing felt like it could use a little more polishing, maybe, to be more accessible to older readers too. But I had nothing against Sound Breaker at all, just felt a bit ambivalent towards it.

Sound Breaker is a sweet-natured and well-intentioned book, which I appreciated. It got a tad heavy-handed with the lesson near the end - but it was a good lesson. I would recommend this book to nine to thirteen-year-olds, and think boys would like it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Gossip Girl: Psycho Killer

Gossip Girl: Psycho Killer is a YA mash-up by Cecily von Ziegesar.

It's a story most of us are familiar with. Except with more blood.

Serena van der Woodsen went off to boarding school right after a little indiscretion with Nate Archibald, her best friend Blair Waldorf's boyfriend. Now she's back and ready to make it all right - with a little homicide. After all, if Nate wasn't around, there'd be no reason for Serena and Blair's friendship to be strained. They could go back to being BFFs!

But Blair isn't all warm and fuzzy for the idea. She loves Nate, even if sometimes she feels like strangling him herself. And the fact that Serena can come back after being gone for so long and get away with murder - literally - while still looking gorgeous and blond makes Blair more than a little irritated. If Serena can do it, so can Blair.

But Blair can do it better.

Watch out Upper East Side...

Gossip Girl: Psycho Killer is the first mash-up/reimagining I have read. It certainly sounded interesting. I was a moderate fan of the series (read it through book seven), and liked the first couple seasons of the TV show. I thought this sounded like it might be satirically funny... but unfortunately, no. Gossip Girl: Psycho Killer was not for me.

We all have our own tastes and bibliophile preferences - so don't hesitate in trying the book out for yourself! However, for me, I found Gossip Girl: Psycho Killer to be very dry - and pretty much a copy of the original book with horror gore shoved in awkwardly. In my opinion, it had a lack of creativity, and instead just ended up being graphically violent and gross. Plus, the characters (especially Serena) became extremely unlikable to me.

I don't know. Like I said, this is only my opinion - you may completely disagree! It was just too bad that Gossip Girl: Psycho Killer rubbed me the wrong way. I felt there was a starvation of humor - it was more about being scandalous and disgustingly gory in a rather mean-spirited way. I wanted something more tongue-in-cheek, crazy, and clever.

This genre is probably just not for me. I couldn't get into it and ended up skimming through it.

Let me know if you disagree - I'd love for you to love it!

*I received a review copy of Gossip Girl: Psycho Killer from Hachette Book Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Lips Touch: Three Times

Lips Touch: Three Times is a YA fantasy collaboration of three novellas by Laini Taylor, with illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo.

Three teens girls who have lived entirely different lives, and never cross each others paths, find out how monumental a kiss can be. Especially when it may have unintended consequences.

In Goblin Fruit, the first novella in Lips Touch: Three Times, we meet Kizzy. Kizzy has lived a very strange life with a very odd family, making her an outcast at school and in life. But then a very good-looking new guy at her local high school seems to take a surprising interest in her. Why?

Then we have Spicy Little Curses Such as These, in which we come across a girl who has been cursed from babyhood to have the most beautiful voice in the world - but to have that voice kill every ear who hears it. She has lived as a mute, believing the curse real. But when she falls in love for the first time, her surety falters and wonders if she dare risk speaking aloud and testing it for certain.

And finally we have the third novella Hatchling. In this one we're introduced to a fourteen-year-old girl who finds out that her ever-traveling lifestyle she shares with her beloved, beautiful mother has to do with running away from a past that is neither beloved nor beautiful. A past that has to do with another world - one where a stunning, powerful queen keeps little girls as pets until they reach childbearing age...

Laini Taylor impressed me with Daughter of Smoke & Bone, which I read and reviewed pretty recently. So, I was extra excited for Lips Touch: Three Times. It already looked cool - but now I knew for a fact that Laini Taylor is a great writer, too!

Goblin Fruit is a great way to start the novel, I think. It starts off darkly humorous and entrancing. It's disturbing, yet has fun, hilarious banter and witty dialogue to pepper the dreamlike fantasy of it. I kind of saw where Goblin Fruit was going, but still had no idea how it would end. Taylor is excellent at making a story feel truly otherworldly and creepy with an understated elegance. That skill is definitely on display in this first novella.

Spicy Little Curses Such as These is more romantic than the other two, in my opinion. Again Laini Taylor takes us to a dark place, but weaves a sweet first love scenario in it. Our mute girl and the soldier who loves her both have valid reasons for both fearing and doubting the curse that keeps her quiet. We get a stunning amount of human, emotional depth in such a small amount of pages. This is clever, smart, and surprising story.

Hatchling is my favorite. I loved all three, but Hatchling is so deliciously wrong and unsettling, so creative and different - it was magnetic. The methodical unfolding of this mother-daughter story has a slew of twists and raw pain and love. Laini Taylor could probably expand all three of these novellas into amazing full-length novels and build on these tales even further. Truly a stunning, magical, sometimes quite grim fantasy triple-play that is quite satisfying.

Lips Touch: Three Times has the kind of writing that you can sink your teeth into, the kind of writing you want to read aloud to hear the poetic rhythm of, the kind of writing you enjoy the flavorful, vibrant, lively, fairy-tale beauty of. It's definitely a book to appreciate and devour again. And the illustrations are perfect - lovely graphics to bring an ever stronger sense of magic and hypnotic mythology.

Fan of fantasy, fairy-tales, and/or magical realism? Grab Lips Touch: Three Times!

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Bunheads is a YA contemporary novel by debut author and former dancer Sophie Flack.

Nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward lives, breathes, and dreams ballet. Since she was a very young girl, she knew she wanted to be a dancer. Her parents took her to dance lessons - but then at fourteen she was offered the chance to move to New York, alone, and join the super-prestigious Manhattan Ballet company.

Her focus and drive is entirely centered on dance. She's always either rehearsing, performing, or conditioning. One of these days she hopes to get noticed in the crowd of beautiful, talented dancers and be singled out for a solo. If only she can stay thin enough, strong enough, and passionate enough.

That's never been a problem before. But then Hannah meets Jacob.

He's a college student, a musician, and incredibly cute. And interested in her. He's a nice guy, their conversations are fun, and their attraction seems to be mutual. But he's not a dancer. He doesn't understand her life. How can he?

All of a sudden Hannah's entire universe shifts - her perspective changes. She begins to notice how much pressure she's under, how she has next to no time for a life outside of her career - things that never bothered her in the past. Yet now she has the potential of more, of something new and exciting - and she's missing it.

While shifting through the backstage drama, competition that never de-escalates, and her own personal dreams and career goals, Hannah realizes that she has to make a choice.

Professional dancer... or normal girl?

Bunheads instantly placed me in the world of pro ballet where cattiness, competition, and dreams are clearly fierce right from the start. It has a a truly interesting and unique perspective, but I'll be honest - Bunheads didn't pop for me right away.

However, it didn't take too long and didn't require too much patience to begin settling into the story and become fascinated with the inside details that longtime dancer Sophie Flack is able to provide - and the work ethic and passion that demands respect and awe. Once I started to see how Hannah's life is held back by her devotion, I began to get invested in the story and really care what happened to her.

There's a maturity and realism to Bunheads that interested me - I rooted for Hannah to have more, yet also didn't want her to give up her dreams. She's worked so long and so hard at one goal, you can feel the utter heartwrenching pain of her choice.

Bunheads is a coming-of-age, turnpoint-in-life kind of story that Sophie Flack gives raw, stark depth to. At times it is painful to read, because Flack makes it easy to understand and sympathize with the life of a dancer, even though that kind of single-minded drive at such a young age may be foreign to most of us.

I was amazed at the eventual reaction Bunheads got from me. This debut novel is goosebump inspiring and empowering! Here we have a fresh, clear, bright novel that convinced me of its relevance and utter worth, slowly but surely! I hope Sophie Flack provides more reading material soon!!!

Wow! Bunheads is a powerful surprise! My bibliophile opinion? You should read this!

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Unleashed is the first novel in a new YA supernatural series called Wolf Spring Chronicles, co-written by Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie.

Though sixteen-year-old Katelyn McBride is devastated, she can't find the energy to fight it when her grandfather insists she move to a small town in Arkansas to live with him when Katelyn's mother dies. The mixture of the shock of being an orphan so suddenly and the guilt that lingers in her over her drugged, helpless state at the time of her mother's death (a painkiller prescribed by her gymnastics coach) has left her semi-catatonic.

She's only partially aware of the fact that moving away from California is also taking her away from her best friend, her life, and all of her big hopes and plans for a future of dance and gymnastics - something she's been training for, for years. Once the reality of it does come crashing down on her, her grief expands.

For now, though, she's stuck trying to start over in Wolf Springs. Katelyn soon finds some distraction from her mourning as the inhabitants of the town seem odd and secretive. And it doesn't take long to find out that it might not be the safest of places... a girl her age was found dead in the woods recently - apparently the deed of a wild animal.

This is a place of longtime roots, grudges, century-old families, forbidden love, and perhaps sinister intentions. Maybe even something... not entirely human.

And now Katelyn McBride is in the thick of it.

Unleashed is a very entertaining and magnetic novel - and I can tell you right now that I'm glad it's the first in a series!!!

There is certainly a sadness to Unleashed as poor Katelyn misses her Mom. I felt for her very quickly. But her new home in Arkansas with her grandpa is certainly spooky and full of unspoken mysteries and danger. We've got hot guys, creepy occurrences, and secrets galore that had me whipping through pages!

Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie have supplied a fun, blockbuster-feel book with weird, suspicious families, bizarre animal attacks, and an oddly standoffish vibe from her new friends that puts Katelyn in a lonely, relatable situation. I liked that they took the time to make me care about our main character, but never really slowed down the plot of Unleashed - it kept moving.

A horror story fusion with supernatural romance = awesome collaboration! Unleashed is the kind of story that envelopes you and whisks you away with it - pure escapism entertainment! Plus, there's a sweet family element and bits of humor that balance out the overall intensity and secretive nature of the book.

And I always appreciate sneaking in a little Shakespeare - and I don't think it's just me when I say there's a creative twist on King Lear in here... Very cool!

Unleashed is certainly suspenseful and scary - so of course how else could they finish the book but a cliffhanger?

I definitely want more. Now.

And I'm guessing most of you will want the same thing...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Fox Inheritance

The Fox Inheritance is a YA sci-fi novel by Mary E. Pearson.

Locke and Kara have been in a disembodied nightmare for a very long time. Their minds simply floating around, confused, frightened, and helpless in a digital world of nothingness.

What they don't know is that after they and their friend Jenna Fox were in fatal accident their minds were kept alive, even though their bodies were destroyed. But Jenna left them a long time ago - it's just been Locke and Kara.

Just Locke and Kara. For two hundred and sixty years.

Forgotten, abandoned, and tucked away in ignorance until finally being found, released, and given brand new, perfect bodies based off of old pictures and tiny pieces of DNA off their original bodies. Though Locke is a little taller, his eyes greener than he remembers, and more muscular overall - improvements?

But not only are their bodies unfamiliar and wrong, somehow... they've awakened to a world completely different from the one they left. Their families, their neighborhoods, their lives... gone. New technology astounds them, some disturbing, some amazing.

Only Locke and Kara understand what the other is going through - the remaining effects of living in limbo for centuries, the bizarreness of waking up to fabricated bodies and expected to be grateful...

Yet among it all is a profound sense of betrayal as they learn that their best friend, the third member of their trio - Jenna Fox - is alive and well... and never tried to help them.

The Fox Inheritance is a sequel to The Adoration of Jenna Fox, a book that floored me. I don't think a sequel was planned necessarily but Mary E. Pearson has now provided us with one - and... oh my. This is a stunning, extraordinarily well-written, brilliant reintroduction to the world of Jenna Fox - this time from Locke's point of view, two hundred and sixty amazing years later. Wow.

I obviously kept the synopsis a bit sparse - as always not wanting to give away much of anything. And really, if you've read The Adoration of Jenna Fox than I'm sure you're clamoring for this! If you haven't, I wouldn't say you necessarily have to read it first - but I would recommend it. They tie together in a way that is even more powerful when read as a pair.

The Fox Inheritance is a psychological thriller, heavily suspenseful, poetically penned, hypnotic, and lovely. Mary E. Pearson provides the kind of creativity, intelligence, and breathless action that crosses genre lines and YA specifications and should be read by any individual that appreciates fantastic, smart literature, in my opinion!

The heart-rending compassion of it, the astonishing character development, and the never-ending line of unexpected, terrifying twists make for a harrowing, beautiful, painful story that is touching and inspiring. The Fox Inheritance made me cry!

Mary E. Pearson gives me hope for a third installment in the acknowledgments - oh, I hope there is more to this disarming, unique story!

The Fox Inheritance is a book to remember, savor, and share!!!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Faerie Ring

The Faerie Ring is a Victorian-era YA fantasy by Kiki Hamilton.

It's December in 1871 London and sixteen-year-old Tiki is determined to make a home for herself and her makeshift family of fellow orphans. They live in a hidden shelter that gives them a roof and a door, making them better off than many other souls in the same situation. They've been forced to pick pockets to eat, but that won't pay for the scary sounding cough coming from little four-year-old Clara...

But then Tiki lands herself in a situation when she steals a beautiful, mesmerizing ring hoping it will be the end of her family's struggles and beginning of a new life for them. Instead, it sets off a series of events that position Tiki in the middle of a war between humans and Fey.

Before they died, Tiki's parents told her stories about faeries - but she never imagined they were real.

In fact, she continues to disbelieve it - but Rieker, a handsome, enigmatic, fellow thief, is the one telling her about the faeries, and insists that she give him the ring. He says that she's in danger. But that could also be his own way of collecting the reward, couldn't it? And Tiki is not giving up the reward for anything - her family depends on it.

And about that reward - it's from Queen Victoria herself. Yes, only Tiki could accidentally steal a ring stolen by royalty!

Soon, though, the evidence seems to be piling up. Tiki begins to wonder if it's true - that this ring is a symbol that binds the rulers of England and the world of Faerie to peace - a treaty that a certain factor of dark faeries want to break. Rieker tells her that now that the ring is outside the possession of the royal family, the faeries can take the ring and end the truce - and take over London.

Tiki suddenly finds herself in the middle of a war she's never cared about or known of, enlisting help from a fellow thief and maybe even a prince - pretending to be the lady she was meant to be before her parents' died, attending masked balls and the like, yet still returning to the dirty slums of her home - and the love of her little adopted family.

She never meant for this...

The Faerie Ring was awesome! When I heard the description, I thought, "Mmmm, Victorian era London and magic? Yes, please!" Because there is almost nothing I like better than mixing historical time periods with fantasy. It is just undeniably awesome. At least to me.

There is a mixture of utter fun and truly nerve-wracking suspense in The Faerie Ring. Tiki's situation and Clara's illness makes you heartsick, not to mention makes you care very quickly. Has a December/winter feel that creates a cozy, settle-in-your-chair-as-it-snows-outside read and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Then we get a little bit of resistant romantic chemistry between her and the dashing Rieker, which is always a good thing when done well - and guess what? It's done well! But one of the most charming things about The Faerie Ring was Tiki's loyalty and devotion to her family of fellow orphans. I never, ever go for stealing - but Kiki Hamilton provides enough reason and understanding to lend sympathy and forgiveness to a bunch of desperate kids.

And, oooh, the faeries are creepy! I don't want to give too much away, so I'm a bit limited in how much I can say, but I truly felt the scorch of rage, the prickle of fear, and the nagging feeling of being watched and threatened. Mash all that up with Buckingham Palace, dazzling gowns, a little Cinderella situation, intrigue and spying, and a dash of adventure and you've got yourself The Faerie Ring!

I really, really want another book featuring these characters - even though the ending was so downright perfect! In my opinion, this is a perfect Christmastime read - providing an entertaining, eventful, involving read that left me happy and satisfied!

Please, Kiki? May I have some mo' please?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Fox & the Peach

Fox & the Peach is a YA fantasy novel by Nick Thaler.

In 1580 feudal Japan, teenage Momo is finding herself thrust into a battle she never sought out. She was found as a wounded fox and cared for as a potential pet by a young developmentally challenged boy - but imagine the family's surprise when she soon turned into a girl!

She's a kitsune, a girl who turns into a fox. Momo loves the boy who took her in, he is her "brother". But Momo isn't completely human, and she's not completely animal. She's wilder than humans but tamer than the foxes she tries to run with while in that form - it seems like no matter what, she's alone. And her "father" is demanding that she remain human if she stays with them any longer - but how can she do that? That would be suppressing her very nature.

In the meantime, without Momo being aware of it, the warlord Oda Nobunga is rising to power and enlisting the skill and help of various mythical creatures such as tengu, kappa, and oni (a type of ninja assassin with special powers). Soon, Momo becomes a target of these efforts and suddenly is thrown into a world where she meets people with different abilities - but she seems to be in constant danger. Even those who seem to protect her don't have her best efforts at heart - so she escapes with another girl, Kei, who can turn into a cat.

But can Momo, a girl whose loneliness and naivete shine like a beacon, survive all be herself in a world she doesn't fit in? In a world where she's hunted?

Fox & the Peach starts with a disturbing, creepy introduction to Nobunga's ninja assassins. The chapter title has the word "slaughter" in it for a reason! Nick Thaler definitely set the tone for danger and deadly intent for our villains right off!

Also, when we first meet Momo he also sets a tone. This one is of sadness - she already feels like an outsider, but also is getting rejected by her adopted family because of her ability. She's a sweet girl but has a rebellious streak - she refuses to stop turning into a fox.

We're a bit thrown into the story, but Thaler does his job at making it intriguing! For me, as the novel continued I did get a little confused. Perhaps Fox & the Peach was more convoluted than necessary? I'm not sure what it was, but I could never fully and completely invest in Momo and the haberdashery of other characters we're introduced to. Yet I was aware and appreciative of how very different and unique Fox & the Peach is!

Fox & the Peach is surprisingly dark, melancholy, packed with mystery, and takes focus to enjoy at it's full capacity. The threat against our main character certainly feels dire - and deadly. So, Nick Thaler is very successful at that! Plus, Fox & the Peach is stocked with Japanese ancient culture, legends, and a manga-like vibe, which will be enjoyed by many readers.

I personally didn't feel it met my bibliophile needs, but I can't put my finger as to why. All I can think is that the mange-like vibe was so strong, that despite the danger being potent it never felt real to me. And without the story feeling real, I could never care as much I would have liked. But, like I said, I believe this is a novel that many of you will enjoy - especially those of you who are fans of that genre!!!

In fact, I'd like to read it again when I have time to do so (Ha! That's a laugh, right?), because I do believe it could benefit from a reread.

Go ahead and pick up a copy of Fox & Peach and settle in! This could be the perfect match for you!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Shattering

The Shattering is a YA mystery with a bit of the supernatural thrown in by Karen Healey.

Keri has spent almost all seventeen years of her life planning for every event she can imagine. Before she broke her arm when she was seven, she already knew what she should say and do if it were to happen. When that proved to be a good thing, she began to plan for everything else.

But she never thought to plan what to do if her brother committed suicide.

Shattered with grief, she is approached by a childhood friend, Janna. Janna's brother also suddenly took his life, though many years earlier. Yet instead of approaching her as an old friend that understands the pain, she drops a bombshell on Keri.

She tells Keri it was murder. Janna wants Keri to meet up with a tourist she knows named Sione, a guy about their age, who also lost a brother to suicide. She says he has some answers.

The three teens begin looking at stats and find something very disturbing. Every year there is a boy killed - every one of them is an older brother and every one of them spent New Year's Eve in their idyllic town of Summerton. But as the three grieving siblings begin to uncover startling secrets and try to find justice for their loved ones, their information casts suspicion on those close to them.

And it's about time for another victim to be picked. Can they save them? Can they save themselves?

The Shattering was one of the best mystery books I have read in a looong time!!!

Each of our three main characters has an engaging, lively, personality-filled narration that is individual to each character and instantly involves you in a plot that is quickly hypnotic and creepy. Keri is sympathetic yet funny and likable, Janna is wild and maybe a little desperate and lonely, and Sione is lacking in self-esteem.

Karen Healey throws us into The Shattering with a brisk, fast pace that, for me, is even better than Guardian of the Dead (her previous novel). It's a supernatural mystery with twists and turns like crazy, grounded, believable characters and surprising revelations around every corner! Wow!!!

If you want to be entertained, surprised and freaked out a bit - you really need to read The Shattering. I absolutely loved it from start to finish and was turning pages like an insane bibliophile! Oh wait. I am an insane bibliophile. But still, believe me, this book is excellent! It's unexpected, scary, creepy, fascinating, and utterly gripping!

I was breathless reading the last pages - nervous, excited, and overwhelmed. Shock after shock threw me, tossed me around, and finally sat me down wholly satisfied and impressed. Holy crap! Very, very smart and extremely well plotted, let me tell you!

Want a little murder mystery? Want a little more than that? How about a whole lot more than that? Read The Shattering.

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret+The Hugo Movie Companion

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a children's novel in words and pictures by Brian Selznick.

I wouldn't be surprised if you haven't already found this gem. I'm a bit late to the party. But now the movie Hugo is coming out and my interest in the original book was renewed, so here I am!

It's 1931 in France and orphaned Hugo spends his days keeping the clocks at a Paris train station, determined to convince everybody that his Uncle is still around (he was the clock keeper) and not cause them to visit the small apartment he lives in by himself and find out her is without a guardian. He knows he'd be sent to an orphanage.

Sometimes going to an orphanage doesn't sound all that bad when Hugo struggles to find food and resorts to thievery, something he despises and knows his deceased father would have frowned upon. But going to an orphanage would wrench him from his last connection to his father - a mechanical man, an automaton that the two of them had been working on right up to the moment he died.

Hugo's whole life now seems to depend on fixing the automaton. This very secret ambition ends up interlocking with a bitter old man who runs a toy booth and an eccentric, book-loving girl. Hugo's anonymity has been endangered, but he can't change it.

The mystery of the automaton is beginning to unravel, with more secrets than he ever could have imagined. Hugo just hopes his life doesn't unravel along with it...

Wow. What an experience! The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a big, heavy novel with 284 pages of original drawings and an almost equal amount of pages of narrative. The gorgeous pencil drawings give an illusion of a black and white silent film - undeniably engrossing!

I can see why this novel won medals and praise! The actual words of The Invention of Hugo Cabret evoke a poignant, sad story brought to life as we follow a young, mourning orphaned boy in his fascinating quest to fix a mysterious automaton and delve into the secrets that Hugo hopes it holds.

The setup and layout of the book makes it feel special - which it is. The Invention of Hugo Cabret has a bit of steampunk flavor with great clockwork interest and a dash of adventure. It spurs the imagination, as well as the emotion, and sucks you in as the secrets pile up, secrets you want to explore along with Hugo.

There were quite a few "wow" moments. I was happily surprised at how considerably deep and mystery-drenched The Invention of Hugo Cabret is for both young, old, and in-between. I was utterly enchanted and held in it's unique grip.

Brian Selznick created quite an effective, breathtaking, heartfelt, amazing, and touching story!!! I look forward to his next novel (also using drawings in a narrative manner) Wonderstruck.

My one-of-a-kind experience with The Invention of Hugo Cabret also made me more intrigued by the movie version of it coming out this month, directed by Martin Scorsese. So, I also delved into The Hugo Movie Companion, which is also written by Brian Selznick.

Apparently Brian Selznick doesn't do anything halfway, because The Hugo Movie Companion is just as special and most definitely a great follow-up to the original novel. In it we get full-color photographs for the movie and detailed information and interviews with the cast and crew.

It somehow makes the book even richer as we're allowed to delve deeper into Selznick's inspirations. It really made me fascinated with automatons, which are (shockingly) real. It also allows us an interesting look into Scorsese's perspective, a man who is clearly passionate about Hugo - always a good thing for the fans of the book.

The Hugo Movie Companion has intriguing and fun insight into the makings of a movie with lots of details on props, sets, costumes, and actors. I really enjoyed reading it - and I think any fan of The Invention of Hugo Cabret would, whether they plan on watching the movie or not.

Now, I have to be honest here - as much as I adored both books, a few things in The Hugo Movie Companion stuck out to me. A few changes, if you will. As a hard-core bibliophile I have a hard time with movies cutting and changing the story as they transform it into a film. I understand some allowances have to be made for time, but some things just seems unnecessary. For one thing, I saw no mention whatsoever of Etienne, a vital if small character from The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Also, the Station Inspector is being portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen in a way that looks far more comedic than I imagined in the novel. Maybe I was wrong, but I never took the character that way in the book. I may be being picky, but those hints kind of bothered me. Not to mention that the end seems different, an end that I was incredibly touched by.

However, overall Hugo looks to be a beautiful representation of The Invention of Hugo Cabret on the big screen and I'll still probably check it out. In the meantime, both books are an excellent addition to any bibliophile's bookshelf!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Web of Air

A Web of Air is the sequel to the YA dystopia/sci-fi novel Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve.

You know the drill. If you haven't read Fever Crumb, this review will inevitably spoil some stuff from the first book. Just don't read it, if this is the case. Go read the book, then come back and check out my review on the sequel. Okay? Okay!

Now all who have yet to read Fever Crumb should avert thine eyes...

Fever Crumb has spent the last two years on a traveling barge theater, a place she only expected to be temporarily. When she joined them she was only fourteen and trying to escape a radically changing London with Ruan and Fern, the two children of the deceased, kindly Kit Solent. Now sixteen, she has come to terms with the fact that she is half Scriven, but still has no real desire to return home. She misses Dr. Crumb, but she spends her time using her engineer skills to electrify the show and dazzle audiences. She finds theater, in general, to be ridiculous but it gives her a chance to use her abilities.

When the traveling barge stops at Mayda, a small seaside city in the corner of their ruined world, she meets someone. His name is Arlo Thursday - and he's brilliant. His focus is on flight, something almost no one believes is possible. But his drive and creativity spur something in Fever. It's been so long since she's been around other scientific minds and the mere possibility of flying is an amazing one.

But it's also dangerous. The last to try it plummeted to his death. And beyond the expected danger of science lurks a more sinister threat involving flight as well...

A Web of Air is fantastic!!! I was anticipating greatness after just finishing Fever Crumb, but I was blown away by how A Web of Air manages to be even better paced than the first! Wowza!

We catch up with Fever two years later, and she's still lovable and occasionally frustrating in that nonsocial manner of hers. She's still an awesome, unique character that grows and finds a place in your heart. Traveling outside of London was interesting. It was very cool to see another part of this crumbling, futuristic world with a different culture, belief system, and dangers.

Philip Reeve so expertly introduces us to Arlo - the enigmatic, eccentric young man that becomes the sole obsession of Fever's mind. But in typical Fever fashion, it's not romance on her mind but science. Reeve keeps this all so gripping and phenomenally fast-paced, you wouldn't guess it by my not-so-impressive synopsis. The level of threat, danger, murder, and mystery is even better, scarier, and more stunning!!!

A Web of Air takes what was great about Fever Crumb and accelerates it. This is a harrowing, heart-wrenching, startling, horrifying, and brilliant look at human nature in a world that is practically starting over. It's more than entertainment, it enriches your mind with a plot that is intelligent. Any age can find excellence and creativity here.

You guessed it - I want more!!!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fever Crumb

Fever Crumb is a futuristic dystopia YA novel with dashes of old-fashioned steampunk and clockwork sci-fi by Philip Reeve.

Fever has not had an ordinary childhood. She has been raised since infancy by her adopted guardian, Dr. Crumb, a member of the Order of Engineers and sheltered in one of the last remaining relics of the Scriven era (a past tyrannical race that been cruel and mad before finally being overrun by angry Londoners). She's been surrounded by intensely rational minds that do not find anything redemptive in imagination or emotion.

This is all Fever knows, and she's just fine with that. In fact, she has garnered an extraordinary knowledge of engines and science in a time when women are not considered reasonable creatures. She's the only female exception in the Order of Engineers.

But as she has been accepted as an apprentice, Fever is now fourteen and expected to make her first foray outside her home to assist archaeologist Kit Solvent. He has made some kind of discovery, which he is keeping incredibly secret, and needs help uncovering it. It involves a mysterious, never-before-found room that belonged to Auric Godshawk, the last of the Scriven leaders - long dead and hated.

Once Fever arrives, after making her way through a paranoid and irrational London, she finds that being around this secret room is doing something to her. She is seeing things. Almost like memories. But they are not hers. She's never before left the Order of Engineers, so these images are impossible for her to remember. So, why, when she looks upon these locations, does she sometimes see a party where there is no party? Why does she feel older than she is? And why does she no longer feel safe?

After living for years with a very calm, rational mind dedicated to science and thinking - and being surrounded with the like - Fever is now for the first time... afraid.

Fever Crumb is quite something. I read it knowing I would get the chance to read the sequel, A Web of Air, right after. I wanted to start the story from the beginning, of course, which is why I got my hands on Fever Crumb. It has great reviews - and I can see why!!!

It has an intriguing start with an unfamiliar, strange future London and an obviously sweeping mythology that I was more than ready to get swept up in. We aren't told what year we're in but it's clear it is sometime in the distant future (cell phones are called the technology of the Ancients) with whispers of our own past. It caught my attention and never let go.

Fever Crumb as a story is a captivating mishmash of mystery, sci-fi, dystopia, and character development. Fever's history (as well as London's as a city) seems like a concoction of both truth and lies. And as our main character begins recalling things she shouldn't for no apparent reason and she begins getting tracked by a potential enemy, the suspense increases.

I loved Fever Crumb, the book and the character. The character is incredibly interesting - self-possessed, completely "rational", strong, and rather standoffish without really meaning to be. She is different from any other YA character I can think of. Combining that kind of iconic, likable yet odd, character with a broken, crumbling London that reeks with suspicion, danger, fear and intrigue is awesome!

Fever Crumb has stunning developments that reward a patient reader who recognizes an excellent slow-burn when they see one. There's a haunted quality that kept me hooked and desperate for the same answers as Fever. Philip Reeve has enormous creativity and imagination, not only as he creates an entirely new world but as he populates it with a mad dash of old and new technology.

And as Fever Crumb turns into a pulse-pounding survival story (no spoilers here!), it becomes more urgent, scary, gripping, and edge-of-you-seat. That's never, ever a bad thing!

It was quite good. Quite something, as I said earlier. In my opinion, Fever Crumb is definitely accessible to older readers because of its depth and maturity. Not to mention any fan of steampunk, dystopia, or sci-fi will enjoy it - period.

I look forward to following Fever further into A Web of Air!

Friday, December 2, 2011

So Silver Bright

So Silver Bright is the third and final book in the YA fantasy trilogy Theatre Illuminata by Lisa Mantchev.

As a HUGE fan of both of the first novels in this trilogy, Eyes Like Stars and Perchance to Dream, I implore you not to spoil yourself by reading this review unless you've already read the previous two. These books are just too amazing to ruin. Instead, read my reviews of the first two books here and here.

Assuming the only remaining readers are fellow fans of this trilogy, without further ado...

Bertie and her theatre troupe are almost done with their quest. Or so they think. Bertie has successfully rescued Nate from the Sea Goddess and somehow they all made it out of that situation alive. She's met her father, and learned a bit more about her own powers. Only one thing remains: reunite her father the Scrimshander with her mother, Ophelia, at the Theatre Illuminata, as she promised.

Nothing is ever easy for Bertie, though. She can't find her dad, the Sea Goddess is out for a deadly revenge, and the Theatre seems to be in more danger than ever - not to mention her Mom. Among everything else, Bertie still can't choose between her love for Ariel and her love for Nate - a situation that is straining both of the long held friendships.

But she has received a summons to perform for Her Gracious Majesty, Queen of the Distant Castle - one that could result in a magical reward called a wish-come-true, if she can only please the temperamental Queen.

Yet even if she does win, which wish does she use it on?

When I bought So Silver Bright, I allowed myself a luxury I have not afforded myself often at all this year: rereading the first two books. I just love these books so much!!! I needed to reorient myself to Bertie and her troupe. I'm still floored by the whimsical, dramatic, all-together-original imagination of the novels!!! I was definitely suffering from the bibliophile syndrome when awaiting a chance to delve into this FINAL book!!!

As So Silver Bright opened in all it's romantic fantasy glory, I realized I'm as stuck between Nate and Ariel as Bertie is. I also was instantly enchanted by the magical wonder of it all, the enigmatic, incomprehensible time period, and beyond pleased to be back in the company of the mischievous, crazy, irresistible fairies!

This novel has more delicious, yet heartbreaking, tension of the romantic nature and a renewed sense of strong danger for Bertie and her friends. I was getting really nervous in some scenes!!! Oh my. It's hard to really describe how entrenched I was and how bittersweet I always felt, knowing this would be the last time I got to spend time with these extraordinary characters in a "new" capacity. But if you're a fan of the trilogy already, I'm sure you understand.

I had absolutely no idea how this unbelievably awesome, sweeping trilogy would end - but I was eating it up like a starving fairy! So Silver Bright is a nerve-wracking, exquisitely unique, painful, tear-jerking, beautiful end to a phenomenal, majestic story - truly a magnificent finale.

No matter how old you are, no matter whether you're a fan of the theatre and classic plays or not, no matter what - you really, really, really need to read So Silver Bright!!! I know that there will be some people whose personality will not agree (and of course that's just fine), but I find it hard to believe there are many people who won't be persuaded by the utter charm and fantastical loveliness this tale provides in spades.

I loved it!!!

Remember, starting next week I will be posting a new review every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday! Make sure to stop by every day, or get caught up when you can. Let's see if I can actually meet this goal of continuing this through the end of January, shall we? Keep in mind, I'm trying to get to all these books while also working full-time, so please bear with me, as a fellow Bibliophile Support Group member, if I end up missing a day. Don't plan to, of course! :)