Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Iron Knight: Julie Kagawa knows how to end a series...

But never forgotten.

My name—my True Name—is Ashallayn'darkmyr Tallyn.

I am the last remaining son of Mab, Queen of the Unseelie Court. And I am dead to her.

My fall began, as many stories do, with a girl…

Book Review

Title: The Iron Knight
Author: Julie Kagawa
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: October 25, 2011

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Julie Kagawa knows how to end a series.

It's always sad (and a bit scary) to say goodbye to a favorite series. Last books come with such emotionally-fueled expectations. And after, some authors leave you feeling wrung out and crushed, while other authors make your heart sigh with happiness and contentment. Whenever I read a last book, I'm always overwhelmed with that feeling of Please don't ruin what you've created. Well, I am ecstatic to say that in The Iron Knight, Julie Kagawa gives us the perfect journey to the perfect ending that this stellar series deserves.

The Iron Knight was one of my most highly anticipated books of 2011, and WOW did Julie deliver. It was everything I was hoping for: adventure, anguish, romance, danger, and a slew of game-changing twists that left my head spinning. Within the first ten pages, Julie hit me with a whiplash twist that I just didn't see coming (the summary wasn't available then) and then she kept them coming for the rest of the story. Things that weren't anywhere on my radar were thrown into the mix, keeping the story fresh and compelling.

And let's talk about ASH. This is his story. His narration is everything my little fangirl heart was wishing for: some moments were pure bliss, and others, as Ash begins to thaw that icy cold heart, were harrowing and heart-wrenching. Everything about Ash--his emotions, his intense love, his regret--is laid bare. We see every vulnerability Ash hides behind that cold exterior, and we feel the extent of his absolute devotion to Meghan. And as Ash has told Meghan many times, there are horrific crimes in his past, and as Ash atones for those crimes to be worthy of what it will take to be with Meghan, we see how much his love for her has changed him--how much her love for him as already redeemed him.

For fans worried there may not be enough Meghan, I thought Julie devised some sneaky, delicious ways to fit in plenty of Meghan. Besides, we've had three books with her, and I'm a sucker for any kind of alternate POV, especially from the hero's perspective, to truly feel the extent of his love for our heroine.

So this Ash fangirl thanks you, Julie Kagawa, for creating such a satisfying, stirring end to this beloved series. I found myself re-reading entire chapters just so I didn't have to say goodbye so soon.

(And let's all give Julie's editor a big cheer for convincing Julie to write The Iron Knight and not leave that heartbreaking goodbye in The Iron Queen as the end like Julie initially intended. Yes, those parting words of Ash and Meghan in TIQ were tragic and all-sacrificing and made me cry, but oh, how I love my happily ever after instead.)

Lola and the Boy Next Door: Even. Better. Than. Anna.

Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit -- more sparkly, more fun, more wild -- the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket -- a gifted inventor -- steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

Book Review

Title: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton
Publication Date: September 29, 2011

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Even. Better. Than. Anna.

And that's saying something.

I knew I was going to love this from the moment I read the blurb. Cricket is an inventor (and so is the hubby--25 patent applications, thank you very much). It takes place in San Francisco (which is our city). And Stephanie Perkins wrote it (and we all know her words are magic. MAGIC! Everything she writes is oozing with amazingness.)

Lola surpasses all expectations. When you read these words, you FEEL everything. Lola's embarrassment, her sadness, her longing...and the sparks every time Cricket touches her. How does Stephanie Perkins weave these spells? I can't remember the last time I felt quite like this reading a book...this heart all a-flutter feeling where you're holding your breathe waiting for them to touch. Oh, wait--I can. It was when I read Anna and the French Kiss.

Lola is a story of finding yourself, and finding the one you love. And Stephanie Perkins writes chemistry like no other. Sigh.

I can't wait to see what Stephanie has in store for Isla, and she uses the events in Lola to set the scene perfectly for Isla to ensure all our favorite characters will be back.

Go read this book. And then read it again because that's what I'm going to do right now. (I swear, this book must be laced with some kind of addictive substance...or else Stephanie Perkins' pacing and characters and writing are PERFECT.)

P.S. You've GOT to see this cover in person. It's ADORABLE.

The Scorch Trials: Dashner just gets better and better.

Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he and the Gladers would get their lives back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to.

In the Maze, life was easy. They had food, and shelter, and safety . . . until Teresa triggered the end. In the world outside the Maze, however, the end was triggered long ago.

Burned by sun flares and baked by a new, brutal climate, the earth is a wasteland. Government has disintegrated—and with it, order—and now Cranks, people covered in festering wounds and driven to murderous insanity by the infectious disease known as the Flare, roam the crumbling cities hunting for their next victim . . . and meal.

The Gladers are far from finished with running. Instead of freedom, they find themselves faced with another trial. They must cross the Scorch, the most burned-out section of the world, and arrive at a safe haven in two weeks. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Thomas can only wonder—does he hold the secret of freedom somewhere in his mind? Or will he forever be at the mercy of WICKED?

Book Review

Title: The Scorch Trials
Author: James Dashner
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 12, 2010

My Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

James Dashner's writing just gets better and better. The Maze Runner was good but I wasn't sold on it...but this latest installment has made me a complete fangirl of this series. The stark writing is perfect to tell this grim (yet hopeful), mind-bending tale. There's this stirring sense of these characters struggling to hold on to their humanity in the midst of all these trials and confusion that has me invested in their fate. As these characters persevere and fight and SURVIVE with their hope intact and pushing them forward, I can't help but cheer and then hold my breath for them...because Dashner is a master at creating that exhilarating feeling where you really, truly NEVER know what's going to happen next.

I love the Lost-esque feel to everything. And I do not evoke the Lost word lightly.

What an electrifying series! I can't wait to see what crazy twists James Dashner has in store in The Death Cure.

Wolfbane: Can Calla please act like an alpha?

When Calla Tor wakes up in the lair of the Searchers, her sworn enemies, she’s certain her days are numbered. But then the Searchers make her an offer—one that gives her the chance to destroy her former masters and save the pack—and the man—she left behind. Is Ren worth the price of her freedom? And will Shay stand by her side no matter what? Now in control of her own destiny, Calla must decide which battles are worth fighting and how many trials true love can endure and still survive.

Book Review

Title: Wolfsbane
Author: Andrea Cremer
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers
Publication Date: July 26, 2011

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Let me say this: Andrea Cremer can write. Her books ooze with imagery and pretty phrases and that I-must-consume-this-book feeling (especially Nightshade). She even adds some decent mythology to the mix in Wolfsbane, something I thought was blatantly lacking in Nightshade.

So why the two stars? This series just isn't for me. I've never liked Calla. She's never seemed like an alpha to me (I mean, I've been TOLD for 800 pages that she's an alpha, but it's been rare that I've SEEN it) and I've never felt connected with her character. Shay is the biggest snoozer of a male lead I've read about for two years running, and the love triangle is strangling this series. When done with grace and charm and chemistry, a love triangle can keep me feverishly tearing through the pages. But in this series, Calla's indecisiveness and lust for both boys--and first Ren's and now Shay's pushy ways--make this love triangle irritating. Frequent scene: Calla and Shay making out, Calla thinks of Ren, wants Ren instead, pushes Shay away, Shay pushes Calla for more. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

(And it has to be said: What did Cremer DO to Ren's character??? Of course circumstances can drive people to make choices they wouldn't have made otherwise, but a character needs to stay true to what's already been created for him. The Ren depicted in Wolfsbane is NOT the Ren we met in Nightshade.)

Although not as compulsively readable as Nightshade, Wolfsbane does expand the mythology (albeit with a ton of infodump conversations). Unlike other authors, Cremer acknowledges the holes in her mythology and offers some patches (why Keepers can't weave, how the mother determines the essence of the child, etc.) although some of the patches are a bit TOO convenient. However, after the bare mythology in Nightshade, the expansion of the world is welcomed.

The writing's good. The mythology's gotten better. But until I can actually LIKE these characters--their personalities and choices--I can't give above two stars.


Fins Are Forever: I'm going to pretend Forgive My Fins was the end.

On Lily Sanderson’s eighteenth birthday she’ll become just a girl—still a mergirl, true, but signing the renunciation will ink Princess Waterlily of Thalassinia out of existence. That leaves plain old Lily living on land, dating the boy she loves, and trying to master this being-human thing once and for all.

Now that Lily and Quince are together, mer bond or not, she’s almost content to give up her place in the royal succession of Thalassinia. But just when she thinks she has everything figured out, the waves start to get rough. Lily’s father sends a certain whirlpool-stirring cousin to stay with her on land. What did Doe do to get herself exiled from Thalassinia and stuck in terraped form when everyone knows how much she hates humans? And why why why is she batting her eyelashes at Lily’s former crush, Brody?

The seafoam on the raging surf comes when a merboy from Lily’s past shows up—Tellin asks Lily for something that clouds her view of the horizon. There’s a future with Quince on land, her loyalty to the kingdom in the sea, and Lily tossing on the waves in the middle. Will she find a way to reconcile her love, her duty, and her own dreams?

Tera Lynn Childs’s sequel to Forgive My Fins offers another tail-flicking romance with plenty of fun, sun, and underwater adventure.

Book Review

Title: Fins Are Forever
Author: Tera Lynn Childs
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: June 28, 2011

My Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

This series should have ended with book one. Forgive My Fins was a fluffy, funny beach read, but the plot in this sequel has nowhere to go. Creating unnecessary melodrama does not a plot make. And based on the said melodrama, it appears there will be even ANOTHER book.

Part of my problem with this series? I do not like Lily as a character. She whined and nagged and shrieked for most of book one, but I tolerated it because Quince's devotion was so adorable and there were some funny lines. But book two? Lily hasn't changed much, and there's not enough Quince to make up for it. And maybe it's the love of a Republic in me, but I don't see why it's so important Lily become queen someday. Why is she better suited to be the leader of a kingdom, just because her dad was the king? The plot struggles to make something of substance out of nothing, and major eye rolls ensue with the trying-too-hard melodrama at the end. For me, I'll just pretend Forgive My Fins was the end.

Illusions: Enough with the love triangle drama, please

Laurel hasn't seen Tamani since she begged him to let her go last year. Though her heart still aches, Laurel is confident that David was the right choice.

But just as life is returning to normal, Laurel discovers that a hidden enemy lies in wait. Once again, Laurel must turn to Tamani to protect and guide her, for the danger that now threatens Avalon is one that no faerie thought would ever be possible. And for the first time, Laurel cannot be sure that her side will prevail.

Book Review

Title: Illusions
Author: Aprilynne Pike
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: May 3, 2011

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

4/5 of this book is love triangle drama. Laurel is one of the most annoying, whiny, selfish heroines in all of YA.

Can I just say, I've read three mediocre books now waiting for a certain moment between two characters, and all I got was a couple of paragraphs. Talk about a letdown.

This series should not have been dragged out to four books. I've been sticking around for Tamani, but after Illusions, I'm done. (Okay, almost done. I'll probably skim #4 for all things Tamani, but that's it.)

Vanish: Sophie Jordan knows how to write one steamy kiss

To save the life of the boy she loves, Jacinda did the unthinkable: She betrayed the most closely-guarded secret of her kind. Now she must return to the protection of her pride knowing she might never see Will again—and worse, that because his mind has been shaded, Will’s memories of that fateful night and why she had to flee are gone.

Back home, Jacinda is greeted with hostility and must work to prove her loyalty for both her sake and her family’s. Among the few who will even talk to her are Cassian, the pride’s heir apparent who has always wanted her, and her sister, Tamra, who has been forever changed by a twist of fate. Jacinda knows that she should forget Will and move on—that if he managed to remember and keep his promise to find her, it would only endanger them both. Yet she clings to the hope that someday they will be together again. When the chance arrives to follow her heart, will she risk everything for love?

In bestselling author Sophie Jordan’s dramatic follow-up to Firelight, forbidden love burns brighter than ever.

Book Review

Title: Vanish
Author: Sophie Jordan
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: September 6, 2011

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I admit: as soon as I opened Vanish, I skipped ahead to read a highly anticipated reunion scene. (I mean, I have been looking forward to this moment for almost 365 least, that's how I justified it.) Once I was satiated, I decided to behave myself and read the book in order from page 1...and I kept burning through the pages until I'd read Vanish in one sitting. Sophie Jordan's writing flows like a seasoned pro's. It's easy to lose yourself in these pages, to glance up and realize 100 pages have melted away because you're so immersed. A lot of the clunkiness, the overwrought descriptions and awkward dialogue, that plague other YA novels are refreshingly absent from Sophie Jordan's writing. And WOW does she know her romance.

And let's just say it again: Sophie Jordan knows how to write one steamy kiss. (I admit--the romance is my favorite part of Firelight. A bit shallow, I know.) I've read other YA novels written by adult romance novelists, and Sophie Jordan hands down does the most skillful job of taking those romance talents and creating a fresh, compelling, steamy-yet-appropriate novel for teens.

And let's talk love triangles. Some are abhorrent. And some give you all kinds of butterflies. For me, this love triangle is the latter. Sophie has developed Cassian into this layered, tender, protective, caring character with hidden depths, and though I doubted it would be possible after Firelight, he is definitely some formidable competition for Will. (But we all know I'm cheering for Tamra and Cassian! And speaking of Tamra and her character arc, I just have to say, I so called it back in Firelight.) Jacinda's grown as a character, too. She's still a wee bit selfish at times, but many of the mistakes she makes in Vanish are when she's trying to do the right thing and help other people and fix her wrongs. She just never has been given a choice. She feels trapped between loyalty, love, and duty, and that desperation created by never having had a choice in her own outcome drives her to make some mistakes that she will try to repair at any cost.

Sophie Jordan throws some game-changing twists in there, too, keeping the story riveting. I cannot wait to see the next chapter for Jacinda, Will, Cassian, and Tamra. (I have some predictions, like always, and I can't wait for the final story to unfold.)

Graffiti Moon: Brilliantly clever, touchingly poignant, and achingly funny

"Let me make it in time. Let me meet Shadow. The guy who paints in the dark. Paints birds trapped on brick walls and people lost in ghost forests. Paints guys with grass growing from their hearts and girls with buzzing lawn mowers."

It’s the end of Year 12. Lucy’s looking for Shadow, the graffiti artist everyone talks about.

His work is all over the city, but he is nowhere.

Ed, the last guy she wants to see at the moment, says he knows where to find him. He takes Lucy on an all-night search to places where Shadow’s thoughts about heartbreak and escape echo around the city walls.

But the one thing Lucy can’t see is the one thing that’s right before her eyes.

Book Review

Title: Graffiti Moon
Author: Cath Crowley
Publisher: Knopf Books
Publication Date: February 14, 2012

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Graffiti Moon is one of the most stirring novels I've read all year. At times brilliantly clever, at times touchingly poignant, at times achingly funny, Graffiti Moon is so captivating that I blew through it in one sitting. These characters breathe and the imagery of the art feels palpable. And WOW that is some gorgeous prose. I could pull dozens of lines from this book that made me view the world with whole new eyes. It's brimming with these beautiful, tragic metaphors and images and descriptions that create such an emotional atmospheric presence.

I've been awaiting Graffiti Moon's journey to the States for months after hearing so many rave reviews from Australia, and Cath Crowley did not disappoint. The quirky, artsy vibe and alternating points of view reminded me of another Aussie novel, Beatle Meets Destiny (but minus the cheating part). After reading over 100 YA novels a year, I find the tropes and cliched plots and cut-out characters seem to blend together, which is why the whimsy and quirky and cleverness of Graffiti Moon is so refreshing. Crowley creates the imagery of Ed and Lucy's art with such a vivid, skilled hand that these words feel tangible. I think the narrative would have worked better without Leo's poetry interspersed throughout, but alternating between Ed and Lucy is the perfect way to tell this touching story. To the folks at Random House, thank you for bringing this Aussie gem to the states.

Content: Because of the seriousness of some of the subjects and the characters' propensity for strong language, this book may be more appropriate for older teens and adults

Wildefire: These characters need a big dose of likeability

Every flame begins with a spark.

Ashline Wilde is having a rough sophomore year. She’s struggling to find her place as the only Polynesian girl in school, her boyfriend just cheated on her, and now her runaway sister, Eve, has decided to barge back into her life. When Eve’s violent behavior escalates and she does the unthinkable, Ash transfers to a remote private school nestled in California’s redwoods, hoping to put the tragedy behind her. But her fresh start at Blackwood Academy doesn’t go as planned. Just as Ash is beginning to enjoy the perks of her new school—being captain of the tennis team, a steamy romance with a hot, local park ranger—Ash discovers that a group of gods and goddesses have mysteriously enrolled at Blackwood…and she’s one of them. To make matters worse, Eve has resurfaced to haunt Ash, and she’s got some strange abilities of her own. With a war between the gods looming over campus, Ash must master the new fire smoldering within before she clashes with her sister one more time… And when warm and cold fronts collide, there’s guaranteed to be a storm.

Book Review

Title: Wildefire
Author: Karsten Knight
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: July 26, 2011

My Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

This premise is bursting with potential, but these characters need a big dose of likeability. While I commend Knight for his bold choice to write from a female POV, Ash's voice needs some work. The dialogue and narrative is littered with crude words and phrases that I'd venture to say many (most?) females just don't use. It's like the Beautiful Creatures syndrome in the inverse.

However, there is simmering potential in both the premise and writing, so I'll definitely be checking out the sequel.

(But what was with that ending? I kept swiping my finger at the screen trying to turn the page, thinking my iPad had frozen or something. Nope. That was the last page.)

And can I just say, that is one GORGEOUS cover.

Side note: Anyone else notice that this takes place in the same small town as Aprilynne Pike's Wings series? Who knew there were fairies, trolls, and goddesses all hanging out in the same small town of Orick, CA.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ultraviolet: So unexpected in a VERY good way...

Once upon a time there was a girl who was special.

This is not her story.

Unless you count the part where I killed her.

Sixteen-year-old Alison has been sectioned in a mental institute for teens, having murdered the most perfect and popular girl at school. But the case is a mystery: no body has been found, and Alison's condition is proving difficult to diagnose. Alison herself can't explain what happened: one minute she was fighting with Tori -- the next she disintegrated. Into nothing. But that's impossible. Right?

Book Review

Title: Ultraviolet
Author: R.J. Anderson
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Publication Date: September 1, 2011

My Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

So unexpected in such a good way. It's impossible to talk about how amazing this book is without delving into spoiler territory, so I'm keeping my recommendation vague and short: READ THIS.

You start with that stellar hook (kudos to R.J. for captivating me from chapter zero) and you think you know what type of book Ultraviolet is going to be, but then it completely twists and morphs through different genres to become an entirely different book. And R. J. Anderson makes it WORK.

(Can I just say how refreshing it is to have a scientific explanation for a character's special abilities? None of this you have these powers 'cuz you just do. Nope. There is a brilliant explanation for everything that happens in this book, and I. LOVED. IT.)

I recommend going into this one blind. I didn't even read the blurb--I just started reading--and that enhanced the experience of immersing myself in this absorbing, mind-bending novel.

Lastly, that GORGEOUS writing. There is some stunning imagery in Ultraviolet that touches all of the senses. I was swept away by the unique, stirring descriptions for the way Alison senses the world. It's unlike anything I've read this year. Where did R.J. come up with so many different ways to describe the mundane things we see and hear every day? Seriously, that's some beautiful writing.

Avoid spoilers like mad and go read this book.

Heart on a Chain: Should be required reading for every mean girl

17-year-old Kate has lived her whole life in abject poverty, with an alcoholic father and drug-addicted mother, who severely abuses Kate. At school, her second-hand clothing marks her as a target. Her refusal to stand up for herself makes her the recipient of her classmates taunts and bullying. That is, until Henry returns.

Henry Jamison moved away six years earlier, just as he and Kate had begun an to develop feelings for one another. He returns to find the bright, funny, outgoing girl he had known now timidly hiding in corners, barely speaking to anyone around her, suspicious of even him.

Kate can’t figure out what game Henry is playing with her - for surely it is a game. What else would the gorgeous, popular boy from her past want with her?

Kate finally decides to trust Henry’s intentions, opening her heart to him. Just when it seems he might be genuine in his friendship, tragedy strikes, threatening everything Kate has worked so hard to gain. Can Henry help her to overcome this new devastation, or will it tear them apart forever?

Book Review

Title: Heart on a Chain
Author: Cindy C. Bennett
Publisher: Self Published

My Rating: 4 out 5 stars

Cindy C. Bennett, you know how to make me cry. I'm not much of a book crier, but you've made me weep through not just one book, but TWO. You have some magic button that just unleashes my tear ducts so that I find myself sobbing while reading. And then, you add these crazy-good, awwww endings that make me smile through my tears. May we have some more, please?

I devoured Cindy's book Geek Girl and couldn't stop thinking about it. Her writing and characters draw me in and make me feel like I'm present for everything--that I'm watching my best friend live these events. I have now read BOTH of Cindy's books in one sitting each because I care so much about these characters that I can't stop without knowing the conclusion of their story.

While Geek Girl is a little lighter, a littler fluffier, Heart on a Chain tackles some serious issues: abuse and bullying. You can't read this book without it making you want to be a nicer, better person. It exposes the effects of bullying in a way that tore at my heart. It showed how a plea for help may be stifled or go unnoticed because bullying has isolated and destroyed someone to the point where there's no one she can trust to protect her from unimaginable horrors at home. A particular conversation between Kate and a tormentor at the end had me WEEPING as the tormentor realized what her bullying had done--how she had made sure Kate had no friends...and thus no one to confide her terrible secret to.

Every mean girl needs to read this book.

Bad boys, move aside. Cindy sure knows how to write the white knight. Her heroes are squeaky clean and devoted, and it's refreshing to see the anti-jerk get some page time. Cindy's boys are so...non-judgy. Henry and Kate share some sweet chemistry, and Henry's epilogue at the end had me awwwwing because it was so adorable. (Yes, Henry, ADORABLE.)

While the events may border a tiny bit on melodramatic at times, Heart on a Chain made me want to stamp out bullying and sprinkle friendship and kind words all around. I can't think of a better way to teach teenagers the effects of bullying. This is a story of abuse, redeeming love, and forgiveness that's unforgettable.

Tiger's Quest: A magical tale of adventure and romance! November has never felt so far away...

Kelsey Hayes is no ordinary college freshman. In fact, the eighteen-year-old girl has just returned from India, where she risked her life—and her heart—to rescue a handsome Indian prince from a terrible curse. Back home in Oregon, Kelsey is determined to move on, despite the lingering feelings she has for the man she left behind. She meets Li, a completely average guy who offers the promise of an ordinary, curse-free life. But just when Kelsey is ready to move on, Ren reenters her life, on a quest to reclaim her heart. Danger threatens their newly rekindled love and to save him, Kelsey must journey with someone else—a man who wants her for himself. The saga begun in Tiger’s Curse continues in Tiger’s Quest, as Kelsey finds herself in an epic battle between good and evil. From the shores of the Pacific Northwest to the jungles of India, the mountains of Nepal and Tibet, and the mystical realm of Shangri-la, this suspenseful tale of love, sacrifice, and redemption is not to be missed.

Book Review

Title: Tiger's Quest
Author: Colleen Houck
Publisher: Splinter
Publication Date: June 7, 2011

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I liked Tiger's Curse, but I LOVED Tiger's Quest. I initially gave this book four stars, but I'm upping it to five because I cannot stop thinking about it. As soon as I turned the last page, I preordered Tiger's Voyage because I am in desperate need of a resolution for that cliffhanger!

Colleen Houck is a storyteller. The writing is not perfect, but I am willing to overlook the flaws because the characters are so compelling, the romance so sizzling, and the quest so epic. Reading this book evoked so many emotions--from swooning to laughter to heartbreak--that I can forgive the book if it's heavy on descriptions or the dialogue's awkward at times. Reading this book makes you FEEL so much, which attests to the strength of Colleen's storytelling.

I felt smothered with details when I read Tiger's Curse, but maybe I'm just used to the writing now because I could not put Tiger's Quest down. Every writer has her strength, and Colleen knows how to write chemistry between her characters. Aaaah, the romance. These books ooze with swoony moments--little fleeting touches, captivating gazes, and delicious kisses that all leave you breathless. (I think I'm starting to sound like I'm 13.) Let's just say Colleen knows how to write a compelling, clean romance between endearing characters.

Yes, there's a love triangle, but Colleen lets it develop so naturally, so believably that I now find myself rooting for both brothers. I can't remember the last time I loved both sides of a YA love triangle this much. The triangle is actually integral to the plot and serves a purpose instead of an author just throwing in another male character to up the amount of kissing scenes and sell Team Whoever t-shirts.

At the end of Tiger's Curse, I didn't know how Colleen was going to make me cheer for Kishan (I mean, I liked him, but it was obvious Kelsey should be with Ren) but Colleen managed to make Kishan so charming and endearing that I now want both brothers to get their happy ending. (And yes, Cait, I had to read the baby part several times because it was just tugging at my heart.) The dynamic between these brothers is riveting, and I'm eagerly anticipating their interactions in Tiger's Voyage. Kishan, I don't know how this can end well for you--you just know there's heartbreak in store--but you made Tiger's Quest entrancing.

Colleen has woven magic, romance, and adventure into this captivating tale of betrayal, redemption, and love. I am so invested in these characters at this point. And after that amazing sneak peek at Tiger's Voyage, November has never felt so far away.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Supernaturally: 5 Seriously Sparkly Stars!

Evie finally has the normal life she’s always longed for. But she’s shocked to discover that being ordinary can be . . . kind of boring. Just when Evie starts to long for her days at the International Paranormal Containment Agency, she’s given a chance to work for them again. Desperate for a break from all the normalcy, she agrees.

But as one disastrous mission leads to another, Evie starts to wonder if she made the right choice. And when Evie’s faerie ex-boyfriend Reth appears with devastating revelations about her past, she discovers that there’s a battle brewing between the faerie courts that could throw the whole supernatural world into chaos. The prize in question? Evie herself.

So much for normal.

Book Review

Title: Supernaturally
Author: Kiersten White
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: July 26, 2011


Oh, bleep! It was SO. GOOD.

Let me just say I was torn between reading at a crazy, feverish, I-am-consumed-by-this-book pace and slowing down to savor each delicious word and laugh-out-loud line.

As I ended up reading Supernaturally in 3.5 hours, I obviously opted to drink from the fire hose instead of sipping daintily from a tea cup.

Kiersten White, you are the word maestro. You really upped the hilarity quotient in this sequel with your clever turns of phrase and laugh-out-loud lines sprinkled on every page. You know that part where Lend gives Evie a gift (which she loves) and Evie says, "Well, you've set a ridiculously high standard for yourself. Should have started out with something tacky."? That's how I felt after Paranormalcy. You'd set the bar so high for yourself (no short jokes intended). Could you do it again?

My answer is a RESOUNDING YES!

It's been six months since Evie and Lend's escape from the International Paranormal Containment Agency. Evie's finally gotten the "normal" life she's always longed for: high school, a job, an apartment, a locker. But Evie's finding that normal is...kind of boring. So when Raquel and IPCA come calling, swearing they've kind of changed their ways, Evie's drawn back in by the lure of the excitement of her former life (and helping out Raquel). The best part for Evie: no more trips through the faerie paths with psychotic faeries thanks to IPCA's newest teenage phenom, Jack.

Oh, Jack. With your cocky attitude, all-kinds-of-funny wit, and dimpled audacity, you had me laughing from hello. Jack, thy name is Cheeky. (I just had to throw that little ode in to one of my favorite new characters of 2011.)

I don't know if Jack has a real-life inspiration, but if he does, heaven help that boy's poor mother.

Kiersten White knows her stuff. She seems well aware of YA tropes and avoids them at every turn with her refreshing characters, unexpected plot points, and authentic relationships. Kiersten seems to know we're tired of love triangles. And clingy, over-dependent heroines. And cliffhangers. (There is no the-building's-burning-and-we-don't-know-who-gets-out-alive for our Supernaturally ending. *ahem, Demonglass*) Kiersten lovingly pokes fun at many of these well-worn YA tropes and creates something fresh and fun--an absolute pleasure to read.

Each moment where I thought the story could descend into predictability, Kiersten White took it in another direction of total awesomeness.

And Evie. I heart Evie. There are YA heroines I respect. Others with which I sympathize. Some I relate to. But Evie, she's in the very tiny category of YA heroines I'd want to be friends with. SUCH A FRESH VOICE. She's sassy and clever and witty and relatable and sparkly. She's tough yet vulnerable. And she likes pink. Kiersten draws these characters with such a vivid hand.

The pacing? Genius. It was unputdownable. And unforgettable. I've read it three times now because it was that good. There was an "oh my gosh, what's going to happen next" read, an "I am so savoring this" read, and a "good parts--wait that's all the book" read. I am an unabashed fangirl at this point.

Fans of Paranormalcy, start counting down to July 26.

P.S. That cover is all kinds of gorgeous.

P.P.S. And Kiersten, I was waiting to see where you'd fit in the usage of "cleavagization" and now I know. =)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Goddess Test: Engaging writing will draw you in but a lot of license has been taken...

It's always been just Kate and her mom—and her mother is dying. Her last wish? To move back to her childhood home. So Kate's going to start at a new school with no friends, no other family and the fear her mother won't live past the fall.

Then she meets Henry. Dark. Tortured. And mesmerizing. He claims to be Hades, god of the Underworld—and if she accepts his bargain, he'll keep her mother alive while Kate tries to pass seven tests.

Kate is sure he's crazy—until she sees him bring a girl back from the dead. Now saving her mother seems crazily possible. If she succeeds, she'll become Henry's future bride, and a goddess.

Book Review

Title: The Goddess Test
Author: Aimee Carter
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: April 19, 2011

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Aimee Carter's The Goddess Test is a unique, modern reimagining of the Persephone myth. Kate Winters fulfills her dying mother's wish by returning her to her childhood home, where Kate meets the engimatic Henry. Kate makes a bargain with Henry to save a friend, and now Kate must pass seven tests for the chance to say goodbye to her mother and save Henry. But someone doesn't want Kate to pass...and will do anything to stop her.

The Goddess Test sparkles with engaging writing, a caring heroine, and a loving mother/daughter relationship. Compulsively readable, The Goddess Test drew me in until I couldn't put it down without knowing how it ended. Classic mythology with its amoral, selfish gods is reshaped to the point where it's almost unrecognizable, but those who don't mind a bit of license taken with the classic stories will enjoy it. This is very sanitized version of mythology, but the target audience will enjoy the slow-simmer relationship between the angsting, tortured Henry and the girl who can show him love and make him want to stay.

The best part of The Goddess Test is the love and concern Kate shows for her mother. So many YA characters disregard their parents (if they even have parents at all!) so Kate's care and compassion for her mother felt unique and refreshing. I was touched reading the sacrifices Kate has been willing to make for her mother and how deeply Kate cares for her mother.

An interesting underlying message of The Goddess Test is revealed in the tests themselves. Knowing this book involves Greek mythology, I expected the tests to be EPIC and grand in scale and nature. However, many of the tests are so subtle that Kate doesn't even realize they're happening. At first, I was disappointed that the tests were not more glorious, but then I realized the message of these seemingly mundane tests. Sometimes, it's not the big, grand things that define us, but the consistent, everyday virtue of our lives. It's the little day-to-day choices that make us who we are--the choices we make when we don't think anyone's watching. While the tests are based on Western values and don't relate particularly well to Greek mythology, I love this message that our daily actions are the best reflections of our character.

With it's engaging writing and caring heroine, The Goddess Test is an enjoyable, light read, perfect for summer vacation.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Long, Long Sleep: Read with Kleenex...

Rosalinda Fitzroy has been asleep for sixty-two years when she is woken by a kiss. Locked away in the chemically-induced slumber of a stasis tube in a forgotten sub-basement, sixteen-year-old Rose slept straight through the Dark Times that killed millions and utterly changed the world she knew.

Now, her parents and her first love are long dead, and Rose – hailed upon her awakening as the long-lost heir to an interplanetary empire – is thrust alone into a future in which she is viewed as either a freak or a threat. Desperate to put the past behind her and adapt to her new world, Rose finds herself drawn to the boy who kissed her awake, hoping that he can help her to start fresh. But when a deadly danger jeopardizes her fragile new existence, Rose must face the ghosts of her past with open eyes – or be left without any future at all.

Book Review

Title: A Long, Long Sleep
Author: Anna Sheehan
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: August 9, 2011

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Anna Sheehan's A Long, Long Sleep has one of the best first chapters I've read all year. I read that first page and couldn't put the book down for the rest of the afternoon. What a hidden gem! The cover is pretty enough, but it absolutely does not convey what a touching, heart-rending story this is.

You read that blurb, and you THINK you know what A Long, Long Sleep is going to be about. You THINK you know exactly where the author's going to take this story (at least I thought I did). And then Sheehan takes these events and writes such an unexpectedly beautiful, startling, tragic story that I was blown away. This book was NOTHING like I thought it was going to a very, VERY good way.

Forgotten in her stasis tube, Rosalinda Fitzroy is awakened after 62 years by a kiss. She struggles to come to terms with the death of her beloved Xavier and everyone she's ever known, and she understandably feels alone and lost in this strange world. Initially, Rose is passive and full of self-loathing and guilt. I've read about many YA heroines in need of a healthy dose of self-worth, and oftentimes the voices of these characters can be unbearable. But not Rose. Don't give up on Rose as she seems to shrivel with self-loathing. As her story unfolds and the REASONS for Rose's self-hate and passivity come to light, she becomes such a tragic, sympathetic character that you just want to love and embrace her. Watching her overcome her past and seeing her character growth was a beautiful, albeit heart-wrenching, journey.

Sheehan's writing shines in her characterization. Her characters are fascinating and well developed, especially my favorite, Otto. Otto, an experimental blue human with alien DNA, is such a poignant, compelling character. He cannot speak aloud, so he and Rose begin communicating through IM chats. After reading the annoying chats in Beastly, I was initially wary of this technique, but Otto and Rose's chemistry instantly won me over. These heartfelt chats quickly became the moments I looked forward to the most. Otto and Rose feel connected to each other through their loss and abandonment, and their devotion and understanding creates a touching relationship.

This story is absolutely devastating at times. Read with Kleenex. A Long, Long Sleep may be called sci-fi, and while it does have a futuristic setting, at its heart, this is a story about child abuse and abandonment. About the aftermath of abuse. About overcoming the tragic hand you've been dealt and learning to LIVE. Yes, there are those annoying future words and few new gadgets but this is not heavy sci-fi. This is a stirring blend of sci-fi lite, mystery, and romance coupled with a serious look at neglect and abuse.

I had an inkling from the beginning about a certain twist of events, and I read the next 250 pages wondering how Sheehan could possibly resolve this situation without a major dose of ick. (Let's just say the relationships in this book are unconventional.) At the end, I was utterly impressed--Sheehan crafts a satisfying resolution for these characters that feels authentic. The end isn't all rainbows and sunshine, but it feels triumphant and hopeful. And that last paragraph? CHILLS. What a powerful ending.

A Long, Long Sleep is a story of overcoming tragedy, of learning to love yourself in the aftermath of abuse. It is a story of love--not just the romantic kind, but of true friendship--and of finding a family in the ones who love you. It is tragic and devastating, but the ultimate message is one of hope and triumph.

Thank you to Candlewick Press for the opportunity to read an ARC of A Long, Long Sleep.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

It feels so real you'll forget it's fiction...these words bleed with authenticity

Clara's relationship with Christian is intense from the start, and like nothing she’s ever experienced before. But what starts as devotion quickly becomes obsession, and it's almost too late before Clara realizes how far gone Christian is—and what he's willing to do to make her stay.

Now Clara has left the city—and Christian—behind. No one back home has any idea where she is, but she still struggles to shake off her fear. She knows Christian won't let her go that easily, and that no matter how far she runs, it may not be far enough....

Book Review:
Stay by Deb Caletti
4 out of 5 stars

In Stay, Deb Caletti masterfully tackles one of the most disturbing trends in YA literature: obsessive, possessive love portrayed as alluring and romantic and passionate. It's not. It's unhealthy and suffocating and alarming.

Finally. FINALLY we have a book that discusses the seriousness of this type of emotional abuse with realism. Where did Deb Caletti do her research? Her words bleed with authenticity. The way she writes Christian is flawless...the flashes and hints of jealousy and neediness and manipulation that build and build and build until something Clara thought was beautiful turns monstrous. It felt so real. Where other authors may have been tempted to take such a serious topic in a sensationalist direction, Deb Caletti keeps the story realistic with such clear purpose.[For example, other authors may have been temped to have Christian come after Clara with a weapon. While that may have been suspenseful, I think Caletti's approach is much more realistic. (hide spoiler)]

Caletti's lyrical prose is rich with metaphors and gorgeous phrases that had me reading certain paragraphs again and again to absorb their beautiful messages. Her words create layers of meaning without being overly dramatic, and her reflections on serious topics and even the ordinary are poignant and stirring.

Clara. Oh, that voice. That stark honesty. Clara's first-person narrative is so emotionally gripping. With her vulnerability and candor and believability, she became such a compelling character...a person I truly cared about. I admit: the majority of YA female narrators drive me CRAZY. My list of YA heroines I actually like is a small one. But Clara felt so real and so sympathetic and so broken and yet so strong that I became completely invested in her story. Her honesty drew me in, and I felt immersed in her narrative.

Stay is a haunting story with such realism you'll forget it's fiction. It's an unflinching portrayal of the true nature of possessive, obsessive love...a cautionary tale YA literature has been in desperate need of.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read Stay!

Content: Stay addresses mature topics, and several characters cuss like sailors (although maybe Finn and Jack get a pass because they actually are sailors). The serious subject matter and strong language may make Stay more appropriate for older teens and adults

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jellicoe Road: Don't stop reading it--the way Melina Marchetta weaves these plot threads together is brilliant

"What do you want from me?" he asks. What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him. More.

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn't a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all.

In this absorbing story by Melina Marchetta, nothing is as it seems and every clue leads to more questions as Taylor tries to work out the connection between her mother dumping her, Hannah finding her then and her sudden departure now, a mysterious stranger who once whispered something in her ear, a boy in her dreams, five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago, and the maddening and magnetic Jonah Griggs, who knows her better than she thinks he does. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future.

Book Review:
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

5 out of 5 stars

I read this on a coast-to-coast plane trip, and the pages just melted away I was so engrossed. It's my first Melina Marchetta, and I cannot stop thinking about this book--its characters, its messages, its journey of healing and forgiveness are unforgettable.

I'll admit: I was confused for the first 100 pages, but I didn't give up (probably because it was this or the Skymall). The more I read, the more riveted I became until I could not look away. The way Melina Marchetta wove these plot threads together into this profound tapestry of a novel left me wonderstruck.

Where's my copy of Finnikan of the Rock? This woman is brilliant.

Content: This book contains some mature themes probably more suitable for older teens and adults

Thursday, April 7, 2011

13 to Life: Strange pacing and one of the lamest plot devices ever

Everything about Jessie Gillmansen’s life changed when her mother died. Now even her hometown of Junction is changing. Mysterious dark things are happening. All Jessie wants is to avoid more change. But showing a hot new guy around Junction High, she’s about to discover a whole new type of change. Pietr Rusakova is more than good looks and a fascinating accent—he’s a guy with a dangerous secret. And his very existence is sure to bring big trouble to Jessie’s small town. It seems change is the one thing Jessie can’t avoid...

Book Review:

13 to Life by Shannon Delany

3 out of 5 stars

I picked up the sequel, Secrets and Shadows, and I realized I remembered almost nothing from 13 to Life, so I thought I'd read it again. What a mistake. Rereading 13 to Life only reminded me of the three things I hated about it when I read the book the first time.

1. LAMEST. PLOT. DEVICE. EVER. Jessie likes Pietr. Pietr likes Jessie. So Jessie "unselfishly" tells Pietr to be with her best frenemy, Sarah, because that's the "honorable" thing to do. What is honorable about telling the boy you love--and who loves you--to be with your psychotic friend and then kissing him behind her back? YA books seem to have to find a way for the lovers to be star-crossed--a reason why they can't be together--but this is the WORST excuse I've ever seen. I can't be with you because my friend likes you. Even though you don't like her. So pretend you like her and I'll kiss you when she's not around. Ugh.

2. The events of this book take place over, like, two weeks. I added up the days the first time I read 13 to Life, and the book spanned something like 2-3 weeks. Love like that doesn't happen in two weeks. I mean, Pietr's passionately kissing Jessie at the football game after knowing her TWO DAYS. The love and attraction between Pietr and Jessie (as claimed by the book) would be much more powerful if the story actually let them GET TO KNOW EACH OTHER FIRST. They meet. They're immediately in love. With barely even any conversation.

3. Pietr's secret isn't revealed until the final few pages, even though it's obvious to the reader within the first few pages. This created really strange pacing. So much of the plot is wrapped around Pietr finally revealing his secret to Jessie, but the author drags this plot point out for the entire book, and I grew impatient. This should have been revealed much, much earlier--the secret is TOO OBVIOUS to the reader, and I grew frustrated with Jessie for not realizing and with Pietr for not telling her. I felt the story couldn't move forward until Jessie knew, but the big reveal didn't occur until the very end. Much too late.

Despite these issues, I will read the sequel. Let's hope the author dumps the sham Pietr/Sarah relationship and moves the story forward now that Jessie knows Pietr's secret.

Geek Girl: Made me laugh and smile...I couldn't put it down!

"Think I can turn that boy bad?" 17-year-old Jen turns her life upside down when, out of boredom, she makes a bet that she can turn school geek Trevor into someone like her. Instead, the goth girl finds herself sucked into his world of sci-fi movies, charity work, and even-ugh!-bowling. To truly belong with him-and with her new foster family-she must first come to terms with her violent past.

Book Review:

Geek Girl by Cindy C. Bennett
4 out of 5 stars

There four stars are all for the goofy smile I had on my face while I read this book. It's a light, quick read and not particularly original or ground breaking, but I'm ranking this based on my enjoyment as I read. I read it in one sitting and couldn't stop thinking about the chemistry between Jen and Trevor for the next two days.

I started reading the first 10 chapters for free on the author's website after reading Erica's review, and about 12 pages in, I knew I was going to need to find a copy. This work was originally self-published. The author recently got a publishing deal for it, making it difficult to find a copy of this since it's going to be republished. (Goodreads still offers it as an ebook, thankfully!)

Geek Girl does have some thoughtful messages, mostly a "discover who you are and then love yourself" and "don't be afraid to change, but change for yourself and not for someone else" message. As Jen tries to bring Trevor to the dark side, she begins to change, but she doesn't do it for him--she does it because she's discovering who she wants to be and that she's let the terrible circumstances of her life mold her too much. With the love and support of Trevor and her foster family, she becomes someone new. I loved seeing the transformation, even though it was painful and heart-wrenching at times.

Trevor's perfect for much of the book, but he does reveal his big flaw for the last fourth of the book--that boy can hold a grudge! I had to fight to keep liking his character for the last few chapters, but he did redeem himself at the end.

The author does a make-my-heart-flutter job of letting the love simmer and build, creating realistic timing for the attraction and chemistry between the two main characters. They actually spent time together and *gasp* had conversations before falling love. Bennett's pacing kept me coming back for more and more, until I was so captivated by this book that I couldn't put it down without knowing the conclusion.

Yes, Geek Girl's a little cliche and predictable, but if you're looking for a light, make-you-laugh-and-smile book, check out the first 10 chapters on the author's website and see if this book is for you.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Unearthly: angel story paranormal fans can get behind

In the beginning, there's a boy standing in the trees . . . .

Clara Gardner has recently learned that she's part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn't easy.

Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place—and out of place at the same time. Because there's another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara's less angelic side.

As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she'd have to make—between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?

Unearthly is a moving tale of love and fate, and the struggle between following the rules and following your heart.

Book Review:
Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

5 out of 5 stars angel story we paranormal fans can get behind. Today's angel stories are riddled with weak heroines, obsessive "love interests", and shoddy mythology (Fallen and Halo, anyone?). With its strong characters, swoon-worthy guys, and unique angel lore, Unearthly is now my gold-star standard for angel books.

I grew up on a ranch near where this story takes place, so reading Unearthly felt like coming home. Cynthia Hand creates a vivid setting and characters that spoke to me. She perfectly captures the western charm of Wyoming and Idaho (Tucker, anyone?) and I couldn't put this stunning debut down.

Unearthly really shines in its characterization. Cynthia creates a strong, likeable heroine through Clara's voice and actions. Instead of being the well-worn whimpering heroine who needs everyone to save her, Clara is smart and resourceful, yet relatable and believable. Too many authors try to make their heroine appear strong by making her cold or distant or unfeminine, but Clara is warm and kind and isn't afraid to wear a dress. She faces challenges and struggles but doesn't let them overcome her. (None of that "I'm going to DIIIIIIIE" because of boy troubles for our heroine.) From Clara's friends to her mom, Cynthia Hand creates engaging, believable characters that I care about.

Tucker. You had me from "Carrots." It was Anne and Gilbert all over again, and I loved it. Cynthia weaves some delicious romantic tension between Clara and Tucker that had me coming back chapter after chapter (I may or may not have let my kids play at the park for hours so I could stay on my bench and keep reading). Instead of the ridiculous "I loved you because I saw you from across the hall" that's way too prevalent in today's young adult books, Cynthia lets the attraction simmer and build, with a lot of "pulling the hair" antics and teasing along the way that had me smiling. It felt real and believable, and I LOVED IT.

Unearthly is an enchanting tale oozing with unputdownable qualities. It delivers on the promises made by that gorgeous cover with its believable, likeable characters; intriguing mythology that reveals just enough to be satisfying but holds back some answers for a sequel; and one of the most team-deserving guys to grace the pages of young adult literature in a long time.

I am seriously clamoring for a sequel.

Everlasting: A hidden gem...Adventure and romance combine for an historical fiction thrill ride!

Sailing aboard her father’s trade ship is all seventeen-year-old Camille Rowen has ever wanted. But as a girl of society in 1855 San Francisco, her future is set: marry a man she doesn’t love, or condemn herself and her father to poverty.

On her final voyage before the wedding, the stormy arms of the Tasman Sea claim her father, and a terrible family secret is revealed. A secret intertwined with a fabled map, the mother Camille has long believed dead, and an ancient stone that wields a dangerous—and alluring—magic.

The only person Camille can depend on is Oscar, a handsome young sailor whom she is undeniably drawn to. Torn between trusting her instincts and keeping her promises to her father, Camille embarks on a perilous quest into the Australian wilderness to find the enchanted stone. As she and Oscar elude murderous bushrangers and unravel Camille’s father’s lies, they come closer to making the ultimate decision of who—and what—matters most.

Beautifully written and feverishly paced, Everlasting is an unforgettable journey of passion, secrecy, and adventure.

Book Review:
Everlasting by Angie Frazier
5 out of 5 stars

This is a hidden gem of a book. Why haven't we heard more about this one? It combines adventure, romance, and a touch of mysticism into a meticulously researched historical fiction thrill ride. I LOVED IT.

I picked up this book on a whim at the library. I was so intrigued by the jacket flap that I found myself glancing through the pages at the red light by the library's parking lot and every red light thereafter. I couldn't put it down! (Yes, I know--totally not safe.) I couldn't wait to get home and immerse myself in this book. This was another "I read it in one night because it was THAT good!" book. IEverlasting felt unique and refreshing. I wish it had a different title to reflect just how special this tale was. The title "Everlasting" makes it seem so generic--too much like every other teen book published this year with all of these "ever" and "never" and "forever" type titles (I can't keep them straight!). This book was anything but generic--it had a riveting plot, steal-your-breath romance, and exceptional characterization.

Angie Frazier's writing and research shine throughout this brilliant novel. Her cast of characters is delightful, from the dashing Oscar with his charm and loyalty to the loveable con-man Ira with his wit and humor. Her settings are lush and enthralling, from the high seas to the Australian Outback. Unlike so many other novels with their "I loved you for no reason the moment I saw you," Angie creates a simmering romance between Camille and Oscar that gradually intensifies throughout the novel. I was enthralled as I watched the romance unfold--the tender moments and little touches and longing looks had me hooked! I love that Angie let the love simmer--it creates so much delicious romantic tension as a companion for all of the adventure.

With equal parts adventure and romance, Everlasting is sensational! This novel is bursting with plot and adventure with just the right amount of romance to spice things up. I felt like I was reading Romancing the Stone and Pirates of the Caribbean mashed into one enrapturing historical fiction gem.

Sea: A beautiful message of hope wrapped in a beautiful cover

Still haunted by nightmares of her mother's death, fifteen-year-old Sienna Jones reluctantly travels to Indonesia with her father's relief team to help tsunami orphans with their post traumatic stress disorder—something Sienna knows a lot about. Since her mother's plane went missing over the Indian Ocean three years before, Sienna doesn't do anything if it involves the ocean or planes, so this trip is a big step forward.

But the last thing she expects is to fall for Deni, a brooding Indonesian boy who lives at the orphanage, and just so happens to be HOT. When Deni hears a rumor that his father may be alive, Sienna doesn't think twice about running away with him to the epicenter of the disaster. Unfortunately, what they find there could break both their hearts.

A compelling summer romance, Sea marks the arrival of a stunning new voice in YA.

Book Review:
Sea by Heidi Kling
4 out of 5 stars

Sea is unlike anything else I've read this past year. The story is rich and unique--I can't fathom the amount of research that must have gone into this beautiful tale. The characters were compelling and believable--you could feel their emotions, feel their heartache, pain, and love. Seeing the intersecting journeys of healing (for several characters--Sea, Deni, her father) took hold of my heart, and I could not put this down until I knew how it ended.

And the ending? While it may not be what you expected, it was so satisfying. This is not a sad tale--it's a story of healing and redemption, of opening up your heart and finding yourself again after immense tragedy. It's a beautiful message of hope wrapped up in a beautiful cover.

Outside In: The Queen of the Pipes has returned! (Hold on tight--this one's a thrill ride!)

Me? A Leader? Okay, I did prove that there's more to Inside than we knew. That a whole world exists beyond this cube we live in. And finding that led to a major rebellion - between worker scrubs like me and the snobby uppers who rule our world. Make that ruled. Because of me, we're free. I thought that meant I was off the hook, and could go off on my own again - while still touching base with Riley, of course. He's the one upper I think I can trust. But then we learned that there's outside and then there is Outside. And something from Outside wants In.

Book Review:
Outside In by Maria V. Snyder
5 out of 5 stars

The Queen of the Pipes has returned!

Me reading Outside In: What? What?? WHAT??? WHAT????

(In a totally good way--this book is full of intrigue, deceit, and stratagem. I did not see half of these twists coming!)

This is what Across the Universe should have been. Dare I say it? This is what Mockingjay should have been.

Outside In explores the question so often overlooked amidst the cheers at the end of these dystopian books once the crazy regime has been overthrown. WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE REVOLUTION? Yes, the tyrant is what?

What a thrill ride! I was getting mental whiplash from all of the twists and turns of this plot. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, BAM!--I'd get hit from behind with another crazy twist that was absolutely nowhere on my radar. Don't you just love reading a book where you're so immersed the pages just melt away and all of a sudden you look up and you've read 100 pages without even noticing? That is Outside In for me.

I heart Trella. She's a little rough around the edges at times, but talk about a plucky, spirited heroine with mad skills, crazy courage, and loads of determination and loyalty. Sure, she's a little reckless at times, but when she risks her life, it's for a reason. (Take notice, Nora Gray.) And it's a good reason. Trella puts herself in danger's path for the cause she so passionately believes in and to save those she fiercely loves. NOT BECAUSE SHE'S STUPID. (That's directed at 2/3 of YA heroines these days.) Yeah, she needs to add a pinch of "verbally expressing tender emotion" capabilities to her skill set during parts of this book, but she shows her love through her actions. THIS GIRL HAS GUTS!

And one of the best parts? Seeing Trella's growth in this book. Yes, she's just as resourceful and tenacious as in Inside Out, but she faces her fear of making mistakes, of being responsible for others, of doing the "clean up" after rushing in to save the day. I loved seeing Trella tentatively test and then embrace her ability to love, forgive, and accept, especially when it came to her mother, and to see her acknowledge and accept that she loves Riley.

Yes, there's the obligatory YA Book 2 break up, but while this one did further the plot, it didn't scream LAME PLOT DEVICE. It felt very in-character for Riley and Trella. Trella was still coming to terms with loving and caring for another on a deeply personal level, and it hurt Riley too much to have Trella keep pushing him away.

And while it's probably not realistic for a 17-year-old to lead this enclosed society, I'm willing to suspend reality because I LOVE THIS SERIES AND THESE CHARACTERS. After initially faltering and cringing away from being a part of the leadership of the new world, Trella steps up (almost too late) and embraces her role as a unifier and leader, and for the rest of the book, she shows why she's the Queen of the Pipes. There is no curling up on drugs in a hospital wing *coughs, Katniss* for our heroine.

I don't know if this is the end of our adventures with Trella and Riley, but WOW what a ride it's been.

Content: Unlike Inside Out, a couple of scenes in Outside In are on the more mature side, so I wouldn't recommend it for younger teens. These scenes weren't really necessary, so you could easily skip them if they bothered you

Prom and Prejudice:A delightful modern retelling that captures the essence and feel of the original

After winter break, the girls at the very prestigious Longbourn Academy become obsessed with the prom. Lizzie Bennet, who attends Longbourn on a scholarship, isn’t interested in designer dresses and expensive shoes, but her best friend, Jane, might be — especially now that Charles Bingley is back from a semester in London.

Lizzie is happy about her friend’s burgeoning romance but less than impressed by Charles’s friend, Will Darcy, who’s snobby and pretentious. Darcy doesn’t seem to like Lizzie either, but she assumes it’s because her family doesn’t have money. Clearly, Will Darcy is a pompous jerk — so why does Lizzie find herself drawn to him anyway?

Will Lizzie’s pride and Will’s prejudice keep them apart? Or are they a prom couple in the making? Whatever the result, Elizabeth Eulberg, author of The Lonely Hearts Club, has concocted a very funny, completely stylish delight for any season — prom or otherwise.

Book Review:
Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg
4 out of 5 stars

I have read a lot of retellings of Pride and Prejudice (one of my absolute favorite books). Some are okay; some are downright dreadful. Somewhere, Jane Austen's gotta be rolling in her grave at the sacrilege some people have committed regarding her works.

Now, let me say this: Prom and Prejudice is my new favorite retelling of the beloved classic. Elizabeth Eulberg perfectly balances the fresh and modern with the classic and original to create a surprisingly delightful tale. Predictability is often a problem with retelling well-known works, but Eulberg manages to throw in surprises and twists that smash all predictability, while staying true to the essence and feel of the original. I've got to say, I am impressed.

To demonstrate how much I enjoyed this book: I read the whole thing in one evening and turned around and read it again the next day. At 227 pages, it's a quick read, which is so refreshing after reading all of these bloated young adult books in badly need of an editor (Halo, anyone?) or books where it feels like the author is tossing in words at random to get to 350 pages. Prom and Prejudice is tight and concise in a good way with near perfect pacing, giving it that unputdownable quality I'm always craving.

Elizabeth Eulberg writes engaging characters and manages to brilliantly modernize their faults. I found myself even enjoying the parts where Eulberg veers slightly from the source material. (Dare I say it? She even made me like Collins!) Although Mrs. Bennet dishes up some hilarious lines in both the book and the movie, I'm always mortified and embarrassed on Lizzie's behalf at her mother's behavior. I'm thankful Eulberg dumped all of Mrs. Bennet's bad qualities on Lydia (whom I've always despised) and gave Lizzie a nice, normal mother instead.

How fun is it to read a modern, teenage version of Darcy? I loved it. The essence of Lizzie and Darcy and their relationship ooze from this book, and Eulberg captures the romance tension of the original in a way that I couldn't put this book down. Her explanations of how pride and prejudices are keeping these beloved literary characters apart are accessible and modernized. (My husband needs to read these explanations--I made him finally watch the BBC movie with me, and he hated it. He didn't get the whole "pride and prejudice" standing in the way, insisting Lizzie only started to like Darcy once she saw his house. I will not tolerate anyone calling Lizzie Bennet a gold digger.)

And Prom and Prejudice's ending? I didn't see that coming. Just another example of how Eulberg scatters surprises throughout to make a fresh, delightful tale that hopefully will lead readers to take on the original.