Monday, January 31, 2011

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan, The Heroes of Olympus, Book One

I'm a big fan of Riordan's Percy Jackson (here's my review of the last book of the series, The Last Olympian) and my daughter and I loved the movie. I'm talking up the books for us to read together, but she isn't ready to tackle the length of it yet--she's sticking to Newbery winners for now.

Riordan introduces new characters in this first book of a series and it's nice how they will eventually join Percy in future books. For now, Percy is missing and Annabeth, Thalia, and all the half-bloods are looking for him and trying to keep the giants in the ground. Conveniently, three new demigods appear--Piper, daughter of Aphrodite, Jason, son of Jupiter, and Leo, son of Hephaestus. And, yes, I said Jupiter. The twist in this series is that Jason appears--the gods have been hiding their Roman counterparts. Maybe. That will come out in Book Two!

Truthfully, Riordan's editor should have had the guts to tell him to tighten it up--it's about 100 pages too long. My attention wandered and the cross-U.S. quest was so similar to previous books that I grew bored. Piper is the character to watch--Jason and Leo seem to be repeats. But, sure, I'll probably still read Book Two. Eventually. It took me months to get around to reading Book One! :)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen and Vixen by Jillian Larkin

I don't usually compare books in the same blog post, but I noticed that I had two flapper books on my bookshelf--Bright Young Things (Oct. 2010) and Vixen (Dec. 2010). How can I *not* compare them? :)

Godbersen, known for her Luxe series, is a great historical/Gossip Girl writer and she does it again with this YA novel. It's a quick read, and a bit unbelievable, but fluffy YA readers will enjoy it. Real historical fiction readers may not. Letty and Cordelia run away from Ohio to NYC in 1929 (really? just leaving your hubby like that, Cordelia?) to make it big. Things easily work out for Cordelia, whose long lost father (a mafia lord) takes her in, no questions asked. Even Letty finds a job quickly selling cigarettes in the coolest speakeasy in the city. I kept expecting Letty to fall into prostitution, but it never happened. Astrid, a rich girl and Cordelia's step-brother's girlfriend, completes the trio of characters. The sequel, Beautiful Days, comes out Sept. 20, 2011.

Jillian Larkin's The Flappers series takes place in 1923 and also follows the stories of three girls. Gloria is the rich girl yearning to escape her family and become a speakeasy singer. Clara, Gloria's cousin from PA, is pretending to just be a hick girl in town for Gloria's wedding, but really spent months in NYC as the flapper-to-watch. Lorraine, Gloria's so-called best friend, is rich with no ethics--not a good combination. The three girls are restrained by society, but feel like the Roaring Twenties give them options. Gloria can fall in love with a black pianist if she wants to, even if she's engaged to a society man who doesn't love her. Clara can fall in love with a society man who is the catch of the town. Lorraine can cheat and lie with no consequences. All three girls are losing more than morals and the story continues in Ingenue, to be published August 9, 2011.

Which is better? Meh, my vote goes to Godbersen. I feel more attached to her characters. Both books are pretty unbelievable, even though Larkin has more shock-and-awe.

True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, Read by Bahni Turpin

2011 Odyssey Award Winner!

ALA's summary--"Turpin gives an unforgettable performance, seamlessly slipping into the voices of wiseacre eighth-grader, Gratuity “Tip” Tucci, and her alien Boov companion as they embark on a rollicking road trip to track down Tip’s missing mother and save the planet. A laugh-out-loud presentation of Adam Rex’s popular satire."

And I agree. The audiobook production (and the writing was pretty darn good, too). Gratuity reminded me of Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching--smart, snarky, and resourceful. Tiffany has her frying pan and Gratuity has aspirin. And cats.

While recommended for younger kids, this book, like any other good children's book, can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Listen to it. You won't regret it!

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

I know this won a Printz honor and is on the Best Fiction YA list. But I bet it will be on my top reads of 2011, too!

Vera is trying to get over the death of her best friend Charlie. There's something going on there--how did he die? Was Vera responsible? What does Vera know? It's the best kind of mystery--the story develops in flashbacks and different narrators--heck, even the pagoda in town writes!

Read it! Please!

Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

The new Stonewall Book Award is sponsored by ALA's GLBT Round Table and they picked a whopper of a book to win this year's YA award. I love when YA books take a serious topic and make it seem so real, that you don't realize how "different" love can be. I remember reading Luna, and being so impressed with Julie Anne Peters' handling of a trans-gendered teen. Now you can add Almost Perfect to the list.

Logan is a depressed teen because his girlfriend of three years has cheated on him. Quite the big deal when you never had sex to begin with since she "wasn't ready." But everything changes when a new girl moves into Logan's small town. Sage is tall, brash, and different, which is always nice in a small town. Logan falls for her, but things are difficult when he finds out that Sage is a boy who hopes to be surgically changed in a few years. Whoa. Logan isn't gay. Is he? And what's going to happen when anyone finds out the truth about Sage?

This book handles different questions easily. I loved Sage and Logan and appreciated the author's note at the end for teens who have questions about their (or someone else's) sexuality. Brian Katcher is a school librarian and knows how teens work--can't wait to see what he writes next!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman, Ready by Katherine Kellfren

I listen to audiobooks in the car, and I'm working my way through the Odyssey award winners and honor books. I understand why this one won the award--lots of singing and accents.

Meggy is crippled and is very, very grumpy and full of self-pity. She's shipped to her father in London, but he doesn't want her when he finds out she's a girl. So Meggy has to find a way to survive and try to worm her way into her father's good graces. But she might not want to be there. Her father is trying to turn metals into gold, but he's also crooked--mentally, not physically like Meggy. With the help of some friends (she's surprised she can make them), Meggy survives in the rough city of London, and figures out what she really wants out of life.

The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston

Of course, one of the books I hadn't read won the Morris Award! And I can see why--it's different, gripping, short and sweet, and one heck of a book. Woolston is going to be an author to watch!

Warning--don't be scared by the cover or the jacket blurbs. I wasn't looking forward to the read (I was expecting Sinclair's The Jungle or some science-filled boring thing), but I was pleasantly surprised. Loa is just a teenager trying to cope with loss. Her little sister dies of a devastating disease. Her boyfriend leaves her to travel in Europe. Her good friend is hit by a car. Her father becomes some stranger who hits her. But her parents' insurance only pays for six weeks of therapy, so Loa must find her own way of treating her post traumatic stress disorder. With the help of what her therapist says, cleaning the bathroom grout, working through physics problems, and moving, Loa survives. And, maybe, even thrives.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar

I HAD to read this book. Why? Because of the awesome cover and because of the quote from Philippa Gregory on the front. When I was in high school, my school library didn't have much YA literature. In fact, I mainly read my YA lit from my mom's school library, the public library, or I bought books at my local bookstore, Waldenbooks, at the mall. So without easy access to YA and a mean-ass school librarian, I had to find some type of fiction to read. For some reason, my school library had a huge collection of Philippa Gregory/Victoria Holt (probably because they were donated). And I read and read. I truly believe that I minored in history because of my love of historical fiction. And so this book satisfied my need to read about the Court.

The actress is Nelly Gwyn, and her climb to fame took her from selling oranges at the theater to King Charles II's bed. She was a favorite of London, the Court, and the English people. The book is written from Nell's point-of-view, but there are playbills, letters, and other written documents interspersed among the narrative to add interest for the reader. I love the historical accuracy of the novel and the realism of the events and descriptions of London and its people. I'm keeping an eye out for what's next from this author--she's worth reading!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nothing by Janne Teller, translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken

Multiple awards for this YA novel, and I can see why. It's one to think about a lot, and one to reluctantly booktalk. The publisher says, "Nothing is the Lord of the Flies for the 21st century." And, yes, they are right. It's Lord of the Flies and The Lottery all rolled into one.

At first, I wondered why a book about a bunch of seventh graders trying to find the meaning of life was young adult enough to win so many awards. But, then, out of nowhere, comes the WHOA. And it doesn't stop from the middle the book. So, keep reading!

Thin, Rich, Pretty by Beth Harbison, Read by Orlagh Cassidy

A little fluffy, but I needed a break from YA lit. Nicola and Holly were best friends at camp when they were thirteen. Now, Nicola is an almost has-been actress and Holly is a successful art gallery owner, but, just like at camp, they still struggle with self-esteem issues. Holly thinks she's fat, and even dates someone who wants her to lose some pounds before he gives her an engagement ring. Nicola still thinks she's ugly, and gets a nose job to try to become prettier and more lead-role worthy. When the two run into their old camp nemesis Lexi, they try to make things right, even though they hated her when they were young. Of course, all three girls magically solve their self-worth issues.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

I'm not sure what the fuss about this novel--I'm not impressed. There's lots of teenage whining and angst, even though technically Mackie is a fairy/other thing instead of a teenage boy. He's a replacement, someone who the evil people placed in his crib after they took the real human boy. His family has raised him normally, even though they know he can't be around steel or blood.
I liked the first few chapters, but the middle dragged for me. Yes, he's getting weaker and the downworld potions help him. Yes, Mackie is a good boy who wants to make sure no babies are taken or kids are sacrificed. But my shelves of new ARCs are calling me and I couldn't bring myself to finish the last hundred pages.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

I'm really enjoying working through my Good Reads To-Read list. I put off this adult novel for awhile, but shouldn't have! Lovely, suspenseful read.

Silas, a police constable in rural Mississippi, has some secrets and they are coming out now that he's older. A childhood friend, Larry Ott, better known as Scary Larry, has always been suspected of killing a teenage girl, but never was accused. Now another girl is missing and Larry is accused again. But Silas believes Larry is innocent and sets out to proof his innocence. The murder mystery isn't the centerpiece of the novel--the reader knows who did it before the characters. The beauty of the book lies in the character studies and the way they interact. Please, please make a movie out of this one!

Friday, January 14, 2011

City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris

Finding Nouf, the author's first novel, was a 2009 Alex Award winner and a huge favorite of mine (especially since I was on that committee). Why did I wait so long to read City of Veils? I truly believe that Ferraris is one of the best authors writing in the adult fiction realm. She is so readable--hundreds of pages zoom by without the reader realizing it. I want to know her characters and be their friends. Although, honestly, Nayir would have a hard time with me since I'm American and don't know the Muslim culture.

Nayir is still a desert guide, but business is slow and he's thinking about changing professions. He's also still thinking about Katya, the forensic scientist he befriended on their last case. She's not his ideal woman, but he can't forget her. The two of them come back together when a dead woman is found on a beach. Katya breaks out of her scientist role and becomes more of a police investigator with Osama, a new character whom Katya develops a great working relationship with. The three work together to solve the murder case.

What I love about her books is that they aren't the stereotypical mysteries. They are dramas and romance and suspense and heart-wrenching and informative. The Muslim culture fascinates me and I feel better educated about it after reading her novels, but I don't feel preached at. I can't wait for her next novel! Can Katya, Osama, and Nayir form an investigative agency? Please?

Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

To be published March 2011.

I'm a huge fan of her What I Saw and How I Lied, so I snatched up this uncorrected proof of her next novel. Lately, I've been a sucker for historical fiction, and I love how publishers are kicking out stories about the 1920's and 1940's--some of my favorite historical periods.

Kit Corrigan is trying to make it in NYC as a dancer. She escapes her poor Irish background, but accepts help from her ex-boyfriend's dad in the city. Who wouldn't take a free apartment? But the story is more complex than that. The chapters alternate time (Thank you for including the date and place, Judy!) and we find out that Kit and her boyfriend Billy have a tumultuous relationship. His dad, Nate, is a gangster lawyer, but Billy just wants to be a photographer. Kit's mom died during her birth (of triplets!), but her aunt was a stable part of her family until she mysteriously disappeared. Kit's life is surrounded by secrets and she starts to find out about them. Like her previous novel that received Printz recognition, this one is full of darkness, great characters, mystery, and murder.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Save our Libraries!

The American Library Association has started a new campaign to increase awareness about libraries--the new endangered species. Libraries, like parks, help ALL members of the community. Librarians help with job searches, edit resumes, and provide resources for students. Libraries provide free internet access for low-income families who don't have it. Libraries provide downloads of audiobooks and loan DVDs for free. No matter your political party affiliation, you must agree that libraries provide resources for ALL citizens. The doorway inscription at the Library of Thebes says it best--"Medicine for your soul."

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, Performed by Johanna Parker

Absolutely amazing audio book! My mom loves these books, but after watching one episode of True Blood, I wasn't sure why. Now I know! The book is soooo much better than the show. Sookie Stackhouse is telepathic, but views her ability as a disability. She can read everyone's minds, and that's a bad thing in her small Louisiana town. A vampire moves into town, and she's in love. He's gorgeous AND she can't read his mind. But when bad vampires appear, the supernatural begin causing murders and all sorts of bad things in town. Women are dying, and Sookie is next, unless she's able to save herself.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Blameless, The Parasol Protectorate: Book the Third by Gail Carriger

I didn't enjoy Changeless as much as Soulless, but I'm happy to say that Carriger brings the action back up to speed in the third book in the series! Alexia is on the run--from vampires and her estranged werewolf husband. She's pregnant and he doesn't believe it's his because werewolves supposedly can't procreate. But Alexia is a preternatural who turns vampires/werewolves into humans when she touches them. So she's used to breaking all the rules. Running takes her to Italy, and she learns more about her species from the Templars, an ancient sect intent on protecting (or using? or destroying?) anything preternatural. I can't wait to read Heartless, due out July 2011. I'll be stalking Hachette at ALA Annual in June to get an ARC! :)

Wishful Thinking by Alexandra Bullen

I hadn't planned on picking up this Uncorrected Proof to read first (out of the tons I received at ALA Midwinter this week in San Diego), but I was waiting for my ride to the airport and this was sitting on the coffee table in the Hotel Solamar lobby. I was bored and too lazy to get out one of my books from my bag, so I picked up this book with an attractive cover.

Hazel isn't happy with her life--she's been passed around foster homes since her birth mother gave her up as a baby. On her 18th birthday, Hazel is given her birth certificate with her mother's name on it. Her mother is an artist, and a show is being given soon. She plans and goes, only to find that she may be too late to get to know her mother. But a seamstress and three magical dresses allows her to have 3 wishes and Hazel is able to travel back in time and learn a lot about her mother, father, and family.

I didn't care for the epilogue, but the book was cute, an easy read, and satisfying. And I mean that in a positive way. Sometimes teen novels are so full of paranormal forbidden romance and angst that I need something just entertaining.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

Yay! I hope. This one wins the Morris award tomorrow! It's such a GOOD paranormal book. Sure there are werewolves and necromancers and witches and harbingers, but the tale is told well. I laughed. And worried. And stayed up really late to finish!

Sam is a college dropout floundering through life. But, then, all because of a game of potato hockey in the alley behind a fast food place, Sam becomes a wanted man by an evil necromancer. Sam isn't sure what's going on, but his close friends help him solve the questions of his heritage. He meets his love interest in a cage in a basement while she is naked. And, no, he isn't dreaming. This book has gene appeal, snakiness, and plenty of moments of darn good writing. Come on, Morris, bring it home to your necromancer!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

Book Two of the Morris contenders for me, and, oh, I didn't like this one as much as Hush. (I'll add hyperlinks and book cover later--it's 12:30 am here!) but I had to stay up and finish this interlibrary loaned book. I got about 35 books tonight in the exhibit hall and can't wait to get started on them! I'm not sure how my to-read list got so long on goodreads, but conferences make it expand greatly.

Taking place in New Zealand, Maori legends and culture is everywhere in this book, but I was drowning in it the last third of the book. I wanted more action and less mist traveling. I wanted more of snarky, black belt goddess Ellie. I couldn't help but compare this to Hush. Both have lots of details to another culture, but I think Hush tells it better to the reader. The fantasy element of Dead might draw in some readers, but they may not get that far into the book.

Hmmm....I might be hating on this because it's past my bedtime and I walked about 20 miles today schlepping 50 pounds of books. So, I'll think about this post again and let you know if it changes. :)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Last Good Place of Lily Odilon by Sara Beitia

Yay! I'm finished reading for PPYA! For a month or so at least, until the next round! And ending my reading on a John Green-ish novel was a good thing! Lily has disappeared, and it's up to her boyfriend and sister to find her. Told in chapters alternating from now to a few months ago, with some diary entries thrown in, the suspense builds. I won't give anything away, but you know what happened to Lily about half way through the book, but the reader doesn't know what happens to the characters. I wasn't too thrilled with how much time at the end was given to MacLennan, since he was such a secondary character throughout the book. But the point of view from Albert Morales is right on and engaging.

Other by Karen Kincy

I'll have to add the cover pic later--Blogger and my iPad do NOT mix! Gwen is an Other, a shapeshifter, living in a normal modern world where vampires, elves, and Others are getting killed. She's worried because no one knows she's half-pooka, yet her friends are dying and she isn't sure who to trust. Her human boyfriend dumps her when he finds out she's a shapeshifter, but a cute Japanese fox spirit soon takes his place. The action is fast and furious and teen readers won't be bored. Not bad for a debut novel!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

It seems I've read a lot of books lately about Asperger's or autism--Born on a Blue Day, Marcelo in the Real World, The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-Time. I don't think this one is as good as Marcelo, but I found it a fascinating read. Do young kids like this book? or is it more of an adult read?

Caitlin has Asperger's and is trying to deal with the recent death of her brother in a school shooting. She's ten and her father isn't dealing well with the loss. They lost their mother to cancer years before, too. Caitlin, with the help of a school counselor, is trying to learn how to deal with emotions, but it's hard with her diagnosis. Of course, there are mentions of To Kill a Mockingbird, since her brother called her Scout, and the parallels to the novel are pretty clear. Even though the book is intended for a younger audience, I already discussed this book with our LD English teacher, because I think the discussions about the book would be interesting, especially for the students who have read To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Sweet Life of Stella Madison by Lara M. Zeises

I'm a fan of this author AND Top Chef, so I was interested to see how the two combined. Stella is a teenage girl with a famous chef dad and a restaurant owner mom. She's grown up around food, even if she'd rather have a meal from Burger King than something a Top Chef makes. When she's offered an internship at a Philadelphia newspaper, she jumps at the chance, even if she's hired because of her parents. Her first job is to write a restaurant review and she finds herself noticing food in a new way, thanks to her mom's new intern, a gorgeous 20-year-old who gets in the way of Stella's boyfriend. Stella has commitment issues, thanks to her parents who work together but have been separated for six years. It's cute, romantic, dramatic, and just a good YA book.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hush by Eishes Chayil

This book is like the Go Ask Alice of the Orthodox Jewish world. It's a finalist for the Morris award, so I'm trying to read them before the award announcement on Monday morning at ALA Midwinter in San Diego.

The author Eishes Chayil is a pseudonym because the author didn't want to reveal her name or her sect of Chassidic religion. She made up a sect so her secrets wouldn't be revealed. I was shocked by all the details. Sure, I've seen on television Orthodox Jews in their different clothing, but I had no idea what the religion was like. I'm amazed by how different the children are raised and how sheltered from the secular world children are. I'm not saying it's horrible, just different. I can't believe that they truly don't know what sex is. When Gittel sees her best friend get raped by a brother, she doesn't know what's going on, but she knows it's wrong. When her world refuses to believe that it happened, Gittel tries to suppress her emotions, but they all come out ten years later after she is married at a young age.

This is the kind of book where you know what happened, you know it's gross, and yet you keep reading. Nothing is rated R, yet Gittel's innocence is so clear that you feel for her. The best part is finding out more about her world. $180 for heels? $2,000 for a wig? Believing that the woman should teach so her husband can study the Torah all day? Absolutely fascinating.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Faithful by Janet Fox

This ARC is from Midwinter 2010 and I'm just getting around to reading it--I loved the cover and just couldn't donate it to my readers at school without me reading it first! I'm amazed to see a publisher like Speak taking on historical fiction--I would have loved a book like this when I was in junior high. Maggie is a spoiled sixteen-year-old in Newport when the book opens. She's preparing for her debut to society when her mother cuts herself at a party. Mommy disappears (and probably dies in the ocean), but Maggie is convinced that her mother is alive and out west. Maggie and her father trek west to Yellowstone, where Maggie discovers that her mother has a history with the area. It's scary and beautiful, and Maggie must decide whether to be a good daughter and marry the rich, old, snobby man or follow her heart and go against what's expected of her. It's a typical YA romance story, but the extra details of Yellowstone make it an interesting read. Now I want to re-visit the West!