Monday, June 28, 2010

Middle Grade Monday: The Higher Power of Lucky

Author: Susan Patron
Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks
Pages: 134
Reading Level: Ages 9 to 12 years old
Source: Purchased/Own
Newbery Medal: 2007

Description of book as taken from GoodReads:

Lucky, age ten, can't wait another day. The meanness gland in her heart and the crevices full of questions in her brain make running away from Hard Pan, California (population 43), the rock-bottom only choice she has.
It's all Brigitte's fault -- for wanting to go back to France. Guardians are supposed to stay put and look after girls in their care! Instead Lucky is sure that she'll be abandoned to some orphanage in Los Angeles where her beloved dog, HMS Beagle, won't be allowed. She'll have to lose her friends Miles, who lives on cookies, and Lincoln, future U.S. president (maybe) and member of the International Guild of Knot Tyers. Just as bad, she'll have to give up eavesdropping on twelve-step anonymous programs where the interesting talk is all about Higher Powers. Lucky needs her own -- and quick.

But she hadn't planned on a dust storm.

Or needing to lug the world's heaviest survival-kit backpack into the desert.

Recently, I have been catching up on reading Middle Grade Fiction from my TBR pile. Susan Patron's The Higher Power of Lucky had been highly recommended and I knew if I could just sit down with it I would probably love it. There is something about Middle Grade stories that can be amazing and Patron's book has it all. Characters that come alive, a setting that feels like you can step right into it, and a sense of hope that reaches in and touches you in deep places. Long after putting it down, you'll find yourself thinking about Lucky and her life in Hard Pan, a teeny-tiny town out in the California desert.

Lucky lost her mother at age 8 due to an accident. Consequently, Lucky lugs around a survival bag just in case. After the death of her mother, Lucky's father arranges for his first wife to move from France to be Lucky's guardian. Brigitte misses France and Lucky is afraid that one day Brigitte will return to France and she will be forced to go to an orphanage. Inspired by the stories that Lucky hears while eavesdropping on various 12 Step Programs, she decides that if she can find her "higher power" she will know what to do. When Lucky believes that she has hit "rock bottom", she decides to runaway from home. The journey teaches her what family really is and helps her to finally deal with the loss of her mother.

As I reading The Higher Power of Lucky, I just knew I wanted to share it with my students. I want to do more than just recommend this book. Though I know both boys and girls will enjoy reading Lucky's story, I am almost afraid that some of my reluctant readers won't give it a chance. I want to make sure that students meet Lucky because I know if I can just get them to meet her they will love her as much as I do. Hence, this will be a story I use either for a book club or a classroom read aloud.

I encourage you to pick up The Higher Power of Lucky. It will make you laugh, and cry and believe just a little more.

Happy Summer Reading,
- Aly

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Steampunk Sunday: Leviathan

Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld; Illustrated by Keith Thompson

Publisher: Simon Schuster
Pages: 434
Reading Level: 10 and Up
Enjoyment Level: High

Close friends will know that I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time. I saw Scott Westerfeld in Houston before Leviathan came out and he shared a few of the gorgeous illustrations with us. It was amazing! Now it’s time to review the book…


It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. The Leviathan is a living airship, the most formidable airbeast in the skies of Europe.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With the Great War brewing, Alek's and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way - taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure. One that will change both their lives forever.

I probably should’ve known this already, but the mix of fabricated animals and machinery surprised me when I started reading Leviathan. I don’t know where my mind was, I guess, but it’s nice to be surprised! Lol. The weaving of the two “worlds” in this is seamless and makes for extremely interesting reading. I also really loved seeing how fabricated animals and machinery made for opposite sides of World War I.

I can’t really say anything about the plot or characters that can’t already be summed up in the words, “Scott Westerfeld is a masterful storyteller.” If anything, I can say that I wish I was as good as he is at intertwining character and plot, giving a beautiful setting, and staying as true as possible to history in a Steampunk novel.

So I’ll also touch on the illustrations. Really, just a touch… They’re gorgeous.

It’s a little difficult to review a book that is so well-crafted. It’s art, and that is amazing to read. Oddly enough, I didn’t find the story compelling enough to finish the book in eight hours. I didn’t feel the need to stay up until I was finished with it. I suppose that I could write a lot more about that, but I won’t here. Just know that in my head, I’m wondering why Twilight did so much more to enrapture me than Leviathan, when (sorry guys) Leviathan is the superior book.

(Don’t send me hate-comments for that, lol. I love, love, love Twilight, but we must all call a spade a spade sometimes…)

I will highly recommend Leviathan, though. It’s truly a beautiful piece of storytelling, and you won’t regret reading it. This is one that I think will appeal to boys, reluctant readers, and anyone who enjoys a good tale.

Until next time, go read something good!

~ Vilate

Friday, June 25, 2010

Fantasy Friday: Hourglass

Author: Claudia Gray
Publisher: HarperTeen (March 9, 2010)
Pages: 339
Reading Level: YA
Source: purchased at bookstore

After escaping from Evernight Academy, the vampire boarding school where they met, Bianca and Lucas seek refuge with Black Cross, an elite group of vampire hunters. Bianca must hide her supernatural heritage or risk certain death at their hands. But when Black Cross captures her friend--the vampire Balthazar--all her secrets threaten to come out.
Soon, Bianca and Lucas have orchestrated Balthazar's escape and are on the run, pursued not only by Black Cross, but by the powerful leaders of Evernight. Yet no matter how far they run, Bianca can't escape her destiny.

Bianca has always believed their love could survive anything--but can it survive what's to come?


This third installment in the Evernight series is another knock-out. In this third book in the series, Lucas and Bianca have found a way to be together after the "fall of Evernight Academy" at the end of Stargazer, but  Mrs. Bethany and Evernight are hot on their trail to get back Bianca, all the while Bianca's choice of whether to become a full vampire or not is slowly running out of time. The stakes are higher (and sharper!) in this one, for sure.

Basically, everything I liked in the first two books holds the same for this one. The character development is still exceptional, and we see different sides to these characters who thought we already knew. Mrs. Bethany has always intrigued me in this series -- I never particularly liked her, but I knew there was more to her than meets the eye -- so I was glad to see her character return. Her role in Evernight Academy and the paranormal activity around the campus is slowly revealed to us (although, I still have a few lingering questions for Book 4) and I like that I can never quite peg her as "good" or "bad." Another character we see more of in Hourglass is Bianca's best friend from the school, Raquel, since Raquel leaves with Bianca at the end of Stargazer. I really liked the direction her character went in, because up until now, she has been mostly playing the victim, and there was just a lot of anger and resentment for her character. Seeing Raquel in these new environs and being strong and having her own interests was refreshing, because her character was one of the few in the series who I previously thought was "unnecessary."

In keeping with the character growth, I really liked where Lucas went in this book. I've always loved Lucas' character, but sometimes he came off as stubborn, especially in how he reacted to his and Bianca's problem that she would/might become a vampire and he would remain human. In Hourglass, and I'll try not to go into too much detail, but Bianca's body is making it increasingly obvious that she cannot keep denying who she is supposed to be, which makes for many great scenes where Lucas is forced to put his prejudices aside and take care of her. I really loved this depth to their relationship, because while I always believed that they really cared about each other, there was always something missing. Seeing Bianca's fluctuating health and Lucas' response to that was really great and really made me like them as a couple.

There is more to this novel than the YA romance, though. Balthazar has returned and ends up in the hands of Black Cross, making for inevitable conflict and some decent action sequences. (Side note: I am not a huge fan of Balthazar's character, but I've heard that Claudia Gray is planning to write a spin-off series for his character, so if you feel that his presence is lacking as the Evernight series goes on, you might want to look out for her upcoming books.) And along with the action, is still the question of what the wraiths and vampires have to do with Evernight Academy and why both sides seem to be hunting or haunting Bianca. This storyline is not developed to its fullest, but enough information is shared to have you waiting on tenterhooks for the fourth (and I think, final) book.

Aaaah. the wait is going to be so long, especially after this ending. I would definitely classify the ending of Hourglass as "cliff-hanger." So many tensions present in the novel come to head in the last few chapters: unlikely alliances are formed, unexpected changes occur, and so much more. The pace fluctuated somewhat throughout this book, but the final pages are absolute page-turners. What are we going to do until March 1, 2010 when Afterlife comes out?

Until next time,
Happy Reading!!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review of Shadow Hills

Author: Anastasia Hopcus
Publisher: EgmontUSA (July 13, 2010)
Pages: 400
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: ARC for review

Description (as taken from GoodReads):

His love captivated her... his secrets might kill her.

Since her sister’s mysterious death, Persephone “Phe” Archer has been plagued by a series of disturbing dreams. Determined to find out what happened to her sister, Phe enrolls at Devenish Prep in Shadow Hills, Massachusetts—the subject of her sister’s final diary entry.

After stepping on campus, Phe immediately realizes that there’s something different about this place—an unexplained epidemic that decimated the town in the 1700s, an ancient and creepy cemetery, and gorgeous boy Zach—and somehow she’s connected to it all.

But the more questions she asks and the deeper she digs, the more entangled Phe becomes in the haunting past of Shadow Hills. Finding what links her to this town…might cost her her life.

I have been interested in reading Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus since November 2009 when I heard about it from Kami Garcia. I quickly added it to the list of the books I intended to read for The Story Siren's (Kristi) 2010 Debut Author Challenge And then in late December 2009, I won an ARC contest from Anastasia Hopcus which included the first chapter of Shadow Hills. As I came to the end of the first chapter, I felt like a cruel joke was being played on me. What?! No more to read?! Consequently, I became giddy when I actually obtained an advance reader's copy of Shadow Hills.

In an effort to write a spoiler-free review, I am going to focus on how Shadow Hills lives up to my "this is a good book" criteria. My criteria looks at readability, characters, twists on the paranormal theme, and ease in recommending it.

There were two things that quickly jumped out at me while I was reading Shadow Hills. An author should write in a way that engages the reader from the first chapter. I am pretty adamant about this. There are too many good books out there to waste time struggling through the first 100 pages of a book waiting for something to happen or for it to become interesting. Just as with reading the first chapter of the book, when I was able to finally sit down and read Hopcus's novel, I didn't want to put it down. I wanted to find out more about Persephone “Phe” Archer and the world of Shadow Hills. Part of what really gripped me was how Hopcus is able to reveal her characters' secrets without confusing me or irritating the heck out of me.

As for Anastasia Hopcus's characters, may I just say one word - Zach. Yes, hot boy with powers. I truly think I have a new fictional love interest. Despite Zach's hotness factor, what really is brilliant on Hopcus's part is that both Phe and Zach are equally matched. I am not going to reveal too much because I would then be spoiling it for readers, but let's just say that Phe is no wimpy teenage girl. I will also say I loved all of the secondary characters. There are some characters that you should really dislike and some that you should really like. Plus, I liked Phe's friends despite their very realistic flaws.

My third criteria is a difficult one for many books. There seems to be only so many twists or variations on the same theme. Shadow Hills was refreshing in that I didn't feel like I was reading the same vampire/werewolf/faery/angel book that populates the shelves of bookstores in over abundance. The history of Zach, his family and the townies and the evolution of their gifts and abilities was fascinating. Phe's ability is different than Zach's but presents with its own unique history. Though the connection between the two was not fully developed, I truly sensed that this was intentional and that in the next book we will gain a deep understanding of the connection between the two.

Can I recommend Shadow Hills? That would be a definite YES! Enough said!

After reading the book, I did have one thing I struggled with but you will probably laugh when you hear it. Let me just say, I grew up in New England. I went to college in New Hampshire and I lived in Massachusetts. And I have lived in Los Angeles. October is cold in Massachusetts. After all these years living in Southern California, when I go home, I freeze. Phe is from Los Angeles. When I think about her clothes, I just kept wanting to run after her with a jacket or a heavy duty sweatshirt yelling "You forgot something." See I told you that you would laugh?!

Shadow Hills is a great debut novel, and I am already pining for book 2. Really, Hopcus has to stop doing this to me. I am totally looking forward to seeing how Phe's abilities grow and how she learns more about her connection to Shadow Hills. And well, yeah, I want more Zach but that goes without saying.

Contest: Here's your chance to win a copy of and ARC of Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus -You will get one point for each item below (for every point you get an additional entry). The more items that you complete the more chances to win.

1. Leave a comment about why you are interested in winning the book
2. Tweet about this contest - please include @alybee930 in the tweet so I can keep track of the tweets
3. Comment it about the contest on your Facebook Page (leave the link in the comments section)

This contest is open to International Readers as well as those living in the United States.

Contest will end on Sunday, June 27, 2010.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Middle Grade Monday: Quantum Prophecy

Quantum Prophecy: The Awakening, by Michael Carroll

Publisher: Puffin Books
Pages: 264
Reading Level: 10 and Up
Enjoyment Level: High

As some of you know, I am always on the lookout to find good books for boys. I have several on my shelf right now, but I’ve noticed that it’s becoming easier to find them. It was definitely easy to pick this one up, and it was more than easy to read it.

All the superheroes and supervillains disappeared ten years ago, so Danny and Colin are shocked when they discover their own powers. They’re even more surprised when they learn about a prophecy, foretold by one of the old superheroes. Now, the two boys will need to figure out all they can in order to save themselves from losing everything they know and love.

Quantum Prophecy is fast-paced, and interesting. It was really nice to get a “paranormal” book that had nothing to do with vampires, werewolves, or ghosts. And superheroes aren’t super-trendy right now, either, so reading this was quite refreshing for me.

The characters are fun. The viewpoints shift around a bit too much for my preference, but not to the point where it was confusing at all. The two boys that the story centers around are easy to like and cheer for as they encounter their conflicts. Even though I’m not a boy, I feel like boys will find these characters relatable.

The plot is very interesting, also. Like it suggests in the title, there is a prophecy, though it’s all revealed slowly and there are still nuances missing – which makes me interested to read further in the series. Plenty of action surrounds the characters and the plot. I will say that I was slightly disappointed in some of the more predictable aspects of the book, but it still wasn’t enough to make me say I didn’t like the overall story.

I highly recommend this one to young boys. So, parents, or aunts and uncles, if you’re looking for one that would make a good gift, get Quantum Prophecy. It’s still flying under the radar, but I think the concept is fresh enough and the characters are interesting enough that it’ll soon gain a good following.

Until next time, go read something!

~ Vilate

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fantasy Friday: Stargazer

Stargazer, by Claudia Gray

Author: Claudia Gray
Publisher: HarperTeen (March 24, 2009)
Pages: 329
Reading Level: YA
Source: purchased at bookstore

The vampire in me was closer to the surface...

Evernight Academy: an exclusive boarding school for the most beautiful, dangerous students of all—vampires. Bianca, born to two vampires, has always been told her destiny is to become one of them.

But Bianca fell in love with Lucas—a vampire hunter sworn to destroy her kind. They were torn apart when his true identity was revealed, forcing him to flee the school.

Although they may be separated, Bianca and Lucas will not give each other up. She will risk anything for the chance to see him again, even if it means coming face-to-face with the vampire hunters of Black Cross—or deceiving the powerful vampires of Evernight. Bianca's secrets will force her to live a life of lies.

Yet Bianca isn't the only one keeping secrets. When Evernight is attacked by an evil force that seems to target her, she discovers the truth she thought she knew is only the beginning.... 


Overall, Stargazer was a strong follow-up to Evernight. If you enjoyed the intrigue, romance, and mystery in the Evernight world from the first book, then you shouldn't be disappointed by Claudia Gray's bestselling sequel. The same elements and characters that you loved in Evernight return, and the plot develops in surprising and exciting ways.

Stargazer picks up a few months after Evernight ends, and because of the climactic ending of the first book, Lucas isn't at Evernight Academy. This was a little off-putting to me -- I loved the chemistry between Lucas and Bianca -- but Lucas does have a significant presence in the novel. Lucas' absence from Evernight Academy allows his character's plot line to grow from being just a love interest, to a fuller understanding of his life with Black Cross and his character's goals and desires outside of Bianca. Another character that grew in Stargazer was Balthazar. I was never a huge fan of Balthazar in the first book of the series (although I know many readers complained that they wanted more of him) but Gray does explain Balthazar more and we learn about his history and see more of his interactions with Bianca. Bianca continues to be one of my favorite characters, though, because she knows how to stand up for herself without being stubborn or petulant; she knows how to be "strong" without literally throwing punches.

A significant development in Stargazer is the focus on Mrs. Bethany and Evernight Academy. The first book skirted around the issue of why humans were suddenly allowed to attend Evernight with the vampire students, but those larger plot lines played second string to developing the relationship between Lucas and Bianca. Now that the romance is established, Gray was able to spend time building mystery around the school and the headmistress. I really loved these developments, which included the introduction of a new supernatural creature/being (that is not a werewolf). There is a lot more suspense and action in Stargazer, which made the last 100 or so pages complete page-turners. There was a lot of information shared in Stargazer without it becoming a filler-book in the series. Some of this new information, of course, had to do with Bianca's unique position as being a half-vampire who hasn't performed the change or fully come into her vampire self yet, and no is quite sure what the outcome of that dilemma will be.

I highly recommend this series. The characters are so well-developed and the storyline is so much more than boy-meets-girl, but be aware: the ending is a bit of a cliffhanger, so I would make sure that the third book, Hourglass, is either on your night stand or in stock at a nearby book retailer, because the end is quite jaw-dropping.

Until next time,
Happy reading!


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Three Viewpoint Thursday: THE PACE

Every third or fourth Thursday, Alyson, Vilate and I get together and talk about a young adult or middle-grade book in a roundtable discussion-type forum. Our latest book chat was about THE PACE by Shelena Shorts.

Weston Wilson is not immortal and he is of this world. But, aging is not part of his existence, and eighteen-year-old Sophie Slone is determined to find out why. In doing so, she could also uncover something about her own life expectancy that she may not want to know. Suddenly, immortality will mean everything and nothing all at the same time.

WARNING: Towards the end there a few minor spoilers. Nothing that will completely ruin the plot for you, but we do reference a few scenes towards the end of the novel, so keep that in mind.

Renee: If we're ready, let's start talking about The Pace, by Shelena Shorts.

Renee: First, what was everyone's general response or opinion of the book?

Aly: My initial impressions weren't that positive.  To be serious, the story had a very slow beginning for me.  I kept feeling like skimming sections.  But then it picked up some more about mid-way through the book when you find out about Wes and his background.

Vilate: For me, the book never really picked up. I felt like I was reading an initial draft of a story instead of a finished product.  I honestly don't know if I have anything good to say about the book, which is sad because even with Going Bovine there were some redeeming qualities.

Renee: For me, it was one of those books that had the right "recipe" for a good book (mysterious boy with paranormal abilities, girl in a new environment, "forbidden love," etc.) but  the finished product just didn't come out quite right. I agree with Vi that it felt like a very EARLY draft. The beginning just kind of happened; and Wes and Sophie meet too soon, before I even know who she is or whether I should care about her yet. Also, the ending felt way rushed and wrapped up too neatly.

Vilate: To be honest, I did end up skipping parts.  There was a lot of relationship-building that was slow.  I don't mind character development without a lot of plot as a general rule, but that takes some panache.  Stephenie Meyer did it well with Twilight.  She made the reader […] enough about the various connections of the characters, but The Pace had no real fire to it.  Not enough to hook me into caring about her main characters.

Aly: See, that was part of my problem.  I realize that Twilight has some significant issues.  But Meyer does something with her story development and characters that obviously not only worked for me, but for many, many others.  I think you are right in that this feels like an ARC that still needs a lot of work rather than a finished product.  I also felt like there were lines and images lifted directly from Twilight and not even done as well.  I wanted to like the book because of the interesting concept but it just never seemed to deliver.  And the end was too abrupt.

Renee: I have read books where the writing wasn't necessarily "good writing," but I got swept up in the story anyway -- sort of like a guilty pleasure -- but something was really lacking in this book. The characters didn't have any chemistry together, and separately they seemed very flat: Wes is perfect, and Sophie is codependent and needy. But there is a growing following for this book on Goodreads (and I'm sure elsewhere) so I wonder what is it that makes some people rave about it and others (like the 3 of us) have such lukewarm or negative responses. I can't put my finger on specifically what was missing...

Aly: I see the three of us being realistic readers.  We are generous on some level especially with things that we tend to like - as you said - with guilty pleasures.  But I think we also can see where a book could have been improved or maybe a plot line wasn't working.  So it is strange.  Maybe there are just a lot of people out there looking for something like Twilight and this seemed *close* to them?  I don't know.  But Renee you are so summing it up for me. 

Aly: What did you think about the twist with Sophie and her *past lives*?

Vilate: I'll speak to that.  One word: Evermore.  The idea of one guy living as an immortal while the girl he loves is reincarnated is definitely the plot of Evermore. But, again, the execution of the idea was done so much better in Evermore, even though I still gave that one a little less than four stars.

Renee: Funny that you mention the Evermore series, b/c that is exactly what I thought about when reading this book too. This *past lives* theme has been explored in YA, even in one of my favorite new authors, but it was handled differently. I will say that the *past lives* storyline was one of the few things that interested me in their story. That and the almost science-fiction explanation behind "what" Wes is.

Vilate: That did catch my interest, too.  I feel like I'm just sounding completely negative in this chat, but unfortunately, as interesting as it was, it didn't keep me hooked and all the telling and non-action around it just let the whole concept fizzle out for me.

Aly: I loved the explanation of the science behind what Wes was and I think that could have been wonderfully developed and more action and other aspects pulled into the story.  And I'm not sure I would have been completely bothered by the re-incarnation twist if again it was executed properly.  However, it just fizzled out.

Renee: The explanation behind “what” Wes was was great for me, b/c I was expecting some sort of faerie/vampire/angel story, and I loved the originality of it. For me, it wasn't used to its fullest because he explained what he was, and then it didn't play any part in the larger plot until the last few chapters. I think if there was less time spent trying to convince the readers that Wes/Sophie was a worthwhile couple (though I wasn't thoroughly convinced), the author could have devoted more time to developing action around Wes' uniqueness and then picked up the pace of The Pace.

Vilate: I agree with that, Renee.  It's very sad that I can't find much positive to say about this book because there were some good concepts introduced.  But it was bogged down by things like all the exposition in the beginning, and really just the entire ending.  I had to re-read the end to make sure I wasn't confused by what was happening.  Not only was the kidnapping predictable, but the actual ending was very abrupt.  What did you two think of the ending?

Aly: Agreed.  I had to re-read it to see if maybe I was missing something.  I still feel like I was missing something.  But abrupt is a common word that I have seen from several people who did not feel as positive about the book.

Renee: I don't know what happened at the end. STILL. Wes and Sophie were deeply buried in this (slightly melodramatic) no-escape situation.... and then she opens her eyes and they are both fine in each other's arms. I really have no idea WHAT happened in the end, and that could have been a good place for some action scenes to build up Wes as a hero or introduce a new character for the sequel or something.

Vilate: I thought she died at the end...

Aly: I thought we were back in a dream sequence.  Oh, this is bad when 3 readers aren't sure.  Anyway, I did feel that the whole thing with the research and the serum could have been used for action.  And that didn't seem to be developed well and then there could have been more to how that was used to end the book and set it up for the sequel.  IDK.

Renee: Sadly, none of us really knows what happened at the end (which is *great* for anyone looking to read it, since we didn't spoil it). I still can't put my finger on what was so off about this book. Is there any demographic or fan base you would recommend this to (besides Twilight) since there are many people falling in love with this story?

Vilate: Yeah... Unfortunately, I can't in good faith recommend this book to anyone at this point.  I'd be failing as a reviewer.  However, it is aimed at the Twilight demographic.

Aly: I think there are so many books that I would recommend first to readers even within the “Twilight demographics” before this one.  I realize the author has worked hard on writing a story and I realize that an agent, editor and publisher found it worth publishing.  And there are a lot of 4 star reviews but I cannot in good conscience recommend this to anyone.

Renee: I don't want this to sound rude, but I would probably only recommend it to someone new to the YA paranormal genre. Being well-read in young adult fantasy, there were too many obvious parallels to other series and examples we could think of (without trying too hard) where the same concept was executed better. So MAYBE if you aren't very familiar with the genre, you could really get into it, but honestly it is not one I really feel the need to tell my friends about.

Renee: Any final thoughts? There is a sequel (The Broken Lake) being released this summer on August 19, so obviously the series is gaining steam...

Vilate: Actually, I really think it's just because the publisher is fairly new and independent...  I'm pretty sure it's not because the series has enough die-hard fans to warrant a sequel.  As for final thoughts... I think I've already said everything I can. lol.

Aly: I have said everything that I need to say about that.

Renee: Alright, well thanks for another lovely chat.

Until next time,
Happy Reading!


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

And the winner is....

Last week, I reviewed Shannon Delany's debut novel 13 to Life. At the end, I gave everyone a chance to win a copy of her new book which will be released on Tuesday, June 22nd. After a week of comments and tweets, I selected a winner. Well actually my 9 year old niece selected the winner.

Here is how we selected a winner:
1. I assigned each person who commented on the review and tweeted about the contest a number.

2. I wrote the numbers and names on small slips of paper and placed them all in a bag.

3. After mixing, and mixing, and mixing up the numbers, my niece pulled out a winner.

And the winner of 13 to Life by Shannon Delany is Cynthia (@cynthia11).

Thank you everyone who participated. I had a lot of fun with this contest and I know Shannon is excited about how much interest there is in her book.

Congratulations! Cynthia you have till tomorrow to claim your prize and then I will be off to pop it in the mail. You may email me at


Friday, June 11, 2010

Fantasy Friday: Evernight

Evernight, by Claudia Gray
Author: Claudia Gray
Publisher: Harper Teen (June 1, 2008)
Pages: 327
Reading Level: YA
Source: purchased at bookstore

Bianca wants to escape. 

She's been uprooted from her small hometown and enrolled at Evernight Academy, an eerie Gothic boarding school where the students are somehow too perfect: smart, sleek, and almost predatory. Bianca knows she doesn't fit in. 

Then she meets Lucas. He's not the "Evernight type" either, and he likes it that way. Lucas ignores the rules, stands up to the snobs, and warns Bianca to be careful—even when it comes to caring about him. 

"I couldn't stand it if they took it out on you," he tells Bianca, "and eventually they would." 
But the connection between Bianca and Lucas can't be denied. Bianca will risk anything to be with Lucas, but dark secrets are fated to tear them apart . . . and to make Bianca question everything she's ever believed. 

WOW. I'm not sure where to begin with this book. I got this book when I was going through a post-Twilight fever for all things "teen" and "vampire" and (rather embarrassingly) just picked up anything with fangs at Barnes & Noble. I didn't have any expectations for this new author, so I was pleasantly surprised when I was hooked within the first few chapters. For me, this is one of those read-in-one-sitting kind of books, with romance, mystery, adventure, hot boys with a rebellious streak, and just a sprinkling of teen angst. I think if you have any vague interest in the young adult paranormal genre, this book will definitely appeal to you, and your friend, and your neighbor, and your mailman...

Why did I like this book so much? It's hard to say. I've read many teen paranormal books/series and quite a few of them have had vampires, or attractive young men, or boarding schools with secrets, but Evernight really stands out for me. I think a main part about that is that the protagonist, Bianca, has something different about her. I get really irritated when all I read about are normal girls who sit around waiting for some gorgeous boy/creature to come and rock her world, so I loved  reading about Bianca who had her own unique connection to the paranormal world meet Lucas, who has mysterious prejudices and defenses (that aren't fully revealed until the end). The dynamic of the two of them really worked for me. Sometimes authors have the right formula for "teen romance" but the pair just lacks chemistry; with Evernight, Bianca and Lucas had great banter and interactions, and all of their scenes together were memorable and interesting to get into. The relationship in general, was just great to read about, and I kept thinking about what's-coming-next for them, long after I finished with this book.

Bianca/Lucas aside, I like that there were other characters who played significant roles in the story. Bianca's best friend at the academy, Raquel, has her own dilemma and fears that make her question the academy, which are totally separate from Lucas' reasons for mistrusting the school. Bianca's parents -- teachers at the school -- also functioned prominently into the story, and all the scenes with them having family dinners or discussions were nice, because most YA books just pretend that young people don't have families or have families that are totally oblivious. It was refreshing to read about characters who had their own things going on that didn't revolve around the "core couple." And, since I'm sure you are all wondering, Yes, there is a potential love triangle with another character Balthazar. Balthazar is the perfect "Evernight type" and a genuinely good guy, who we see a few interesting exchanges between himself and Bianca in this book, but I know this isn't the last of him...

Finally, I just really liked the concept of Evernight Academy. The school itself has an interesting past, and some of the things Bianca and Lucas learn about the academy --like that is accepts both human and vampire students -- are so interesting, that even if they are not completely answered in this book, I cannot wait to see them explored later in the series.

Evernight is the first in a four-book series. Following are Stargazer and Hourglass, with the fourth book, Afterlife, to be released in 2011. I highly recommend this series for anyone looking for a twist on the teen vampire story, or for fans of young adult fantasy in general.

Happy Reading,

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Thirteen to Life

Author: Shannon Delany
Publisher: St. Martin’s (June 22, 2010)
Pages: 308
Reading Level: YA
Source: ARC for review

Excerpt from GoodReads:
Something strange is stalking the small town of Junction…

When junior Jess Gillmansen gets called out of class by Guidance, she can only presume it’s for one of two reasons. Either they’ve finally figured out who wrote the scathing anti-jock editorial in the school newspaper or they’re hosting yet another intervention for her about her mom. Although far from expecting it, she’s relieved to discover Guidance just wants her to show a new student around—but he comes with issues of his own including a police escort.

The newest member of Junction High, Pietr Rusakova has secrets to hide--secrets that will bring big trouble to the small town of Junction—secrets including dramatic changes he’s undergoing that will surely end his life early.

I am really thankful for The Story Siren’s (Kristi) 2010 Debut Challenge. It has given me a great excuse to purchase about 25 books as they have come out (yes, even though I have a review copy I have also pre-ordered the book) and also help spread the news about some great new authors. One of those authors that I have really enjoyed getting to know through Twitter and other on-line sources is Shannon Delany. Her book THIRTEEN TO LIFE was one that I was eagerly awaiting, especially since Paranormal YA stories with a romance is one of my favorite categories. So I was especially eager to read it when it arrived in the mail.

There are a few qualities that all my favorite books have in common. First, I love when I start a book and can't (or don't want to) put it down. Second, I really have to love the characters. I can forgive a lot if I enjoy the characters in the story. Third, I like little twists on traditional mythology. Fourth, I love having some humor in a book. Finally, do I think it will be an easy book to book talk or recommend. Let's see how THIRTEEN TO LIFE scored.

When I first pick up a book to read, I can’t help but judge it by how long it takes me to read the story. There is a huge difference in a book where I nearly need to set a timer in order to keep reading it versus a book where I don’t put it down until I am finished with the last page. With THIRTEEN TO LIFE, I am happy to say that I started the book at about 7 or 8 p.m. and stayed up until 3 a.m. in order to finish it. Fortunately, I didn't have work the next day or I would have been one very tired educator. I was not deadline to get it finished and I was actually on break so there wasn't exactly a lot competing for my attention, and yet, I really wanted to find out how the story was going to turn out.

THIRTEEN TO LIFE was off to a good start. So what did I think about the characters? Hot boys with accents!! Okay, to be fair to Shannon there were certainly more than just hot boys with accents. The story is about Jess, a high school junior, who has recently suffered the loss of her mother in an accident. Jess is a bright student who loves horses and has a crush on one of the boys in her high school. Pietr is a new student at school with a mysterious background. Pietr resides with his older brothers and twin sister. Jess lives on a farm with her father, and younger sister. I liked Jess and Pietr. I liked them together, and I liked the parts of the story with them together. Of course, the story would be pretty boring if there wasn't some conflict surrounding their being together. It is difficult to discuss this part without giving too much away. I will say that I had the feeling that Delany was looking for a more unique twist on the expected love triangle. Unfortunately, the one area of the book that may not have worked for me was Sarah's tie in on with the love triangle. Sarah is a friend of Jess who has an interesting connection to what happened to Jess's mother. Though this storyline did not always work for me, it didn't distract me from the main focus of the story. However, I predict that I haven't seen the last of Sarah and expect that there will be some interesting developments in later books.

Some additional thoughts about the minor or secondary characters. One of the things I can't help but notice are the adults in YA novels. I am always curious how they will be portrayed and what kind of relationship will the main character have with them. Jess' relationship with her father was believable. She had a variety of feelings about the teachers and staff at the school which was also believable and her feelings towards her father's possible romantic interest was also something that seemed natural.

I am not giving anything away in saying that the story is about werewolves. So it isn't surprising to the reader to discover that Pietr and his family are werewolves. I did enjoy Delany's explanation behind how they had come to be werewolves. The Cold War and Russian tie-ins were a nice change from some of the other werewolf stories.

Remember I mentioned above that I loved when a story had humor? There were quite a few times where I found myself either laughing out loud or snickering at a line or a scene in the story. And I especially loved that Shannon found ways to even have a little fun at the expense of paranormal stories within the story.

Finally, THIRTEEN TO LIFE will appeal to readers who are fond of YA paranormal romance. Will it persuade a die-hard vampire fan to become a wolf fan?! I am not sure I can answer this for anyone else, but I can say that this vampire girl certainly enjoyed the wolves in the story.

This was a fun read and a great debut novel from Shannon Delany. I am glad that I discovered it through the 2010 Debut Novel Challenge and I do look forward to the second book in the series.

Contest: Here's your chance to win a copy of Thirteen To Life by Shannon Delany -
1. Leave a comment about why you are interested in winning the book
2. Tweet about this contest - please include @alybee930 in the tweet so I can keep track of the tweets

I will pick one random name from those who have both commented and tweeted about the contest.

Contest will end on Tuesday, June 15, 2010.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Fantasy Friday: Magic Under Glass

Magic Under Glass, by Jaclyn Dolamore

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 240
Reading Level: 14 and up

Magic Under Glass is the most enchanting novel I have read in quite awhile.

The story centers on Nimira, a foreign girl hired by a sorcerer to sing with a piano-playing automaton. Rumors that the automaton is haunted are not enough to frighten her away from this new, wealthy, and comfortable existence. But there is some truth to the rumors. The automaton is inhabited by Erris, a gentle fairy spirit. Soon Nimira is caught up in the politics of the sorcerer's world trying to save poor Erris before the automaton is destroyed.

I have to say, it was very difficult to summarize this book. Every summary I saw prior to reading the book, only confused me. They didn't do much to make me interested in acquiring the novel, either. However, this story was definitely worth the read. I was sucked into Nimira's world immediately.

For me, the best aspect of this novel was the world-building, which was so organic, I didn't even take notice of it. The characters were well-drawn and likeable, with the appropriate exceptions. Little details were revealed along the way, making the whole experience feel very complete. Everything from geographical locations, to politics, to traditional customs were explored in the novel. I also appreciated that Nimira was a foreigner. In this way, the reader was able to learn about both her native land of Tiansher, as well as the local land of Lorinar.

Another favorite aspect was the characters. Nimira is strong-willed and likeable, and I absolutely adored Erris. He was a gentleman, but also very full of emotion. It is interesting to me that the author was able to effectively show his emotions, even though he didn't have to ability to speak or move freely.

One drawback for me was the ending. I already knew that there was a sequel planned, but that didn't hinder my disappointment that the ending was incomplete. In many ways, the ending felt like the beginning of an adventure, rather than a resolution. While I wouldn't completely call it a cliff-hanger, it was definitely not a full ending.

I highly recommend this book to those who enjoys an interesting and fanciful read. I cannot wait to continue the story with the sequel, Magic Under Stone.

Happy reading!


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Review of Sea

Author: Heidi R. Kling
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (June 10, 2010)
Pages: 336
Reading Level: YA
Source: ARC – borrowed, not sent for review

Excerpt from cover of GoodReads:
Haunted by recurring nightmares since her mother’s disappearance over the Indian ocean three years before, fifteen-year old California girl Sienna Jones reluctantly travels with her psychiatrist father’s volunteer team to six-months post-tsunami Indonesia where she meets the scarred and soulful orphaned boy, Deni, who is more like Sea than anyone she has ever met.

She knows they can’t be together, so why can’t she stay away from him? And what about her old best friend-turned-suddenly-hot Spider who may or may not be waiting for her back home? And why won’t her dad tell her the truth about her mother’s plane crash? The farther she gets from home, the closer she comes to finding answers.

And Sea’s real adventure begins.

As part of The Story Siren’s (Kristi) 2010 Debut Challenge, I selected about 25 books from new authors that I interested in reading. Sea by Heidi R Kling was one of the books that piqued my interest. So when I had a chance to borrow a friend’s ARC of Sea, I grabbed the chance to read it.

In a moment of full disclosure, I want to start off by saying that my personal reading preference lie along the lines of fantasy/science fiction/paranormal stories. When I venture in to works of realistic fiction, especially on the YA level, I tend to have great reservations. I wondered as I cracked open Sea whether I would love it or be completely disappointed in it. Consequently, I think I tended to be a little harsher while I read it. I wondered if the characters would seem real and be relatable? Would the relationships between characters resonate with real life or seem completely fabricated? And my biggest issue - would the story show the growth and change of the main character as a result of what happened or would it all seem kind of meaningless?!

When I started reading Sea, I quickly found myself enjoying the short chapter style. I couldn't help commenting to myself - I bet my reluctant readers will really like this. The length of the chapters also seemed to move the story along nicely right from the beginning and kept me engaged with the characters. Throughout the book, I never felt like the story slowed down or became bogged down. Actually, I found myself needing to slow down so that I didn’t miss something and that I could really enjoy the story.

Since I often have an issue with the characters in realistic fiction, I was pleased by how much I really liked Sienna and all the other people in the book. I felt like the relationship she had with her dad was well portrayed. Sienna’s emotional reaction to her father’s interest in his female partner was also very believable especially in light of Sienna's grief over her mother's death. Additionally, the journey that Sienna makes personally and emotionally is mirrored through the physical journey of the plane ride to Indonesia and throughout her experiences there (Kling doesn't hold back with her bathroom descriptions - let's just say "ewwww") and then Sienna's return to California. It was very evident that Sienna's experiences had grown and changed her.

And for those of you who like a little romance, Kling has included that as well. (Ah, Deni! Ah, Spider!) From the description above (taken from GoodReads), the story is viewed as more of a romance. However, this was one area that I had slightly mixed feelings about. Even though I am all for a good romance (I can be a hopeless romantic), I actually wondered at times if exploring the experiences/interactions between Sienna and the younger orphan girls would have provided a different type of depth and complexity to the story. It wasn't that I didn't like the scenes between her and Deni, but I kept wanting to see more of where the story could have gone with the other part.

Kling added a wonderful quality by setting the story of Sea in Indonesia, with it's backdrop of poverty and loss experienced by the child victims of the Tsunami. Kling's removal of the story from the United States forges into areas not typically seen in the majority of YA realistic fiction. Just the twist in location of the book opens the story up to reaching a wider audience including tweens and teens who may not see themselves in the lives of rich teens in affluent suburban high schools.

Now that I just said that I loved and praised Sea for being set overseas, I am still curious about one thing? I am thrilled about the story, but then I have never lived or traveled in a place like Indonesia. It did occur to me that individuals who have lived within a developing country, especially a predominantly Muslim country might react differently. How would someone not from the U.S. respond to Sienna’s experiences in Indonesia?! I wonder if this is an unfortunate drawback to being an adult reader of YA stories?! I spend a lot of time trying to help children and families understand different cultures and perspectives so I may tend to over analyze stuff. Yet, I still felt at the end that my students may actually relate more to the book than they do with other stories.

Overall, this was a fun read and a great debut novel from Heidi R. Kling. I plan on picking up a few copies to give away to some teens that I know. I am glad that I discovered it through the 2010 Debut Novel Challenge and I do look forward to future books by Ms. Kling.

Until the next book,