Book Review: Chasing Windmills by Catherine Ryan Hyde

I think that Catherine Ryan Hyde might just be my new favorite author. I've read two of her books recently and am about to start a third. In discovering this author, I feel like I have found someone who gets to the very basis of what makes us human, what makes us need and hurt. She is a master developer of characters with real motivations and authentic voices.

Chasing Windmills
is an emotional roller coaster, and much of the ride left me feeling panicked. I just never felt comfortable putting this book down because I had to find out what was going to happen to the main characters. And, this book goes back and forth between two main characters. So the suspense was heightened at the end of each section.

The female main character, Maria, is a young mother in her twenties. She is living with her high school boyfriend, who is anything but a sweetheart. She frequently has bruises from his violent outbursts and has taken to riding the subway at night while she's supposed to be at work. Her boyfriend can't know that she was fired from her job, and Maria needs the escape that the subway brings to keep her sanity.

And then she meets Sebastian. He's not yet eighteen, but can't wait for his birthday. Ever since his mother died when he was a young boy, his overprotective father has kept him a virtual prisoner in his apartment. Every element of Sebastian's life is controlled by his father. Sebastian has no friends, except for an elderly neighbor woman who lives in his building. He rides the subway at night as a way to cure his insomnia. When he meets Maria, she's all he can think of.

It isn't long before these lonely souls start dreaming of an escape. But, with Maria's increasingly abusive and obsessive boyfriend and Sebastian's neurotic father watching their every move, how is Maria going to get her two young children, herself to safety?

This is a gripping story that does not offer up any easy answers to the main characters' situations. I loved the quiet tension and pain that the author created for these characters. They were not loud, but suffering in silence in a huge city. I can't help but think that there are too many real-life Marias and Sebastians who are looking for a way out of their painful day-today existences. Hopefully, books like this one will show these young people the possibilities that exist when you seek help in getting to a safe place.

Character Interview + Magnet Set Giveaway: Tell Me A Secret by Holly Cupala

Holly Cupala's Tell Me A Secret is a gripping novel about a teen girl named Miranda who has lost a sister and is finding out that her friends, boyfriend, and parents are not the people she thought they were. And, she's just found out that she's pregnant. Rather than find support among the people who know her best, Miranda finds the advice and help she needs to stay strong in an online chat room for women who are expecting. She poses as an older girl who has it all figured out--which could not be further from the truth.

In this online forum, Miranda meets a woman named Nik, who really helps her to feel strong and supported. Like Miranda, I fell in love with Nik and was so very excited to interview her. Here is our little chat, which contains some spoilers if you have not read this book. Make sure to enter the giveaway for the Tell Me A Secret magnets at the bottom of this post, which will be sent to you by Holly Cupala herself!

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I have to say that I was moved by your relationship with Miranda. As a teacher of at-risk youth, I often work with teen parents. How were you able to be so available but so lovingly firm with Miranda?

Thank you, Hattie! I have a feeling we would get along well. I’m not sure if I was firm with Miranda, but I think she deserved for someone to tell her the truth. She had herself so mixed up in confusion—in things her family told her, in what she believed, in all those memories she wrapped herself up in—that I’m not sure she could really see what was going on. I’m glad I could be there for her.

There were times as I read Tell Me a Secret when I wished that you were Miranda's mother. You seemed to be calm and caring when Miranda needed that the most. What advice do you have for mothers of teen girls?

It’s easier to trust someone outside of your family sometimes, someone who isn’t all wrapped up in the family patterns. But no one can replace a girl’s mother. You can’t control your daughter, but you can be her advisor. You can show her with your actions and not your words. You can listen and respect her opinion. You can be a place of safety.

You have all of these wise sayings for Miranda when she's going through hard times. Where do these come from? Are they something you heard growing up, or lessons you've learned along the way?

Wisdom comes from all over—you know it when you see it. I had a friend who said, “It’s the grit that makes the pearl,” and I’ve found that to be true. When I was going through a hard time myself, a wise woman told me the reasons for difficult events might not be in the past—they may be in the future, for how we respond and what we do with those experiences. It gave me hope in a dark time. I’ve never forgotten that.

I am so sorry that you lost your baby, Micah James. How are you doing now? Do you plan on trying to have a baby again?

By the time you read this, I might be on that road again. You never know. I’m hopeful about the future, as always. I’ll keep you posted, Hattie!

What's your relationship with Miranda like now that she's in college and is living at home?

Miranda has grown up quite a lot since all of this started. I see her trying to make it on her own, but also relying a lot more on the people who care about her. She’s a good employee, even if she hates every minute at the bank. She’s a pretty resilient girl, even if she doesn’t think so.

Any words of wisdom for a struggling pregnant (or not pregnant) teen who might be reading this post?

If I could take you aside and hug you, I would. Hold onto that little thread of faith you have—in yourself, in the future, in what you know is true. Don’t give up. Find friends. In the end, the hard things in life are what matter the most.

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Thanks, Nik! Now, you all have a chance to win a set of Tell Me a Secret magnets, which Holly Cupala will send to you herself. (She sends the best stuff!) If you'd like to win this gift from Ms. Cupala, just leave a comment about this book or this interview and leave an email address so that we can contact you (Closes 12/ 13). Thanks for reading!

Gratitude Giveaways: The BIG Winner!

Know how they say that everything's bigger in Texas? Sure enough, the winner of my Crescendo (by Becca Fitzpatrick) Prize Pack is from Texas! Funny.

It was super interesting to see where all of my viewers, new and old, are reading from. Most of the states in the US are represented. Thanks to all of you for dropping by. I am hosting many, many more giveaways this month and even more next month for my blogiversary. So, if you did not win today, there will be lots of chances to win other prizes in the immediate future.

Without further ado, the winner of this Prize Pack (and my enduring gratitude) is:

Jen Bigheart from I Read Banned Books

Hope you like all of the Maine goodness that I have gathered for you in your prize pack.
And, let us know what you think of Crescendo!

Thankfully Reading Weekend: Wrap Up

 The Thankfully Reading Weekend is about to end. It's pretty sad. I've had a lot of fun, seen some new blogs, and added some books to the finished pile. With 2010 coming to a close, this is a great accomplishment for me. Here's a little recap:

  • Did you read as much as you hoped?
Yes. More. Which is great, considering that I did a lot with friends and the husband this weekend. Including: played cribbage for several hours with friends, went to the movies to see the latest Harry Potter flick,  put together a new bed with my husband, watched the Patriots game (from the DVR), and cleaned out all of my closets.
  • How many books did you finish and what were the titles?
Let's see. I finished Bait by Alex Sanchez, Chasing Windmills by Catherine Ryan Hyde, Tell Us We're Home by Marina Budhos, and Freefall by Mindi Scott. I also started two other books and read about 200 pages between those two books. 
  • For how many hours did you manage to escape into your books?
Several hours. Whenever my husband escape to the garage to work on whatever it is that he works on out there, I'd sneak off to read. 
  • Did anyone else in your family take time to read?
Not that I know of! I doubt that's what my husband is doing in the garage!
  • What was the winner for the weekend?
Definitely Freefall by Mindi Scott. Easily one of my favorite reads for the year!

Thanks to Jenn of Jenn's Bookshelf, Jen from Devourer of Books, and Candace from Beth Fish Reads for sponsoring this event!

Book Review: Freefall by Mindi Scott

Wow. I just finished reading Mindi Scott's debut novel, Freefall, and the only word that's coming to my mind is wow. I knew that this book was going to be good, but I had no idea that it was going to be great.

How does a woman like Ms. Scott get a male voice so very right? I am not a male (or a teenager for that matter), but I have to imagine that the voice and persona and thoughts and actions that Ms. Scott created for the main character, Seth, are what it is like to be a guy who's a teen. It felt so very authentic, so real. I connected deeply with Seth and some of the minor characters because they felt real, too. So good.

Freefall starts with Seth, a talented bass player who's just lost his best friend Isaac. They had been partying, and Isaac had wanted to sleep under the stars. Seth did not, so he went inside. When Seth woke up, Isaac was dead. He had choked on his own vomit in the middle of the night.

Of course, Seth blames himself for Isaac's death. Isaac was such a force in Seth's life that Seth feels as though nothing will ever be the same. And he's right. There is no same, but there's a whole of of different that can be healthy and good. For one, Seth decides to stop drinking. He and Isaac had gotten into a habit of drinking heavily most nights, and this pattern continued after Isaac's death. Only, Seth was drinking with friends and alone. Not good.

Then there's the issue of communication. Seth is not a great conversationalist. He keeps all of his feelings and fears bottled up to the point where the little that he does let out is very sarcastic and potentially hurtful to whoever is talking with him. He uses this blase front to keep people away. But, when he meets a beautiful, intelligent girl by a pool at a party one night, he finds that he wants to open up. But, he doesn't really know how.

This book is told in a sort of journal style, with dates and times at the top of each section. I honestly lost myself in this book and did not want it to end. It just has that authentic quality to it, that realness that makes a book unforgettable and characters feel like actual people. I feel like I have known Seths and Isaacs before. Again, I don't know how Ms. Scott did this. But, I'd like for her to do it again!

I read this book as part of the Contemps Challenge. I'm loving all of the books that I've read thus far, which is pretty amazing. It's a great challenge and you should all look into joining if you haven't already.

Thankfully Reading Weekend: Mini Challenge #3

 Today's mini-challenge for the Thankfully Reading Weekend asks participants to talk about the reading communities that they participate in. Lucky for me, there are three great reading communities that I am a part of. Here they are:

My Adult Book Club: I don't know why I call it an "adult" book club, except that we tend to read adult books. We have been meeting for more than 7 years at this point, and meet every month except August to chat about our book of the month. I love this club because I read a huge variety of books for it and it breaks my out of the YA genre for a little while. The ladies in this club have become good friends and we're definitely a great support for one another.

The Chick Lit Book Club: I started this club with our then Library Assistant five years ago. The purpose of this club was to get girls and women together to talk about a common YA read without any grades or schoolwork attached. I am happy to say that we are about 20 members strong at this point, and have read and discussed about 40 books over the years. (Look for a Chick Lit Book Club giveaway in my series of January Blogiversary events!)

My Online Blogging Friends: Over my (almost) one year of reading and reviewing for this blog, I have met some great people. I have a bunch of go-to blogs that I trust for reliable information, reviews, and commentary. I love this community! It's definitely allowed me to stay connected to YA lit lovers and to keep abreast of changes/ trends in YA for my students. I am a nerdy reader and love to share my passion for YA with others. Thanks, all! (And, look for a giveaway featuring my favorite book bloggers this January. Lots to come!)

Off to read some more for this reading celebration!

Book Review: Bait by Alex Sanchez

I bought Alex Sanchez's Bait without knowing much about it. I was having a guilty moment in Barnes and Noble--One where I look at the pile of books that I'm about to purchase and realize that there's not a single one that's going to appeal to the teen boys in my classroom. So, I went back to the stacks and pulled this one out without even reading the back of the book. It looked masculine; that was all I needed at the time.

And, it's been sitting on my TBR shelf for sometime. I pulled it down to read this week after one of my make students asked when I was going to stock more "boyish" books. I felt guilty. So I read this one.

I am shocked at how amazing this book is. Shocked. It's so gritty, so real, so well-crafted. I cannot believe that I let it sit on my bookshelf at home for months. It's too good to not be read. It needs to be read. By boys and girls and people who work with teen boys. It's a must-read.

Actually, while reading this book I could not help but think of the recent Tyler Perry interview series with Oprah. In these interviews, Mr. Perry talked about the horrible physical and sexual abuse that he experienced as a young boy. This book is about this very subject. And, from Mr. Perry's descriptions to the way that the main character describes his guilt, anger and conflicting emotions in this book, this story rings true.

In this story, Diego is a sixteen year-old boy with anger to spare. He is constantly getting in fights and cannot control his anger, especially if someone dares to call him a gay or a "fag." He is so touchy that even his best friends are afraid of his unpredictable rages. When a fight lands him jail, Diego knows that he has to change. He meets a man named Mr. Vidas, a parole officer, and wants to spend more time with him. There's something calming about Mr. Vidas and Diego knows he needs to feel calm if he's ever going to work through his anger.

The relationship between Diego and Mr. Vidas takes a while to develop, but Diego quickly finds that he can tell Mr. Vidas anything--even the truth about what happened with his former stepfather and why Deigo feels the need to cut himself. As he shares more and more about his traumatic childhood and his suicidal thoughts, Diego starts to release his anger and feels like he's more in control of his emotions. Diego's recovery and healing are not completely finished by the time the book is over, but I had the impression that he was a changed person.

It's always difficult to talk with students about rape and sexual assault. I teach Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and have guest speakers from our local non-profit organization come in and talk about the realities of these issues. But, there's a part of me that has always wished for a book that was aimed toward teen boys on this subject. It's almost like a taboo to talk about that fact that boys are sexually abused and assaulted. It's much more acceptable to talk about it happening to women and girls. I don't exactly know why this is, but I want to provide materials on this subject to the students in my classroom. Just in case. You never know when or how a book is going to change someone's life for the better.

Thankfully Reading Weekend: Mini Challenge #1

 Jenn of Jenn's Bookshelves is hosting a mini challenge as part of the Thankfully Reading Weekend. So far, I've finished one book (Bait by Alex Sanchez) and have a good start on another (Chasing Windmills by Catherine Ryan Hyde) for this reading challenge.  Off to a good start, time to play a little!

For mini challenge number one, Jenn is asking readers to choose a book that they are thankful for. While there are so very many books that I could choose, I am going to go with my first thought. It's the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

I've read thousands of YA books at this point in my life. As a teacher, there are few books every year that warrant the effort of going through the school board approval process and the fight for funding to order books. It is a complicated and (typically) frustrating process. But, the second I started to read Suzanne Collins's the Hunger Games about three years ago, I knew that needed to teach it.

Not every book is a great read-aloud book. Not every book should be taught to a whole class of students. Not every book needs to be written into the curriculum. This one does.

I have never had students so interested in reading as I have with this series. I teach students who are considered to be "at-risk". Often, this label comes with a lack of reading ability and interest. But, this series seems to appeal to every reader that I've ever taught it to. And, I've taught it for three school years now.

It is so amazing as a teacher of reluctant, disaffected students to get kids laughing out loud, gasping, crying out in the middle of class, predicting plot twists, and begging for me to keep reading. It feels so very good. Even when my throat is sore, they urge me on. I love it.

No matter how upset some book bloggers have been at the progression of this series, I can never say a bad word against Ms. Collins. She has made my students love books and love reading. To me, this is something spectacular and amazing. I didn't know that I would ever find a universal read. Lucky for me, there are three engaging, well-written books that I know I can give to any student. Thanks Ms. Collins. You rock the most!

Thankfully Reading Weekend: Sign Up

I am absolutely, completely drained from the past four days. Monday and Tuesday were all about keeping my high school students under some sort of control. That was succssful but tiring. Wednesday and Thursday were all about mad driving, gorging on delicious food and conversation with people I hardly ever get to see but love dearly, and intense (but productive) bouts of shopping.

And now I'm exhausted.

But, not too tired to read! I am signing up for the Thankfully Reading Weekend (hosted by Jenn of Jenn's Bookshelves), which lasts until Sunday night. I do have some planned activities with friends, but have lots of time to devote to reading.

Books I plan to read (subject to change based on whim):

Freefall by Mindi Scott

Losing Faith by Denise Jaden

Trickster's Girl by Hilari Bell

Bait by Alex Sanchez

I hope to see you all commenting and updating around the blogosphere. Let me know if you're participating, too, and I'll drop by!

Happy Thanksgiving + Alice's Restaurant Massacre

Hello all! I know that today is Thanksgiving in the US and not in other countries, so life is probably pretty normal in other parts of the globe. Even though you all aren't celebrating with us, know that we are a nation full of thanks and best wishes on this day. It's actually a favorite holiday of mine, even though I spend most of it on the road. I've driven about 500 miles in the past two days, which is not super great for my carbon footprint, but necessary to see anyone remotely related to me. Such is life when you grow up and live far from home!

So, in the entirety of my commute, I did not hear the traditional New England Thanksgiving song, "Alice's Restaurant Massacre" by Arlo Guthrie this year. This is a huge oversight! I have listened to this song every year since I was a little tyke. I don't know if this is a traditional that is limited to New England, but it's played every year on Thanksgiving on most radio stations. All in good, morbid fun!

Because I missed it today, I'm going to listen to it now. And, I'm sharing it with all of you in case you missed it too! For those familiar (and unfamiliar) with this song, I hope you enjoy. Happiest of happy days to you all!

Book Review + ARC Giveaway: Empty by Suzanne Weyn

Empty is an exploration of what will happen when our planet's oil reserves finally dry up. It's a cautionary tale that seems bent on reminding us just how dependent we all are on oil, electricity, and propane. Not to mention, the fact that we live in houses that are not designed for cataclysmic storms and that our crazy consumption is not practical or good for the planet.

This story centers around the lives of three teens: Niki, Gwen, and Tom. Niki is a bit of a stereotype before her parents cannot afford to sustain their luxurious lifestyle. She is beautiful and a cheerleader. She's not really up to speed about the news or the actual prices of the valuable resources she's consuming. She's focused on getting her old boyfriend, Brock, to notice her again.

One step in getting Brock's attention is to date Tom, a lesser football player, but handsome nonetheless. Tom is not well-off and popular like Brock, but he has potential. Tom is quiet and unassuming but loves the idea of dating a beautiful girl like Niki. When the superhurricane hits, he is left to take care of his mother, who is developing a serious respiratory problem, and to find food for himself and his neighbors. He is not the type of teen who will watch others suffer and stand by idly. But, there is so much to do, so many people who are starving to death.

This is where Gwen comes in. She has been watching Tom for years and has a bit of a secret crush on him. Since her house burned down due to her older brother/ guardian's storage of ill-obtained gasoline in unsafe containers, she's been wandering and looking for safety in the town's mines. This sounds crazy, but she stumbles across a self-sufficient model home. It's a bit of a green dream, complete with solar power, hydroponic food, and a generator that runs itself. Best of all, no one else knows that this haven exists.

The dialogue and the plot of this book are a little stilted at times. But, the message is value and clear: Something needs to happen before this story becomes our reality. I love that the author included news articles in between the chapters. It gives a sense of credulity to the premise of the book. And, lllthe countries that are spoken about in these news stories are real ones that we need to pay attention to now: Venezuela, Russia, and countries in the Middle East.

There is a whole lot to think about when it comes to consumption and habits that we have developed that are harmful to our environment and our future. Many of us understand that we cannot continue to sustain the lifestyle that most of us have grown accustomed to, yet changing our habits as a nation and a globe seems daunting at best.

I am giving away an ARC copy of this book to one commenter. This contest is for followers located in the US only, though I wish that I could open it up to the world. To enter, simply leave a comment that includes the answer to this question:

What is one effort that you're making to help the environment and/or reduce consumption?

Please include an email with your answer. Giveaway closes on December 8th, 2010 at midnight (EST).

Extra Entries (include in your one comment):
+1 Follower of this blog

Book Review: Wolves, Boys, & Other Things that Might Kill Me by Kristen Chandler

I bought this book not really knowing what it was about. The cover is absolutely gorgeous and I love the original title. This is pretty much all that it takes for me to make a book purchase.

At first glance, I thought that maybe this book was another Shiver or 13 to Life. It was not. It was not paranormal in any way. It was about a girl and actual boys who do not (at any time) turn into wolves.  Nothing unrealistic. Actual wolves, actual people.

After I realized that this book was not paranormal, I settled into actually reading it and not searching for clues about a potential boy, Virgil, who I thought might be a werewolf. In actuality, he was just a normal teenage boy who has the hots for the main character, KJ. KJ is a strong female lead character. She lives on the outskirts of Yellowstone National Park with her father who is a guide and a local sportsman's store owner. He's gruff and a little on the stoic side, but not a horrible father as far as YA goes.

KJ is a tough cookie. She's an assistant guide and knows her way around the woods and around guns. She loves to write and is smart. When she signs up for the journalism class and gets to work with the new boy, Virgil, she's pysched. The teacher suggests that Virgil and KJ work on a column together--Wolf Notes. There is a large population of wolves in and around Yellowstone and the teacher thinks that Virgil's amazing photographs and KJ's stories would make for a great column in the school newspaper.

It's a great column for stirring up controversy. Local ranchers have been losing cattle and sheep to the wolves for years and are fed up with nature lovers and "tree huggers" who seek to protect the wolves. When violence erupts in this quiet town because of KJ and Virgil's efforts, KJ feels like she's to blame. Worse, her father's store mysterious catches fire and Virgil is shot at. There's no going back and it seems that there's no going forward with the town completely divided on this issue.

This is an interesting novel. I did not absolutely love it, as it was a little slow for my taste. But, I think that there are lots of readers who would be fascinated with this topic. It was not poorly written or sensationalized. I know that there have been efforts to reintroduce wolves in Maine and similar controversy has ensued.

This book would be great for a teen or an adult who is concerned with the reintroduction of wolves from Canada to the Northern United States. It brings up a whole host of issues along with the wolf topic. And, there's a nice little love story/ mystery to go along with it. It was an afternoon well-spent.

Book Review: Willow by Julia Hoban

I've read other books that deal with teens who self-mutilate, but none have been as engrossing, developed, or as realistic as Julia Hoban's Willow.  In comparison, other titles feel a lot more shallow and less holistic. Willow is nothing short of disturbing and breath-taking.

In this book, Willow is a smart, authentic-seeming teenage who is living a nightmare. She has labeled herself a "killer" because she was driving the night that she and her parents suffered a fatal car accident. She is the only survivor. Never mind that Willow's parents had that second bottle of wine and were too impaired to drive home, never mind that the rain was torrential, never mind that Willow only had her learner's permit. She blames herself and wants everyone else to.

Too ease her pain (or possibly to validate it) Willow begins to cut herself. I have never read a book that describes this process, mentally, emotionally, and physically in such excruciating detail. It is sickening in its reality.  Willow successfully hides her addiction to cutting successfully until a boy named Guy catches her doing it. After this, Willow makes him promise not to tell anyone. He agrees and they begin a rocky but intensely close relationship.

Normally, I would want Guy to tell someone quickly so that Willow could get help. This is me as a reader who works with teens every day. This is me as an adult looking in a judging Willow and Guy and wanting someone to help Willow, to force her to change. But, that would not make such a compelling read. Because the relationship between Guy and Willow is so authentic, so based on feelings and fears and mutual respect that I don't want that to be messed up with Guy telling on her. But, I don't want Willow to continue cutting, either.

In this way, the author puts the reader in Guy's shoes. If he tells, Willow may be forced to get help. But, if she's not ready for help then she will continue to cut (or try another route to ease her pain) without actually working through her sadness and loneliness and pain. Sure, Guy is a teenager and cannot be expected to take on Willow's problems, but I do think that he does a great job of caring about her as a person. He helps her work through her problems in a natural, caring manner. He's not looking for sex, but for her companionship. This is refreshing.

I would hope that teens (and adults) who read this book understand more about the psychology behind cutting. I don't hope that teens (or adults) will try to take on the problems of someone who is cutting; that is scary to me. But, I do recognize that friends have an enormous role in the lives of those who are hurting. I think that Guy models an engaged, concerned friend who just does not know how to help someone who is in as much pain as Willow.

This book is a must-have for high school libraries and classrooms. I have worked with students in the past who have arms scarred up and down from cutting. I feel like this book has allowed me some insight into this world, of which I admittedly have very little understanding. I will definitely put this book in my classroom and use Willow's story as a point of reference for future situations where I find that a student in my care is self-mulitating.

If you've read this book, please let me know what you thought.

Winners Announced: 250 Followers Giveaway!

 Thanks to all who entered my 250 Followers Giveaway. I appreciate your comments, your interest, your ideas. It's awesome to be here. If you did not win today, please know that I have a HUGE celebration planned for my blogiversary month, which is January. I don't know exactly how many winners will be chosen, but there are going to be 11 giveaways and many will have more than one winner.

Anyway, here are the lucky winners of gift cards to the Book Depository (chosen via

$15 Gift Card (or book choice up to this amount):

Briana of The Book Pixie
(Prize Claimed!)

$10 Gift Card (or book choice up to this amount):

Brandi Leigh of Blkosiner's Book Blog

Ladies, please contact me within 48 hours to claim your prize.

Book Review: Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien

Hundreds of years from now, Lake Superior is a dried wasteland renamed "Unlake Superior." The bountiful North America that we now know has been replaced by a barren, hostile world. Inside the walled-off enclave the wealthy live in relative luxury, on the outskirts of the Wall the poor scrape by. Only, the children of the poor have a chance at being accepted into this world of privilege. The first three babies born every month are "advanced" from their birth parents and will be adopted by the rich families inside the Enclave.

Sixteen year-old Gaia Stone is training to become a midwife. She is horribly scarred from an accident that happened when she was just a toddler. Her horrendous facial scars make her bashful in most situations, but not when she's attending a birth. Her mother is a master midwife and has shown Gaia all that she knows, including the process of tattooing a "birthmark" on a newborn before it's handed over to the guards at the wall.

When Gaia's mother and father are taken by force one night, she decides to enter the Enclave illegally. Once she does, she meets a whole host of people who are willing to risk their lives to rebel against the sick system that has robbed the people outside the wall of their children for hundreds of years and that has kept the gene pool inside the wall riddled with diseases, weak DNA, and infertility.

This is a thought-provoking exploration of a futuristic world where no parent has the right to their children and where the rich are pitted against the poor in a strict caste system. Gaia and many of the other women in this story are depicted as strong and intelligent. True heroines--an encouraging trend that will hopefully continue in YA lit.

There are some aspects of this book that don't always add up, but on the whole this series is rich, fresh, and exciting. I read that there are two more books planned for future release. I can't wait to read the next book in this series and find out what happens to Gaia and the rest of the rebels of this dystopian world!

**Read as part of the YAD2 Reading Challenge from Bart's Bookshelf**

2011 Debut Author Challenge: The Story Siren

Kristi at The Story Siren is hosting her Third Annual Debut Author Challenge. I entered late this last year (and won for July--woot!) and have decided that I always need to take part in this challenge. It's a great way to learn about up and coming authors, the newest titles, and to meet all sorts of book bloggers. I love it.

And, Kristi has already put together a handy-dandy spread sheet of novels that qualify for this challenge. I have already signed up for tours for Julia Karr's XVI and know that I'll be reading books like Across the Universe and The Water Wars. This challenge is super fun and easy--you just try to read one new author per month, but if you miss a month it's no big deal.

If you need more info or would like to sign up for this challenge, visit The Story Siren.

The 2011 Debutante Event from Badass Bookie

2011 is going to be an exciting year. There are so many great and intriguing books that are going to be released, it's hard to keep track of them all. Luckily, the generous and thoughtful Badass Bookie is planning to host a huge celebration for 2011's incoming debut novels and authors.

Of course, there are prizes and all-out awesomeness planned. Head over to her blog to check out some of the gorgeous books she's planning to giveaway for this event!

Gratitude Giveaways: My Giveaway!

Welcome to the my little piece of the Gratitude Giveaway Hop!

I am so excited to host this giveaway to thank those of you who have been reading and commenting on my blog for the past months. I am thankful to have all of you to interact with about the books I'm reading. It truly is a pleasure! If you're just stopping by as part of the hop, welcome!

Onto the giveaway. When planning this giveaway, I tried to come up with a list of people and things in my life that I am grateful for. This was easy once I got past my family, friends, dog, car, job, house, etc. But, then I started to think about my love for my state and how thankful I am to live where I do.

For those of you who don't know, I live in Maine. I am not originally from this state, but love it and plan to spend forever here. I love living among mountains and rivers and forests. And, the people of Maine are awesome. Wicked awesome. (It's New England saying...)

So, for this giveaway, I am offering up a copy of Becca Fitzpatrick's Crescendo to one lucky follower. This book takes place in the wonderful state of Maine. It is the second in the Hush, Hush series, so you may want to find a copy of the first book before you read this second one. And you'll definitely want to read both!

I am also going to throw in a few Maine-inspired goodies, including a postcard and a Needham. (Pronounced "Need-um".) Needhams are chocolate covered potato/ coconut candies. This might not sound all that appetizing, but they're super good. Love em. I may add in a couple of other goodies, not sure. But, everything will relate to Maine.

To enter, fill out this form AND leave a comment with the state that you are from. This contest is not international (but I have an international one coming soon!). Contest closes on Sunday, November 28th at 12PM.

Check out all of the other blogs that are participating in this hop!

Book Review: Candor by Pam Bachorz

When I went to spend the remainder of my book budget at my local bookseller a couple of weeks ago, the owner suggested that I pick up a copy of Candor by Pam Bachorz. I had read a couple of online reviews, but this bookseller knows what I like and what my students will like, so I agreed.

And I am so very happy that I did!

Candor is possibly one of the most believable dystopias I have ever read. It has universal appeal, I think, for girls and guys, for teens and adults. I could even see myself using this book in reading circles or as a whole-class read. It's just that real, that scary, that awesome.

It's about this closed-off town in Florida. It was created by a man who was afraid that his family would leave him. So, he decided to purchase a huge chunk of land and build lots of fancy houses and a few little businesses. These houses would be sold at huge prices, partially because they are nice, but mostly because of what they promise. Total control over your children, your wife, your husband, your addictions, your abnormalities. Total.

How? There is music everywhere in this town. It's playing non-stop, even if you can barely hear it. Every track is filled with subliminal messages. Telling you what to think, how to feel. This is the perfect town, if you like "perfect" teens, "perfect" families. If not, you're in danger. Because the the messages will change you. If not, you will be taken away and reprogrammed. Candor will win.

The only teen who's rebelled successfully against these messages for any length of time is the son of the town's creator. Oscar moved to Candor with his mother and father after his brother's tragic death. Shortly after they moved there, Oscar's mother left. For good. And Oscar's father is going to make sure that Oscar never leaves.

But, what Oscar's dad doesn't know is that there is a growing subversive element in this town. That Oscar is helping teens to escape Candor. And, that Oscar has plans to leave and never return. Oscar's dad doesn't know this, but he does know that someone is working against him. And, he's going to find out who it is.

Again, this book is a must for anyone who loves (or even just likes) the dystopian genre. It is so very entertaining, so real-feeling that I could not put it down. Unlike some of the more extravagant and imaginative dystopias, this one has the hallmark of a true story. Which makes it all the more scary. This is Pam Bachorz's first novel--I cannot wait to read another!

Book Review + Book Giveaway: Far From You by Lisa Schroeder

Nely from All About {n} is hosting a Holiday Reading Challenge. For this challenge I've read one book so far. It's one that I actually heard about on Nely's blog. It's called Far From You and I actually have two copies, so one will go on my classroom shelves and one will go to one of you!

I was intrigued by this book because it is a novel told in verse. And the cover is pretty stunning.  I love reading poems and am trying to support novels in verse because I'm excited about the rising popularity of this genre. So, I decided to start this reading challenge by reading this book.

Far From You is the story of a teen girl girl who  lost her mother to cancer years ago. Just recently, though, her father is now remarried and his new wife is pregnant. It's all too soon for Alice.

Sometimes, Alice can be a tough character to feel close to. She is distant from her family, and doesn't want anything to do with her stepmother or the new baby. She does want to re-establish a relationship with her father, but seems to shut down whenever he's around. Of course, this makes her character all the more believable. And, I wanted to see her through to a less angry place. I had faith that she'd get there. But, I didn't know how.

On the way home after a Thanksgiving road trip, Alice, her stepmother, and the newborn baby find themselves stranded in a snowstorm. It is here, in the close quarters of the SUV that Alice's anger and frustration and sheer loss comes to a head. She and her stepmother, Victoria, have the inevitable fight but then move to a place of understanding. And, Alice gets to see Victoria, her new sister, and her mother in a whole new way. Once this trip is finished, Alice will never be the same.

I read this book in the space of a couple hours. It was riveting and so very quick. The verse format makes it possible to absolutely devour this book, but still feel connected to the characters. I was truly pulling for Alice by the end of the book. Which is not how I felt after I first met her.

So, I'm off to a great start in this Holiday Reading Challenge and I'm excited to see which one of you will win my extra copy of this book! To enter, please leave a comment about why you'd like to read this book. This contest is US only; but, I have other international contests coming soon!

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Good luck and Happiest of Holidays to all of YOU!

Winner: Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde

It is with great pleasure that I give away a copy of Catherine Ryan Hyde's Jumpstart the World. I loved this book and loved having Catherine Ryan Hyde stop by as a guest. Thanks to all who commented on her guest post. She truly sends a message that needs to be shared.

The winner is: Jan von Harz of EATING YA BOOKS

I've emailed the winner! Please email me back with your address within 48 hrs. 

Thanks to all who entered. Make sure to find a copy of this book. It's a great read!

It's Another New Year: My BIG Blogiversary Giveaway

This January marks the end of my first year of blogging on DeRaps Reads. I have had so much fun, met so many cool people, and have read so many great books that I cannot help but want to celebrate. Those who know me well know that I love parties and holidays and fun, so I am going to try to make this blogiversary a little more exciting by planning to host a series of giveaways. Not one, not two, but ELEVEN awesome giveaways. And, I'm hoping that some of these will contain more than one prize.

I am just in the planning stages of this huge event, and would like some feedback. I want to know if you like the idea of staggering the giveaways so that there are several days of giveaway fun, or do you think it would be better to have a few large ones?

I am also in need of a cool button for this giveaway. I would *attempt* to make on myself, but am overwhelmed with work, grad school, and getting new books on my free reading shelves for my students. Anyone who'd like to design a button for me? Maybe someone who can do this relatively quickly? I'll give you some sort of gift for doing so!

Please feel free to leave a comment or two about the topics I've mentioned in this post. Thanks for you support!

Book Review: The Julian Game by Adele Griffin

As far as popularity goes, Raye is on the outside and loves to look in. She is new scholarship student at the Fulton School, a ritzy city school where the children of the rich and brilliant go to prep for their Ivy League years. Her nights are spent watching movies and pigging out with her best friend, Natalya. This all changes when the most popular girl at school, Ella, asks Raye for help in getting revenge against the most gorgeous, charming boy in town: Julian.

Raye is quick, and shows Ella a fake facebook profile that she created with Natalya as a bit of a joke. The profile is for a beautiful girl named Elizabeth, who claims to have recently come to the US to attend college. Natalya and Raye have fun using this profile to "friend" those that would never talk to them in real life. When Raye offers up Elizabeth as a way to get revenge against Julian, Ella jumps all over it.

Julian takes to Elizabeth quickly. Raye poses as Elizabeth for hours and hours every day, having great conversations with Julian. Quickly, the conversations become more and more intimate. Eventually, Raye is going to have to decide whether or not she can continue as Elizabeth, or try to date Julian for read. If she chooses to play along as Elizabeth, Julian will lose interest and realize that it was all a bad joke. If Raye chooses reality, Ella is going to punish her. And Raye knows that it will be painful.

I loved this book. The cover is great, and so is the message: Social networking can be dangerous. This message is obvious, but it never felt all that preachy. I didn't feel as though my students would be turned off from it. Certainly, my students are not over-privileged teens causing trouble online. But, there have been many cases of cyberbullying and online harassment in the past few school years. 

I think that this topic of the dangers of social networking and the different types of bullying that have resulted from new and emerging technologies is here to stay in YA lit. There is a lot of room for more of this topic in YA, and I'd be interested to hear about more titles that incorporate this topic into their plots.

Book Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

First off, I have been waiting to read anything by Lauren Oliver after reading Before I Fall. Anything. Post its. A shopping list. She's just that genius.

Second, this book did not dissuade from wanting to read more of her work. It's amazing. So, I'll just have to wait to see where she goes next. Because she's anything but typical.

Typical authors stick with a certain genre, or within a certain type of book. Maybe this is because they are comfortable writing this way. There's nothing wrong with it. It just is.  Lauren Oliver is not this writer. Her first book was a great novel, but it was a fairly realistic read. It had some elements of the paranormal, but there were no vampires or werewolves. This novel, Delirium, starts and ends in a whole other direction. It's totally different, but just as engaging and intriguing as her first. In my eyes, she has passed her sophomore year with flying colors. And, I'm not ready for her to graduate!

Delirium is the story of a futuristic world where love is forbidden. Once a teen turns into an adult, they are given an operation that sounds a bit like a lobotomy and any intense feelings go away. No deep lusting love, no blinding rage. Their emotions turn vanilla for the rest of their lives.

The main character, Lena, is all set to go through with this procedure. She has read all of the literature, and is deeply concerned that she will fall in love and ruin her chances for a safe, calm life. This fear is rooted in the fact that her mother, who committed suicide when Lena was young, was never cured. Lena's mother left behind a little girl who is deathly afraid to have intense feelings of any kind.

But, Lena meets Alex. He's cured, she's not. So, she's allowed to talk with him. But every time she does, she cannot stop thinking about him. She risks her perfect record of good behavior and breaks curfew to be with him. She stops hanging out with her best friend so often. She lies to her aunt about where she's going. In short, Lena falls in love.

And once she does, nothing is the same. Alex opens Lena's eyes to a whole other lifestyle. There are "Invalids" who live in the woods, teens and young adults who hold special parties filled with music, dancing and mingling. There are spies and secret rebels who are working to infiltrate the government and create change. Lena had no idea.

This world is so carefully created and so believable. I fell deeply into the stress and conflict contained within it. This book was probably made more realistic for me personally because it takes place in Portland, Maine, which is our state's largest city and funnest place to be. I knew every street, every cove, every location Oliver spoke about in this book. I could easily picture it. Because I knew where it was all happening, I almost felt like it could happen. Like there would be a time that the government would seek to control emotions to control its people. It's a little far-fetched, but an interesting exploration nonetheless.

I highly recommend this book to Lauren Oliver fans, to those who enjoyed Ally Condie's Matched, and to fans of the dystopian genre. It's good.

**Read as part of the ARC Tours at Dark Faerie Tales**

Book Review: Teenage Waistland by Lynn Biederman and Lisa Pazer

Marcie, Age 16, Starting Weight: 288 LBS.

Robert, Age 16, Starting Weight: 335 LBS.

East, Age 15, Starting Weight: 278 LBS. 

All three of these teens join a whole bunch of other teens in entering into an experimental study of the effects of the Lap-Band on teen patients. Each of the teens chosen for this study is obese, and each has some underlying emotion issue that has caused their weight gain. Though some of these teens don't want to admit why they need help, they know that they do. And, they're willing to try anything to get it.  

I think that this book is a pretty revolutionary one for teen readers. We've all seen reality shows where people compete to lose weight, and we've all seen the emotional layers that come off as the pounds melt away. And, we've all seen the headlines: America is an obese nation. 

Given our current nutritional climate, this book should be of some help and inspiration to those who find themselves teen-aged and morbidly obese. The stories of these three teens and the others profiled in the book could be anyone's life. Sure, there are some dramatic sub-plots that all teens won't be able to relate to, but the lives portrayed in this novel are fairly typical. The lives of the teens are not all bad and they're certainly not all good. They have issues with parents and siblings and pressure to fit in and date. Unfortunately, most lack the confidence to pursue relationships with others. So, when they come together, they form an easy alliance. 

My hope would be that this book not go unread by teens (and adults) who have not had significant issues with food or weight in their lives. I think that one aspect of this book that was done extremely well was the portrayal of the realistic feelings and emotions that these teens feel in relation to carrying their weight and shedding it. Skinnier people do not necessarily make happier, more well-adjusted people. So, there is enormous potential for others to learn to be sensitive to others who find themselves in a toxic relationship with food. 

There are so very many YA books that deal with anorexia and bulimia, but there are so few that talk about binge eating and overeating. I am not saying that there should not be books about the first two eating disorders, but there is definitely room to hear about the realities of those who hide emotions or stuff down feelings with food. This is a type of eating disorder as well. And, it's one that we need to understand more about if we ever hope to heal a growing number of people in our country who are hurting--especially our kids.

HUGE Giveaway Alert: Happy Haul-idays from Chronicle Books

Post a list of Chronicle Books valued at up to $500 that you’d like to haul in, and you’ll be automatically entered into a drawing to WIN your list of books! And, one of your readers who comments on the post will win the list too!
Last day to submit entries is December 10th!
Wow! This is an amazing opportunity. Think of all the great books that I could get for my classroom shelves. I went to the Chronicle site and found these gems that would surely make my high school students excited to read. Here are some of the books I'd choose if I were to win this prize. And, make sure to comment (and/or write your own post) so that you can win too!

And, there about twenty other selections that I took pictures of for this post. But, I'll spare you all of the options. What do you think of these? I know that these will either get kids reading or help me teach. Either way, let's hope that you and I win together!

Book Review: Annexed by Sharon Dogar

Every school year, I teach Elie Wiesel's memoir Night. Every year, it's difficult to read about his horrific experiences as a Jew living in Hilter's Europe. It's not a pleasant experience, but I keep teaching this book because of the affect it has on my students. They are almost always moved and inspired. It is with this in mind that I have decided to create a stockpile of Holocaust and WWI-era YA lit in my classroom. One of the books I purchased with my budget this year is Sharon Dogar's Annexed.

Annexed is the fictional account of Peter van Pels's experience of hiding from the Nazis with Anne Franks and their families. For two years, he and his mother and father, Anne with her mother, father, and sister, and a Jewish doctor lived in a cramped attic above Otto Frank's warehouse. Even though they took all precautions available to them, they were found out and sent to concentration camps. Of the eight hideaways, only Otto Frank, Anne's father, survived.

Anne Frank's diary survived the war, so her voice is the one that colors our understandings of what it was like to spend two years locked in an attic while fearing for your life, your family, and the hundreds of people you used to know. Annexed adds Peter's unique perspective to this mix, and goes beyond the time that Anne's voice stops. He takes us on the train after the group is caught, into the concentration camp, and on the death march that killed him.

This colorful imagining of historical events has some upset, but I find it fascinating. I know that it is painful for me to revisit Wiesel's story every year with my sophomores. I cannot imagine the strength and courage that it took to write this novel. While Dogar's imaginings may be completely off-base from the actual thoughts, feelings, and experiences of Peter van Pels, it is important to allow authors to create voices for those who are voiceless. I cannot imagine that Peter would have been angry that an author in the 21st century cared enough about his life to write a book that would go on to raise awareness about the Holocaust.

This book, and other historical fictions that have yet to be written, are inspirational and cautionary all at the same time. Our new and future generations of readers and activists need voices like Peter's to urge them to action so that the horrors that were every day in the 1930's and 40's never happen again.

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To all veterans, past and present: Thank you for your service and your commitment to protecting our country and the people of the world. You are the true unsung heroes of our nation.

Book Review: They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

It is not often that I read nonfiction, especially nonfiction YA books. When I do, it is usually for my classroom. This book, They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group is one that I had selected to purchase for use in my classroom this year. I chose this text because I am deeply interested in human and civil rights and want to promote an accepting and inviting atmosphere for all students in my classroom.

This is not always easy to do in rural Maine. Our state has been called the "whitest" in the country; our school has less than 1% of students of African American, Asian American, or Latino American descent. Combined. (We do have a stronger showing of Native American students at about 3%.) And, for a state so far from the Mason-Dixon Line, we have an awful lot of Confederate flags on belt buckles and bumper stickers.

I am not implying that there is more racism in our school than in any other across the country. I do think that there is an extreme lack of information about other cultures. So, I purchase books like this one in hopes that students will learn. Here's what this book has to offer:

-A time line of events starting before the Civil War and leading up to the election of President Obama
-A collection of ads, articles, cartoons, drawings, and photographs depicting civil rights issues
-An easy-to-understand representation of historical events, including political movements and policies related to civil rights, voting procedures, and the formation of the KKK
-Reproductions of historical documents, like the Emancipation Proclamation
-Pictures and interview excerpts from former slaves

This book is extremely user and reader-friendly. I am not exactly sure what the reading level is, but it is probably somewhere between 8th and 10th grade. Some sections are easier to understand than others. Overall, I learned a lot about the politics and the agendas of both the American North and South during the years before and after the Civil War.

I think that this is an essential text for classrooms across our country. The information and the visuals contained in this book make it an enticing read for any up-and-coming civil rights activist. Hopefully, some of my students will be inspired to read it and then spread awareness about civil rights. Because the fight is not yet finished. 

Book Review + Book Giveaway: Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde

I read this book in one sitting. I had been saving it for a Sunday afternoon because I knew that it was going to be an easy-to-get-into read and that I wouldn't have to put it down. What I didn't plan on were the range of emotions and the huge revelations that I'd have about relationships and identity and human nature. I guess you just can't schedule that stuff in.

I've never read a Catherine Ryan Hyde book before, but now I want to read all of them. She created some of the most realistic teens that I'd ever read about in the space of less than 200 pages. Not that there is a page length requirement for reality, but I was just impressed at how quickly I recognized these characters as real people.

Jumpstart the World is the story of a teen girl named Elle who is struggling and lonely. She is alone in a way that a lot of teens I know are: Her mother is otherwise occupied in her own life, and friends don't come easy. Even more, Elle doesn't seem to be very comfortable in her own body or in her thoughts and feelings. She's a little emotionally bankrupt at the start of the book. So, when she meets her new neighbor, a kind man named Frank, she is surprised at how quickly she feels a connection with him.

Frank is a great listener. He's in his thirties and is interesting. He works as a vet tech and eats homemade chicken noodle soup made by his girlfriend. Quickly, Elle and Frank forge a friendship and a habit of good talks out on the fire escape.

And Elle starts to make friends at school. Sure, they're a little different. Outcasts, even. But they genuinely seem to like Elle and accept her for her eccentricities. She even has them over for a little "party". But, when Frank comes over for a quick hello, Elle's view of him changes. Her friends point out that Frank may be transgendered. Elle cannot deal with this, and the fact that she may have a crush on Frank. Because what does that say about her?

This cast of characters, this setting, this set of issues and problems seems very real to me. Yes, there are some less-than-plausible situations and parts of this story, but it rings true on the whole. I am happy to have this book on my classroom shelves and hope that it makes its way into the hands of someone who needs it. Whether that person be someone who's questioning their own sexuality, or thinking about identity in a much more general sense, I think that it has the potential to help.

And, I have one copy of this book for one of you! To enter, simply leave a comment with an email address. This contest is open to US residents only. Sorry to my international friends! A winner will be drawn on Monday, Nov. 15th.

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Book Review: The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt

This week, a former student finished a tour in Afghanistan. His family and our local community have all breathed a collective sigh of relief. He is such a good person and I cannot wait to see him when he returns. It is with this young man in mind that I picked up Dana Reinhardt's The Things a Brother Knows.

Though there are few connections between this fictional story and the teen I know, there is no doubt that each have seen and done things during their service that they will never forget. Some experiences might have been wonderful, but I bet there will be troubling thoughts and adjustments to be made when returning to their former lives.

This book is told from the perspective of a teen boy, Levi, the younger brother of Boaz, who joined the Marines rather than go to any of the Ivy League colleges he'd applied to. The relationship between Levi and Boaz wasn't exactly tight before Bo left and went to war. But, when he returns and doesn't talk or leave his room, Levi is stunned. Gone is the golden child, the overachiever who Levi has always looked up to.

When Bo's computer breaks and Levi offers up his laptop as a replacement, Levi gets an insight into Bo's world. What he finds is confusing and scary. It seems that his brother is obsessed with military sites, with blogs maintained by Marines, and is planning some sort of trip to Washington DC. Levi doesn't know exactly what's going on, but he knows it can't be good.

And then Bo leaves, supposedly for a trek on the Appalachian Trail. Levi knows better. He knows that his brother isn't looking to find nature. So, Levi does what any loving, concerned brother would do: He follows Bo.

*  *  *
I can't stress how very real and gripping this novel is. I read it in about three hours. I just could not put it down. Every character rings true, every bit of dialogue and situation seems like it was drawn from real life. I loved the main character, Levi, and his family and friends. His brother was a little harder to understand and to get to know, but that's the whole point. He's unavailable. 

Unfortunately, this story is going to feel far too real for some of the people who read it in the next few years. We have lots and lots of young men and women who are returning from places that their families and friends will just never understand. No matter how well-meaning and loving we all are, there are going to be rough spots. Some will emerge more able to cope than others. Some will be distant. All will need us to be as patient and willing to reconnect with their loved ones as Levi and his family are in this book.

Book Review: Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony

Canada, 2041. North America, Europe, and (possibly) other parts of the world have suffered a Collapse. Meaning that the economic system of stocks and bonds and bank loans and stores has fallen. People are back to a barter and trade economy, which is good for those who know how to live off of the land and who have some sort of valuable skill set. Not so true for others who are used to ordering out for food and relied on credit cards to get by. But, these people are dying off or are adjusting to life after the Collapse.

This story starts in Canada, with a 16 year-old girl named Molly. She is a talented fiddle played and a hard worker. She lives on her family's farm, and is pretty self-sufficient. She'll have to be, because her mother received some information that Molly's grandmother might have passed away. That leaves Molly's estranged grandfather all alone in Oregon. The United States. Far away in normal life, never mind a world where gas and oil are non-existent.

Because Molly's mother is pregnant, she cannot attempt the weeks-long trip to Oregon. And, the family has little in the way of cash to get Molly to the US safely. Molly will have to make-do with what she has and rely on the kindness of strangers and her ingenuity. So starts Molly's journey into the wold world of a post-apocalyptic United States.

Sounds like a fairly good premise for a dystopian book, right? Well, there were several problems with it that kept me from loving it. Which is strange for me, because I normally love this genre above all others and have a high tolerance for unbelievable plots. But, there was something too gentle and kind about this book. When I started reading it, I was thinking that it would be a YA version (or something similar to) Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I didn't need it to be quite so gruesome, but there had to be some suffering, some vioence, some death, some destruction, right? I mean, people are supposedly going hungry. As in dying. But, there was not a single death in this story. And, that was just a little too chipper for this reader.

Even more painful for me were the lack of emotions expressed by the main character in this book. She would have something horrible or potentially defeating happen to her and just kind of move on. Too shallow, to unrealistic for me.

I'm thinking that this book might be more of a middle grade read than a high school one. I cannot picture my high school readers, who have loved The Hunger Games and The Knife of Never Letting Go series, picking up this book and being satisfied. But, there may be a place for it in a middle school classroom. I'll have to donate it to the library there. I just don't think that it's going to interest any of my dystopia-crazed kiddos. Too neat and clean and nice. My kids aren't into that!

Book Review: The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

At some point after starting Kody Keplinger's The DUFF, I paused my reading to find out who in the world had written this book. Why? Because it felt as though I were eavesdropping on a some of my students talking about their weekend plans. Is this bad? No. The dialogue and narration were so realistic, so convincing that I knew that someone of great talent had written this novel. And, it turns out that this person is Kody Keplinger and that she is 18 years old.

Which makes sense, right? Who else but an 18 year old know how teens sound and think and feel? Still, though, it takes a serious talent (at any age) to know what people of a certain age are like and then translate that into believable characters and an interesting plot. That's just what this book has in spades.

The main character of The DUFF, Bianca, is instantly believable and likable. She is a little awkward physically, but shard as a knife in terms of wit and intelligence. The book opens with a crabby and bored Bianca watching her gorgeous best friends gyrate in a club, wishing that she could just make a getaway. But, her super hot best friends love to party and flirt, so Bianca stays.

Enter smokin' hot player-boy Wesley Rush. His first act on the scene is to tell Bianca, who's not really a close friend, but who is in the same social circle, that she is a DUFF. A Designated Ugly Fat Friend. How does Bianca react? She throws her glass of Cherry Coke right in his face. And she finally gets to leave the club.

But Wesley's comment stays with her. No matter how she tries to forget what Wesley thinks of her, she cannot. Why? Because she thinks he's right.

And circumstances in Bianca's life are not perfect. Her mother is absent, her father is unable to face the fact that his marriage is crumbling, and Bianca doesn't feel as though she has a chance with her crush or any other boy. She was heart-broken as a freshman and that rejection still stings years later.  Bianca's a bit of a mess, but she's real and entertaining and I love her.

I could not put this book down and laughed out loud several times. The ending is a tad rushed, but this is easily forgiven. The quality of the writing and the intensity of this book are superb. I can't wait to read whatever else Ms. Keplinger writes. At 18, she has a long future as an amazing author ahead of her!

**Read as part of the Contemps Challenge**

Gratitude Giveaways: Coming Soon

This year, I will be taking part of the Gratitude Giveaways celebration that will happen from November 17th - November 27th. I am a Reader, not a Writer is the organizer for this event.

What is a Book Blog Giveaway Hop?
Bloggers each offer a book related giveaway on their own site and link up together. Then followers can jump from one site to another and quickly enter lots of giveaways.

How can you participate?
If you have a blog you can sign up to join the 140 blogs that are participating so far and host a giveaway on your site. To sign up GO HERE.
If you don't have a blog or don't wish to host a giveaway just stop by starting November 17th and start entering the giveaways.

So, be looking for upcoming details about this giveaway. I have a couple of ideas about a prize pack or two that I'd like to put together. Stay tuned!

Three Winners!

I have been waiting to announce these winners for some time. I wanted to wait for the Dr. Seuss contest to be over to give away the Halloween prizes that I am SO excited to give. I hope that these winners love these books (and bookmarks and such) as much as I do!

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan and Swag
Titania86 from Fishmuffins of Doom

The Halloween Prize Pack

Winners: Please contact me within 48 hrs of receiving your email. I will choose someone else if you are unable to contact me with your mailing address within that time frame. I only go to the post office once a week, so make sure you respond quickly!

If you didn't win this contest, feel free to enter my 250 followers giveaway. I am going to add to the prizes if this giveaway turns into a 300 followers event. Fun and excitement!

And, I am holding off on announcing the winner of the Beautiful Creatures/ Darkness swag until I post my review of B. Darkness. It'll come soon, I promise!

Author Guest Post: Anna Levine, Author of Freefall

Anna Levine's Freefall takes place in Isreal, where all teens complete mandatory military service. I was intrigued by this setting and this culture, so I asked Ms. Levine to explain her choice to set her book in this locale. Here's what she had to say:

Israel is my inspiration. I’ve lived here for years, but still don’t get it. When I wander through the streets of Jerusalem (inevitably getting lost because the roads twist and turn on each other) I am overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, smells and commotion. I love the way the populations mix and go about their business in the most normal way possible. I guess I want to capture the magic of this city which gets a lot of bad press, but if you live here you realize how the people, the culture and the flavors all blend together.  

I use Israel as my setting because I live here and want to capture the pulse of the country, but in truth, I write about characters, about teens struggling to find themselves, assert their individuality, find love and acceptance among their friends and family, like teens do everywhere.