The A-Z Reading Challenge: Sign-Up

Okay. This is my last year-long challenge for 2011, I swear. (Probably.) Truthfully, I've been thinking about joining The Thoughts of a Book Junky's A-Z Reading Challenge for some time. Why? I'm pretty sure that I could do this one fairly easily and I have already read one book that starts with "x." When is that going ever to happen again?

Here's a **tentative** list of the books I'm going to read for this challenge:

A- Across the Universe by Beth Revis
B- Bumped by Megan Mccafferty
C- Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare
D- Drought by Pam Bachorz
E- Extras by Scott Westerfeld
F- Forever by Maggie Stiefvater
G- Grace by Elizabeth Scott
H- Hex Hall by
I- Identical by Ellen Hopkins
J- Jane
K- Kiss of Life by Daniel Waters
L- Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
M- Momento Mora by Angie Smibert
O- Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough
P-Paranormalcy by Kirsten White
R- Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
S- Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
T- Timeless by Alexandra Monir
U-Unearthly by Cynthia Hand
V- Vesper by Jeff Sampson
W-Wither Lauren DeStephano
X- XVI by Julia Karr
Y- You
Z- Zombies Vs Unicorns

Okay, so I'm stuck on "m" and "q." Any recommendations?

Character Interview + Book Giveaway: Maria from Marina Budhos' Tell Us We're Home

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview one of the main characters of Marina Budhos' book Tell Us We're Home. This book is about a strong friendship between three girls who find themselves united by a common thread: they are all the poor, immigrant children of maids in a wealthy New Jersey suburb. This book has been called a YA version of Kathryn Stockett's The Help. Here's my interview with Maria.

Hello Maria!

I am sorry to admit that you were not always my favorite person in this story. I was upset at you for much of this book because I did not always agree with the choices that you were making and the way that you treated some of the people in your life, particularly your mother. But, by the end of the book, I felt as though you has changed the most and I felt like I was super proud of you. How has this transformation affected your life for the better?

The biggest change is I feel more confident.  I’m not trying to please everyone all the time.  I think I kind of romanticized some kids, especially the American kids, like Tash.  Lola says I had stars in my eyes.  And maybe she was right.  It feels good to be a little more grounded.  Sometimes it’s a little harder, though.  I don’t get lost in my fantasy-head as much anymore.  And I feel as if I can see through some of the phony kids more.  But that’s probably good stuff—it’s what you need getting through high school.

I am not from an area of the United States that is even remotely like the one described in this story. I live in a rural part of the country where most people are very poor. There are some immigrants living and traveling through our state, but not in the isolated area where I live. Do you wish that you lived in an area where the average white people were less wealthy? Do you think that would have made a difference in the treatment that you and your family received in this story?

I can’t say I wish I lived in an area where the average white people are less wealthy, because I don’t know what that’s like.  I think it’s true that where I live I learned there really are all these levels to people.  What street you live on, what kind of car your parents drive, what camp they send you to—it all means something.  It’s a lot to understand and decode for someone coming from the outside.  So maybe in that way it might have been different if we were on the same economic level as everyone else.  But still, no matter what, it’s hard being different in any area, especially when a lot of people in my family don’t speak very good English.  And the impression I get is people have a lot of prejudice against Mexicans these days, so it’s especially hard for us.

I was appalled at some of the events that took place surrounding the treatment of day laborers and young men like your cousin, Renaldo, especially the game of "Jumping Mexicans." What would you like to say to those people who are willing to hurt another person just because of their nationality or immigrant status?

To realize that we are no different than all of you.  In fact, we have to do a lot of scary and hard things, just to be regular.  Like my cousin standing around in a parking lot, hoping someone picks him for a job and doesn’t throw a can at him.  Or my mother having to ride a bus really late at night, sometimes not in great neighborhoods.  Ever since the stuff with Renaldo, I’ve done some reading, and I’ve learned that a lot of people feel we’re taking jobs away from ‘hard working Americans.’  But I just wish they’d see how hard we work.  My uncle, he works all the time.  If his boss needs him for an extra job, he never says no.  The lights are on in our house all the time because somebody is always coming home from a shift, or a double shift, or some extra job. I just want people to understand that.

I love that you're a bit of a revolutionary by the end of this book. Who are your heroes?

My biggest hero right now is Sonia Sotamayor!  Can you believe we have a Latina Supreme Court judge! No, seriously, she’s my hero for other reasons.  She is calm and reasonable, and she got where she did through so much hard work.  I loved that story of her arriving at Princeton and she realized she was so far behind and she took the summer studying and reading all the books that the rich kids had already covered.  And now look at where she is!

You're in high school now. What are your plans, if any, for college? Will you continue to fight for human rights?

I think I learned that I am a fighter.  I didn’t know that about myself.  I hate hurting people’s feelings or having any big conflicts.  But I learned so much recently by being, well, not all that nice.  That sometimes you do hurt feelings.  And it hurts you inside, too.  But it’s worse to keep it all bottled up inside you.  Maybe that’s what human rights means.  That after a certain point, even those of us who want to stay nice, we can’t stand it any more.  We have to burst out.  We have to fight for what’s wrong.  We have to speak the truth.

I want to go to college, of course.  But right now I’m trying to focus on high school and not getting too distracted.  (There are a lot of cute guys, here, hey!)  But seriously, I’ve got a lot on my plate: doing my work, and being a part of clubs, and helping my family.  It is different for me.  I still have a lot of responsibilities at home.  And Mami, she’s proud of me, and she wants me to go to college, but I don’t think she wants me to go away for college, like most of these American kids do.  That would be too hard.  So I’m taking it day by day.  Change comes little by little, I guess.

And, I always try to bring every interview that I do back to my classroom. Right now we're studying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in my sophomore English class. Do you feel that young people have the power to change the world for the better?

I totally do.  But it isn’t easy.  And I think I learned something too.  It’s not enough to just want to change the world. You have to ask Why do I want to change the world? Am I doing it because it makes me look good, or I feel a little better for a while? Or it makes me look cool in the eyes of other kids? That’s not enough.  You really have to want change because you think it will be something better for everyone.  Because you have a vision of what the world can be.  

*  *  *

Wow. Thanks to Maria (and Marina Budhos) for this incredibly powerful interview. I love it when authors are able to capture the beauty, pain and truth of real life in their writing. This book, Tell Us We're Home, is painfully truthful, but ultimately inspiring. Thanks again!

Giveaway details: I have one copy of this book ready to send off to one US resident. To enter, simply comment on this review explaining why you'd like to read this book. This giveaway closes February 7th at midnight (EST).  Make sure to leave an email with your comment so that I can hunt you down if you win!

Book Review: Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard

In every way, Grace is a wallflower. She is a former child pageant star, who had one shining moment of retaliation where she lifted her dress in front of her entire town. That ended both her days on the pageant circuit and her rebellion.

Since this one memorable outburst, Grace has faded into the background. Not that she's not worthy of notice. She is an awkward beauty, an honors student who has skipped a grade and may skip over another, and is brilliant about science. But, none of this compares to the mystery and larger-than-life, rumor-laden legend that is Mandarin Ramey.

Though the stories that surround Mandarin's life are not exactly savory, Grace is entranced by her. Everything about her confidence and beauty seems exotic, unaffected, and mature to Grace. Wherever Mandarin walks, Grace (and many others in the town) follows with her eyes.

When a teacher places Grace and Mandarin together for a school project, Grace cannot believe her luck. She is obviously uncomfortable around such an experienced, legendary figure, but her curiosity gets the best of her. This is Grace's chance to get to know the girl behind the legend, and to be noticed. Trouble is, Mandarin's life is not as exotic as it seemed and Grace may not like the type of attention she gets. But, either way, her life will be forever changed.

*   *   *
This was a great book. It wasn't as full of YA drama as other books I've read, and it felt like a true-to-life teen story. I think that Grace's life (and possibly Mandarin's) are more common than not. What smart girl living in small town America doesn't dream of a different life? What uncommon girl living in small town America doesn't have a trail of rumors following her? 

This read was perfectly paced, not too fast and not too slow. I thought that the relationship between Grace and Mandarin was touchingly real and sad all at the same time. I can think of a few Mandarins who live in my town and know more than a few Graces. They felt like real girls to me. 

Also, I couldn't help but be reminded of John Green's Looking for Alaska as I read this book. Grace and Miles have the same starstruck, naive love for their larger than life idols. And, in both books, the idols retain much of their mystery and seem to be truly untouchable. Distant. Unreal. 

I am happy to have read another engaging and well-written Contemps Challenge book. I have another one waiting on my TBR and cannot believe how awesome they all have been. Seriously. Love Ms. Hubbard's writing and characters and I can't wait to read more of her work. Cause there will be more. I just know it!

**Read as part of an ARC Tour from I Read Banned Books**

Book Review: The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting

Ever since she was young, Violet Ambrose could smell and feel and sense death. And I don't mean that she could smell dead bodies, it is more like she has the ability to locate the spirit of a dead body, if that makes any sense. When she was just eight, she found her first dead body. A girl. Who had been murdered. Rather than scare her to the point of losing her powers, Violet has learned to listen to her senses and actively looks for the dead who call to her...Not that she can resist the urges when they call to her.

Now that she's a teen, she is living a fairly normal life. Not many people know about her special skills, and she normally senses the dead bodies of animal and birds that have been killed by a predator. Until she finds another body. This time, it's another teen girl and it's not long until another girl disappears. And then another.

It is clear that there's a serial killer on the loose. Violet's uncle, a local police officer, believes in Violet's ability and uses her skills every once in a while to help locate the dead. Now, Violet is in danger. The killer has spotted her talking with the police and is out to get her.

Along with this suspenseful story comes a bit of romance. Violet and her best best friend Jay have a great romantic tension between them. They are obviously compatible; that's what made them such great friends for so long. But, Violet is worried that a mistake or awkward encounter with Jay will interfere with her friendship. Jay doesn't seem to have these fears. He's pretty clear (in my opinion) about his feelings for Violet.

I enjoyed this suspenseful, romantic story. I've read some criticism about the author's choice to have the romance between Violet and Jay and the whole serial killer thing all together in one book. I liked it. I don't know that a book that was entirely about a serial killer and Violet's special abilities would've held my attention so well. I liked a respite every now and again from the serial killing, especially since the segments written from the serial killer's point of view were so utterly disturbing. Well written, yes. But totally gross.

I will definitely continue reading books in this series. I think it's original and interesting and even a bit realistic, as far as paranormal lit goes. Plus, it's entertaining and I like the characters. What more could you ask for?

Book Review + Winter Wonderland Giveaway: Trapped by Michael Northrop

What would you do if you were stuck inside your high school in a deadly snowstorm?

This is the basic premise of Michael Northrup's Trapped, a fast-paced and gripping thriller about a group of seven high school students who are literally locked inside their school after several feet of snow are dumped on it. Seems like a pretty innocent and basic plot, but when you think about these mismatched group of teens trapped inside this school, you can imagine the fight for survival that ensues.

I found the main character and the story's hero, Scotty, to be a pretty realistic teen boy. From the moment the snow starts to fall, he doubts the brilliance of the plan to stay at the school, even though his friends are intent on doing so. When all of the students but the group of seven are gone, Scotty seems to be the first to step into survival mode and is often the voice of reason and calm throughout the story.

Even more than Scotty, I loved the suspense in this novel. I teach in an old high school (it's being renovated right now) and can just imagine the structural issues that would cause our school to come crashing down if this old building were asked to hold several feet of heavy snow. It wouldn't be long before our building collapsed. But, in Trapped, you never quite find out what ends up happening to all of the kids or the school building itself. I loved this. You know that not everyone made it out alive, which is alluded to in the first chapters of the book, but never know the true extent of the damage.

This would be a great read for a reluctant teen reader, particularly male readers. It's short but not without a whole lot of "what would you do" questions. There are easy parallels between this book and others like Lord of the Flies, although this story is not too similar to be a snow-induced knockoff. A perfect read for a snowy day!

*  *  *

Want to win a copy of this book? Signed? It's made out to me, but you can just pretend! I'm giving away my ARC of this book at The Book Rat as part of Misty's Winter Wonderland celebration. Just head over there and check out my guest post for more info and ENTER THE GIVEAWAY HERE!

Winner: The Princess of Las Pulgas by C. Lee McKenzie

Congrats to Mary Ellen! She won The Princess of Las Pulgas by C. Lee McKenzie!!

I've sent an email and hope to get an address soon!

Thanks to all who entered.

Blogiversary Giveaway #3: The Re-Gift

It's exactly one month after Christmas and many of you are probably planning to either return or re-gift some of the presents you received this holiday season. I'm no stranger to the re-gift. I've definitely passed on some items that didn't fit my style (or my body). Now, though, I am actually going to give one of you a gift that I've already given to someone else.

Here is a list my favorite giveaways of 2010:

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Crank by Ellen Hopkins 
The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Far From You by Lisa Schroeder
Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick
Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn

One lucky commenter will win one title from this list! That's a far better re-gift than some of the others you'll get this year. To enter, please leave a comment with the title of the book you'd like to win AND your email. This contest is open internationally and it closes on January 31st at midnight (EST).

Extra Entries:
+1 New Follower
+2 Old Follower
+ 2 Comment on the Book Review/ Post of the book you want to win

Book Review: Tell Us We're Home by Marina Budhos

What does it feel like to be different? This a question explored by many YA authors. In Marina Budhos's book Tell Us We're Home, this question is made central to the book by its three main characters: Maria, Jaya, and Lola.

Each of these girls are not only "different" because they're going through typical adolescent changes, but because they're the children of immigrants. Their mothers, like so many in our country, work as maids or nannies in the homes of their wealthy suburb neighbors. With these three main characters, Budhos ultimately describes three very different approaches and reactions to feeling "different," even when the characters are facing very similar circumstances. Simply put, there is no "one" immigrant experience or "one" reaction to being told that you're not welcome in a school or a town or a country.

Each girl has their own story and Budhos gives each story the time and attention necessary to develop. I definitely gravitated toward one girl more than the others. But by the end of the story, I understood each of the girls any why they had to react the way they did to the circumstances of their individual lives.

The more that I think about this book, and I have definitely done a lot of thinking since reading it, the more that I see the plight of the "new" American represented in this book. I do not live in an area of the country where there is a lot of immigration, but there is a large population of Somalian refugees in a nearby city (about an hour away). Every year since this group of refugees has come to live in our state, I hear my students (again, not really living anywhere near these people) making more and more ignorant comments about these people. Why? Because they're different. All of the observations and complaints break down to that one category: Difference is scary.

How are we ever going to learn to live together in peace in our country if we don't begin to realize that there are possibilities in difference and that it's not necessarily a horrible thing to be exposed to difference? And, in books like Buddhos's, it becomes obvious that the differences that we sometimes perceive as threatening are pretty surface. Underneath, teens just want to fit in. They want to find commonalities, not differences and they want to feel that they're home in their own country.

This conversation is larger than this one book. But, this book is a great catalyst for starting that conversation or the thought process that may lead to seeing this issue through a different lens. I know that I've been thinking about it regularly ever since I read this book. Surely, that's a mark of a great read!

Book Review: I Am J by Cris Beam

Ever since I was little, I have always known that I was a girl. I am definitely not a "high maintenance" type of woman, but I have an inner girly-girl that will not quit. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like had I been born in a body that did not match the gender that I felt myself to be. I think it would be devastating.

Yet, this happens to people all of the time. They grow up feeling like their insides do not match their outsides. And, in our current society, the outsides are what count. To schoolmates, teachers, parents, relatives, strangers on the street. Gender is not changeable, but fixed.

I Am J is the story of a teen who identifies as transgendered. He was born "Jennifer," but has changed his name and hos outer appearance to "J."  From the start, this story is well-written and seems to capture the inner struggles and thoughts of J. Every bit about J's thoughts and his need to be accepted as a teen boy ring true. Just as a typical teen girl might try to match her teen role models, J watches young men to model his actions and reactions. Even so, learning the postures of other men is not enough; J wants to be a man.

Even though he parents are somewhat supportive, they are not understanding J's situation completely. They think (or maybe even hope) that J is a lesbian; which is not true. J is attracted to girls, but he is a boy. He just has girl parts.

But, he may not have girl features and parts for long, if he can help it. He has heard of and researched hormone therapy, and desperately wants to turn eighteen so that he can start getting testosterone shots.

Unfortunately, he's not eighteen. And, problems at home are threatening to force J out of his family's apartment and onto the street. He has a the support of his friend Melissa, but she doesn't completely understand what he's going through. It isn't until J is away from his friends and family that he can truly transition to the man he wants to be--the young man that he is.

*   *   *

As a teacher, there is nothing more difficult and wonderful than helping teens to realize their visions of who they are and who they want to become. With most teens, this process thinking about possible career paths and interests, with others the process is more laborious and deep. 

I have had the pleasure of working with a few teens who identify as transgendered. As I stated in this intro to this post, I do not know what this feels like. But, as an educator, there are lots of differences and situations that my students experience that I cannot identify with. Even though I cannot identify with the feelings and emotions of these students, I do have a responsibility to help them to find a safe place within our school where they will feel comfortable and a post-secondary experience that will allow them to transition to the next phase of their life comfortably. 

This book will find a welcome space on my classroom shelves. I can only imagine the comfort that it could bring to a transgender teen to know that they are not alone--that there are others like them who might share similar feelings, thoughts, worries. Or, this book could open the mind of many non-transgender teens, those who don't know what it feels like to go through this transition. Either way, I am happy to have read this book and cannot recommend it enough. It is a must-have for classrooms and a should-have for others interested in learning more about this topic, or in reading a good book. Because, in the end, that's exactly what it is.

This book will be released on March 1st. Check back later in March for an interview with one of the characters.  Thanks to Teen Book Scene for planning this tour!

Book Review: Lost Voices by Sarah Porter

Lost Voices is a story of a group of lost girls who have reclaimed some power over lives that have been ruined through abuse, torture, and neglect. Each of the girls in this group has a story and each one is shocking and painful in its own right.

We start this story with Luce, the main character. She's living with her uncle after her mother has died and her father disappears at sea. He uncle is cruel and abusive, but Luce has found ways to skirt his anger and to hide from his violent outbursts. That is, until the night that he hurts her in a different way--a near rape.

In a scene full of magic and surprising calm, Luce transforms from a broken, bloody girl to a gorgeous mermaid. She finds herself in the ocean, surrounded by a group of mermaids who are all former victims of some sort of abuse. The leader of this tribe, Catarina, tells Luce about their mermaid code, the "timakh." It's a pretty simple code, consisting of two rules: you cannot knowingly hurt another mermaid and you cannot have any sort of contact with humans.

Quickly, Luce begins to see that the timakh is not going to be the greatest of her undersea worries. To seek retribution for the crimes committed against them, the mermaids sink ships and kill every human on board. No survivors. As angry as Luce is about her human past, she has a difficult time reconciling her new job as a hunter of men (and women and girls and boys). And, she is blessed with an unfortunately alluring siren's song. When she sings underwater, sailors happily commit suicide. How will Luce begin to heal from her childhood pain if she is forced to kill for centuries to come?

*   *   *

This is my first book involving mermaids. Initially, I was drawn to this book because of gorgeous cover and the interesting description of its plot. I have read many YA books that deal with the subject of abused and neglected teens, but this one seemed to come from such an original place. I had to read it. 

And, I read it in one sitting. It had some slow areas, and it was definitely difficult at times to set aside my disbelief about some aspects of this book, but overall I thought that it was entertaining and interesting. I was drawn in by Luce, and intrigued by some of the other mermaids, Catarina in particular. She is the leader of this tribe of mermaids and is definitely hiding some secrets from the girls, even while demanding that they be open and honest with her. 

More than the paranormal aspect of this book, I am left thinking about the true lost girls and lost voices in this world. There are so many lives that are lost to us from child abuse and there is so much that needs to be done to fight against it. At the beginning of the book, before Luce became a mermaid, her character was so realistic that I felt extremely connected to her. I couldn't help but be reminded of girls that I've worked with in the past who displayed a lot of the same characteristics as Luce. 

I don't know that I love reading about mermaids more than my usual paranormal creatures--werewolves and the like. But, this is an interesting new(ish) segment of the YA paranormal world that I'm interested in reading more about. And, lucky for me, there are two more planned books in this series. This book will be released by Harcourt in July of 2011 and it is the author's debut novel.

**ARC sent to me by Book It Forward ARC Tours**


Book Review Losing Faith by Denise Jaden

Even though Brie and her sister are not at all close, Brie cannot help but feel completely lost and distraught after Faith's violent and mysterious death. The sisters may have been close in age, but their personalities were eons apart. As the younger sister, Brie does not even try to live up to the shining example set by her older sister. She is close to having sex with her boyfriend and lies to sneak out of her parents house for parties. Brie is a bit of a wild child in contrast to Faith, who spends every free moment reading the Bible and attending her local youth group.

The night that Faith dies, Brie bribes her into giving Brie a ride to their family's church. Of course, Brie has plans to go to a party with friends and her boyfriend, but she's not going to tell her "perfect" sister this. Faith seems to not want to go, which is weird since she never passes up a chance to spend time at church. Finally, Faith agrees to bring Brie to town. And that's the last time that Brie sees Faith alive.

According to police, Faith wandered away from her youth group friends that night while they were on an outing at a mountain. Later, a scream was heard and Faith's dead body was discovered at the mountain's base.

After the "accident," nothing is right in Brie's world. Her parents are unresponsive. Her boyfriend and friends can still only think about sex and parties. Even teachers are concerned with their own stuff--No one is paying attention to Brie and how she's coping with her sister's death.

Perhaps this lack of attention is what causes Brie's gaze to drift and for her to raise questions of her own. Why was her sister acting so weird about going out on the night of her death? Who is the strange boy that hung back from the crowd at Faith's funeral? And why is Faith's best friend avoiding Brie?

As it turns out, Brie and her sister had more in common than Brie originally thought. Faith was just as mysterious and skillful at keeping secrets as Brie.

*   *   *
I enjoyed this book a whole lot. I loved that there was a mystery at the center of this story and that it was filled with suspense. As far as religion goes, I am more with Brie than with Faith. Even though I don't identify with Faith's views, I loved getting to know her through her sister's quest to find out what really happened the night of her death.

Beyond Brie and Faith, I also liked getting to know some of the minor characters in this book.  The school's resident "freak," Tessa, was probably my favorite. I would love to read a book written from her perspective. 

And, even though this book followed a familiar pattern to lots of other YA books (close family member dies, parent(s) become absent, main character is alone), it somehow felt fresh. I think that this is because of Brie's character. She does not seem like someone who is going to wallow in misery, but is more about action. Without this dynamic main character, this book would've fallen flat. 

I read this book as part of the Contemps Challenge. I have to say that I've read a bunch of these books now, and every one has been a winner. I hope that this streak continues, particularly because I have quite a few more to read!

Book Review: Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

In New England, we say the word "wicked" all of the time, though we don't mean it in the usual sense. To most others, this word mean "evil" or "immoral." We New Englanders use it to mean "very." Like, "This apple pie is wicked good!"

Given my (near) thirty years living with this word (and using it profusely), I have a special affinity toward it. So, when I spotted this book with its gorgeous cover and great reviews, I had to have it. It looked awesome. And, as I shall prove in this review, it was. Wicked.

Aislinn has grown up with her gram. Both are able to see and hear faeries, but Aislinn has always been taught to ignore them. Why? Because they are of obvious danger to an mortal girl silly enough to fall into one of their trips or to be used in one of their wicked games. This hasn't been too difficult for Aislynn, called Ash by her friends, because she's followed the simple rules set out for her by her gram: Don't stare at the invisible faeries, don't speak to invisible faeries, and don't ever attract their attention.

But this is not so easy anymore. Why? Because they won't leave her alone. All of a sudden, one of the most powerful faeries, the Summer King, has his sights set on Ash. And there seems to be nothing that she can do to stop him from pursuing her.

Luckily for Ash, she has an understanding and compassionate boy/ friend. They have not solidified the fact that they're in a relationship, but it's obvious that Seth is in love with Ash. Obvious to everyone but Ash, that is.

Unlucky for Ash, there's more at stake for the Summer King, his court, and for the evil Winter Queen than just a fun little romp with a mortal. All of their lives, and the lives of mortals, hang in the balance. What can Ash do to save them? Simple. Give up her life and all that she's known to test her fate as the Summer Queen. If she's not the true Queen, she'll be condemned to a fate worse than death. If she is, she'll have to battle to save the lives of the ones she loves most--Seth and her gram.

*  *  *

Though Ash is a strong character for most of the book, I wished that she was more confident when it came to her relationship with Seth. It was painfully obvious that he was in love with her, yet she still thought that he wanted to be "just" friends.  Not so much. Otherwise, I loved the way that Ash felt comfortable standing up to faeries and in taking control of her fate. She is not a dummy, I loved her for that reason.

I also truly loved that the faeries in this book were not all evil. Yes, their intentions were not always selfless, but they were round characters. They had emotions and reasons and thought behind their choices. The book went back and forth between Ash's point of view and two of the most powerful faeries--the Summer King and the Winter Girl. It was interesting to get to know some of the other characters in a more intimate way, and it made me sympathetic for them.

As many of you know, this is the first book in a series. I am far behind in this series, but I am going to try to read much of it before the newest book, Darkest Mercy, hits the shelves in late February. This may not be super realistic, but I am definitely intrigued and interested to see where this storyline will go. Next book in this series: Ink Exchange. Off to purchase a copy!

*Counts toward my participation in the YA Series Challenge for 2011**

Author Interview + Book Giveaway: C. Lee McKenzie, Author of Princess of Las Pulgas

Today I'm lucky enough to have C. Lee McKenzie, author of The Princess of Las Pulgas visiting. She's been kind enough to answer a few of my questions and she's offering up a copy of her book to one lucky commenter. Here's what we talked about:

In this book, Carlie grows up in a wealthy, privileged lifestyle for much of her life and is then forced to move to a much poorer area. This is an interesting topic to me because I teach in a very poor school. Though we lack resources, our students are rich in their spirits. I learn great life lessons from their courage every day. Is this true of any of the characters in this novel?

I think it’s true of several characters in Princess. Carlie certainly learns about courage from K.T. and that’s the last person on earth she expects to learn anything from. Carlie judges K.T. based on her tattoos, her “rappy-head shifting” behavior and her “in-your-face” attitude. Then she finds out that K.T’s behavior is a way to protect herself from terrible memories and mean kids. 

Juan learns about Carlie’s own courageous fight to survive in this strange new place and without her loving father to guide her. He assumes she’s just a preppy Channing girl when she’s so much more.

Everyone finds out about Mr. Smith’s courage. He gives up a prime teaching position in an up scale school because he’s “needed” in Las Pulgas. I love Mr. Smith.

I love that you’ve included an English teacher in your novel who is a positive role model and inspiring to his students. Often, adults are portrayed as negligent and irresponsible in YA lit. Was it important to you to have a positive adult figure in your book?

I try to have positive adult role models in all my books. They don’t have to be perfect and they deliberately aren’t because I like to show that it’s never too late for people to reach their full potential. I like to show that it’s not only teens who struggle to find a place they fit. Being an adult doesn’t automatically bestow wisdom upon us; it often only bestows power. 

Because I’m a super nerd, I absolutely love Shakespeare. I have taught Othello and absolutely adore this play. There is so much wisdom and craziness in it! And, it’s perfect for teens because of the jealousy and love triangle elements. Why did you choose to include this play in your novel?

I love Othello and, at the same time, I hate that jealous, sad, pathetic Moor. I’m like Carlie; I want to rewrite the play and let Desdemona set that guy straight. Alas, that can’t happen. I also chose this play because of the separation of the father from the daughter at the beginning of the play. Carlie has a hard time saying her lines because she hates to say goodbye to her father a second time. That offered opportunities to bring up how Carlie still grieved, but was trying to recover.

I have a fascination with the Spanish language. I don’t speak it, but desperately want to.  I was definitely attracted to your use of Spanish in your title. Do you speak Spanish? Or, are you like me and just wish that you could?

I used to be able to get by when I was in a Spanish speaking country. Now, I don’t know.  I spent a summer in Valencia and by the end of my time there, I was able to carry on a fair conversation. It’s so easy not to use the language when you’re in the US that I don’t use it. Still on a trip to Nicaragua last year I manage to wrangle a few fresh lobsters from a fisherman and he even gave me a local discount. How about that?

What’s up next for you? Do you have another book in the works, or is it time for a break?

I’ve finished my third novel. At least, I’ve stopped writing and put “The End” at the bottom. There may be rewrites in my future. This one will be a bit different; it has a male protagonist, but it has a few adults that I admire as well as a couple less admirable ones. I really like this main character, but then I always fall in love them. They’re like my kids, and since I’ve only had boys, I’m very fond of this guy, Hutch McQueen. He’s so lost at the beginning that he makes my heart ache. I had to figure out how to save him.   

Thanks for the interview! If you'd like to find out more about this book, check out this video trailer:

 And, on to the part you've all been waiting for! The giveaway! To enter, please comment on this interview and tell us why you'd like to read this book or remark on some aspect of this interview. Make sure to leave your email so we can contact you if you win!

Extra Entries:
+1 Follower
+3 Link on Your Blog (leave link)
+5 Blog Post (leave link)

Please use one comment for ALL entries.

US Addresses Only; Closes 1/25 at Midnight (EST)

Author Guest Post + Book Giveaway: Julia Karr of XVI

We all know that authors have very little, if any, say in the design for their cover. I think that I always imagined authors as having much more artistic license in choosing the fonts, layouts, and images for their covers. I mean, what if you hate your own book cover? Surely this has happened. Fortunately for Julia Karr, she has one of the most stunning covers I've seen. Perfect for a dystopia, don't you think? Well, here's what she has to say about it:

My editor and I both had a similar idea of what we thought the cover of XVI would look like. I spent a lot of time daydreaming exactly how the Penguin design team would work it out. Then, I got an email from my editor with the subject line: XVI cover! I was terrified to open it.

Before I opened the file, I read what she had to say, which was along the lines of “this is nothing like what we thought it would be!” My hand was shaking as I clicked open the .jpg. Then - O.M.G.! I was thrilled beyond belief! 

There was minor tweaking of the shading, but other than that - the cover has remained the same.

Interesting story about the cover:  The model of XVI contacted me on Twitter! It turns out that she was not only the model, but she also did the photography! It’s a self-portrait of her as a teen! She wrote a fabulous blog post about it shortly after we corresponded! [ ] How cool is that?!

Thanks for stopping buy, Ms. Karr. I just finished your book and loved it!

As part of my first blogiversary, I am going to giveaway a *shiny* new copy of XVI to one lucky commenter!  Many of you regular readers know that I love a good dystopia, and this book definitely meets that criteria. This giveaway is open internationally (wherever the Book Depository ships). This giveaway will close on January 31st at midnight (EST).

To enter, simply leave a comment stating why you'd like to read this book or what you love about dystopias. Make sure to leave an email where I can reach you if you win!

Extra Entry Points
+2 Follower (new or old)
+2 Comment on my book review of XVI
(please include all points in one comment)

Winners: Dreaming of Books Giveaway + Trickster's Girl

What a fun giveaway the Dreaming of Books Hop turned out to be! I had a great time reading all of your comments regarding your dreams...Seems like a lot of you have some disturbing dreams (like me) and others of you don't remember them at all.

And, one of you (I don't remember who it was) talked about your dog's dreams. I've always wondered what my dog is dreaming about when he starts running and barking and whimpering in his sleep. I always wake him up, but wondering if I'm taking him out of an awesome dream! I guess I'll never know.

Without further ado, here are the two winners of this giveaway hop:


Thanks to all 299 entrants. That's a lot of people! 

And, the winner of Trickster's Girl is:

Congrats to all!

Book Review: XVI by Julia Karr

The world of Julia Karr's XVI is dark. Very dark. When teen girls reach the age of XVI (16), they are expected to be ready for sex. Leading up to this age, they are taught to become chic temptresses, full of flirtation and decorated to attract the opposite sex. Apparently, teen boys have full-on access to the girls, whether they like it or not. Basically, government-sanctioned rape is abundant and so are gross pornography vids for older men who may not have access to teen girls any longer.

The main character, Nina, is approaching sixteen, but is not excited at the prospect of having hook-ups all of the time with random guys. She knows that she'll need to have the XVI tattoo inked on her wrist that will announce to teen boys that she's fair game. But, she can't help but try to think of ways to escape the inevitable. And then she meets Sal.

At first, she thinks he's a homeless. She sees him being taunted and kicked by a group of 'letes (jocks) and intervenes, despite the risk of being brutalized herself. In this world, age and status are everything. Higher tiered people have more rights and privileges than their lower-tiered or homeless counterparts. But Sal isn't homeless. So why's he dressing like one? She feels an immediate connection to him, but is perplexed by his sneaky ways and the snippets of insider knowledge about the resistance.

There is so very much more to explain about this complex world, but I don't want to give anything away. This world is rich and deep and scary. There are some aspects of this world that I cannot quite understand, like why the government wants young teen girls to have sex with random boys so readily. Maybe it's a way to keep them focused on being lusty and attractive rather than intellectual.

This world is violent and cruel and almost plausible. I have seen horrible youtube videotapes of young men beating (and killing) homeless people. I know that the media and large companies work to keep teens more interested in trends than the latest news items. And, I know that teen girls are overly sexualized in our media. All of these aspects of the futuristic world of XVI make sense to me.

I am a huge fan of the dystopian genre, and this book is definitely one that I'm adding to my list of recommendations for others who love this genre. It is now out on paperback and you can purchase a copy at most bookstores. (Or you could enter a giveaway for this book that I'm hosting starting tomorrow.)  If you're a fan of this genre, you'll want to find a copy to read. I'd love to hear what you think!

**Review copy provided by Teen Book Scene**

Library Book Review: Prisoners of the Palace by Michaela MacColl

As is sometimes the case, actual history can contain more in the way of suspense, romance, unbelievable circumstances than can fiction. For me, this was the case with Prisoners of the Palace. I actually know quite a bit about the history behind this historical fiction novel, but was kept enraptured and flipping pages to find out what happened. It was just so riveting and engrossing that I had to see how it all came together (even though I knew how it would all come together)!

Prisoners of the Palace is the story of how the teenaged Princess Victoria came to be the longest ruling queen of Great Britain. Queen Victoria's story has always intrigued me, but I have not felt so connected to her as I do after reading this book. Perhaps this is a result of the style of this novel and the focus on a wide variety of characters, most of whom are average citizens of this time period (the 1830's). In fact, the main character is not Victoria herself, but her personal maid, Eliza.

Eliza has a sad story that seems all too common for the time period. She was fairly well-to-do until her parents died, leaving her in huge debt. As a woman, she was trained in lots of areas that were not at all practical. By the time that the job at Kensington Palace appears, Eliza is completely destitute. After begging for the position, she soon finds out that life for the royalty is not as blissful and uncomplicated as she had previously thought.

And there is scandal. And suspense. And violence. And romance. Lots of all of it.

But best of all, I love reading and learning about history and realizing that not all that much has changed. The public is still fascinated but critical and judgmental of those with power and prestige, and those with power and prestige are often unaware (or uncaring) of the sufferings of every day people. And sometimes, there are people who are lucky enough to be a part of both worlds, like Eliza. And it's fun when they gossip about the inner workings of royalty!

**This book was checked out to me by the lovely and unassuming ladies 
at the Mt Blue High School Library--Thanks!**

Audio Book Review: Locked Inside by Nancy Werlin

Marnie's lived a charmed, but lonely life. Her mother has just recently died, leaving her millions of dollars to inherit, but without a family. She's enrolled in a prestigious boarding school, but has no real friends and spends much of her time playing in virtual world online.  There, she meets a boy named "Elf" and he is one of the only people that she has a connection with.

When Marnie is kidnapped her crazed, psychopathic chemistry teacher, she finds out just how alone she is. This teacher, Leah, claims that she, too, is Marnie's mother's daughter. When all seems hopeless, the Elf somehow comes to her and she's no longer alone. But, they're both stuck and don't know how (or if) they're going to escape.

I've read several books by Nancy Werlin at this point. Some are among my favorite reads and others are not. Unfortunately, this book fell in the latter category. I was just not engaged in the book, even though the reader, Emily Durante, did an amazing job.

I did not hate this book and it had many areas of high interest for me. I think that the parts that lost me happened right away. I am not a gamer and have very little understanding of gaming worlds. Once Marnie is kidnapped, I was definitely hooked. But, this part of the book became so bizarre (and not in a good way) and preposterous that I could just not believe it.

And, the book goes on. And it didn't really get better for me. I wish that this were not true, because I have loved some of Werlin's other books (The Killer's Cousin, The Rules of Survival) and wanted to love this one. Alas, that did not happen. But, I will look forward to reading more from this author and from the woman who read this book.

Read By: Emily Durante
Length: 6 hrs. 40 mins. 

**This audio book counts toward my participation in the 2011 Audio Book Challenge from Teresa's Reading Corner and Whisper Stories in My Ear Audio Book Challenge**

Dreaming of Books Giveaway Hop: Welcome to My Giveaway!

I love to read, so I definitely daydream about books and having a huge library and all of that. But, more than this, I am a person who has chronic nightmares. Don't feel bad for me--I'm totally used to this and think it's just part of an overactive imagination that will someday lead to a really excellent novel.

Often, I will have graphic and disturbing dreams that are somehow based on whatever I read or watched right before I went to sleep. My dream can stem from a scary scene in a book, but can just as easily come from a seemingly innocuous TV commercial. (I once had a recurring nightmare about Mr. Clean. It was bad. I was probably 8 or 9 and this nightmare plagued me every night for months. I cannot purchase anything with Mr. Clean on it to this day!)

For my giveaway, I am going to order a couple of scary books. I haven't started this series, but I hear that it's pretty good and (at least) slightly disturbing. There will be two winners; one who hasn't started this series and one who has or who has the first book already. Here are the books:
To enter,  fill out the form below. This giveaway is international and is for all--followers and non-followers alike, international and folks from the US. If you'd like the extra point offered in the form for a comment, please answer this simple question:

What are your dreams like?

Contest closes at midnight (EST) on January 17th, 2011.

Be sure to check out all of the other awesome giveaways in this hop!

Book Review: Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder

In this novel in verse, Brooklyn lost her boyfriend, Lucca, in a tragic auto accident. Lucca's best friend Gabe was driving the car when Lucca died. Almost a year after the fact, Gabe cannot forgive himself for his role in the accident and commits suicide. Once again, Brooklyn is left alone.

But not for long. Because almost as soon as Gabe is gone, he's starts coming to Brooklyn in haunting nightmares. Every night, she slips further and further into pain and terror and farther away from the happy life she once had.

That is until Nico, Lucca's brother, reaches out to help Brooklyn. She doesn't know why he all of a sudden decides to contact her, but she's grateful for his company and his offer to train with her for an upcoming triathlon. The exercise and companionship drives away some of Brooklyn's nightmares and her sadness. What she could not guess is that Lucca's ghost is leaving cryptic messages for Nico, asking him to help Brooklyn.

In back and forth narratives, a complex story of loss and love is told by Brooklyn and Nico. The verse is spare and not at all frilly or in excess. It is clear and simple, even when the subject matter is not. The result of the use of verse in this novel is that the story is laid bare, with all of its painful rawness and the beauty of human connection shining through. I loved that Brooklyn and Nico found each other. I feel like their relationship developed logically and was not hasty in its growth.

The ghosts in the story are very present, which makes it tough for Nico and Brooklyn to cope with their loss. I have never lost a loved one that is as close to me as Lucca was to Brooklyn, but I can't imagine that I would want to let them go if I could sense that they were with me all of the time. Lucca's presence seems comforting and distracting for Brooklyn and Nico. Comforting that they know he's there and not angry or suffering, distracting in that they cannot resume their lives with him there.

I really felt for the characters in this story. Have a little posse of students (all female, mostly sophomores and juniors) who read nothing but novels in verse. So, I read a ton of them to pass on to these girls. I think that this one will be well-received. They all loved Lisa Schroeder's Far From You, and I am going to have to get a copy of her first book to read and pass on to them. I want to keep these girls satiated in their desire for more novels in verse!

Winner: The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher

I'm taking today's cancellation of school due to copious amounts of snow to catch up on my blogging activities. One area where I like to be prompt is in the announcement of giveaway winners. I know that I love to win books, and I'm sure most of you are like me in this respect. So, the winner of Cameron Stratcher's The Water Wars is:

Congrats! You have 48 hrs to respond to my email before I choose another. 

Hope you love it!

Book Review: The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor

I love tattoos. It's not that I love every design and every choice made by every person who has one, but that I love the art of tattooing. I think it's beautiful, and I have some of my very own.

It should come as no surprise that I also love books. To me, the idea of having words and/or images from a favorite poem or book or author tattooed on your body is the utmost in awesome.

With this perspective in mind, you can see why I am so very impressed with the quality (and quantity) of the tattoos contained in this collection. And that's what this book is, a collection. It includes a huge and wide variety of authors. There are great poets ( ee cummings, Dickinson, Mary Oliver, Frost, Whitman, Berryman, etc) included, as well as the "great" novelists, playwrights, and thinkers (Kafka, Vonnegut, Shakespeare, Dante, Kerouac). I am grateful and excited to see all of these old-time favorites represented in this book. But, I am also encouraged to see that there are a bunch of YA authors represented here as well.

My students love looking at and thinking about tattoos. When my students are sophomores, there is a creative writing project that we create. It's basically a collection of vignettes modeled after Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street. One of the topics that students can choose to write about is the tattoo that they will someday get (or already have). This is one of the most popular writing assignments I've ever created, but it's more than just writing. You can tell a lot about a person from their description of their wished-for tattoo.

I love that this collection includes explanations of why the tattooed models chose their literary tats. Aside from being visaully interesting, the back stories of these pieces are so interesting and telling. I cannot wait to show my students this book tomorrow. They are going to love it. Who knows, they might start reading our in-class texts and poems more closely to find an interesting gem for their own ink experience.

Reading Resolutions Giveaway Hop: The WINNER

Holy smokes. That took forever! At least I was able to listen to my audio book while tallying all of these entries. So, there were 222 book lovers who entered this giveaway with a total of 766 entries, once all extra ones were counted. Craziness! You guys must really want some books!

Just a reminder: The prize for this giveaway is a book that will count toward a reading challenge or will help to ease your book wishlist in some way. It was so fun to read all of your answers--I actually got a lot of idea for future giveaways. And, I learned about a few challenges that I hadn't joined. And now I have!

As for the winner (#405), she's picked a copy of this book for her prize:

I don't blame Erin for choosing this one! It's lingered on my wishlist for some time...

For the 221 of you who did not win this contest, please feel free to check out the giveaways being held on DeRaps Reads. And, there is much more to come. I'm reading some great books and have tons of extra books to giveaway. My book boon will benefit you!

**The winner, Erin, has been emailed and needs to claim her prize within 
48 hrs. before another winner is drawn**


Book Review: Vixen by Jillian Larkin

Chicago in the 1920s. Two teen girls desperately want to be the flappers they see in the silent films and read about in their gossip rags. And, one who wants nothing more than to escape the seedy underworld of speakeasies and underworld excess.

Gloria and Lorraine have always had it good. They attend private school, have their every need and want taken care of by their rich parents. They have maids, chauffeurs, and clothes. But, they don't have want they want most--The glam look sported by the local flappers. They want to bob their hair and wear daring clothes, ones that will get them in the illegal restaurants and bars that play jazz music and serve alcohol.

When Gloria's cousin Clara moves to Chicago from her family farm in Pennsylvania, her wants and desires have nothing to do with dancing, fashion, and booze. Unbeknown to Gloria, Clara wants to recover from her year in Mew York City, where she ran to from the farm and is now trying to escape. Exactly what happened in NYC is not clear until late in the book, but we know it's bad. Bad enough for her to want to hang up her dancing shoes and put away her flask forever.

And there are boys and men. Lots of them. It seems that they are all dashing and handsome and want something from these girls. Of course, their motives can't be trusted. But, in this time where everything's illegal (or at least frowned upon), these three girls quickly find themselves going to places they've never been and won't soon forget. Once they enter this dangerous and magical world, their lives will change forever.

*   *   *

What a fast, fun read that was! This novel is the first in a new series about the 1920s. It seems like the series will follow the three girls I spoke about in my summary. Which is awesome. Because I want answers! This book has it all--Romance, action, time-period lingo, warring generations, illegal everything. I loved it and could not put it down. 

I don't know how necessaryily accurate every little detail of this book was, but I didn't care. It made me long to find a jazz bar and dance the night away. I felt entriely swept away by this story and could not put it down. Even though it was a little over 400 pages, I read it in the space of a few hours. It is light and fun and flirty. I can't wait for the second book, Ingenue, which is set to be released this fall.

Character Interview + Book Giveaway: Kelsa of Hilari Bell's Trickster's Girl

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Kelsa, the main character of Hilari Bell's new novel, Trickster's Girl. I am also giving away my ARC of this novel to one lucky commenter, so stay tuned.

 I love a strong female lead! You persevere where most would give up. Where did you get this strength of character?

My dad taught me a lot of things, and one of them was to love nature and the world around me.  He would never have given up--he didn't, until cancer killed him.  And when I found out that one of the reasons his cancer was so virulent was because the leys were dying, I couldn't quit.  Not as long as there was any chance I could succeed.

Your passion for the environment is one of the main reasons that you decide to help Raven in his quest. Most of us will not have this opportunity. What are a few things that we can change about the way that we treat the Earth so that we can avoid environmental devastation?

Global warming was one of the greatest threats to the world--just a hundred years ago the Florida islands weren't islands!  And there were people, congressmen, who denied the existence of human-caused climate change right up till the tides started rising--can you believe it?  Just paying attention to what's going on, and voting for people who will pass laws that protect the environment is a good start.  And frankly, not grousing too much when your energy bills rise, or your gas taxes go up, because for our long term survival those things need to happen.  And who wouldn't by an electric car?  Those people in the past were idiots--and they thought way too short-term.

I've been thinking about how security-crazed your world is. I know that right now, politicians and officials have tried to use increased security as a means of making us feel "safe." Do you feel safer with cameras everywhere, DNA testing, your PIDs (Personal Identification Cards), or do you feel restrained by these security measures?

I have to say, I do feel safer.  I know that Raven argued that people were still committing crimes, they just went off the grid to do it--and him wanting to keep that gun was just crazy!  But I used the grid, and the fact that there might be cops watching those cameras to protect myself several times.  Of course when I had to break into the museum, having to fool those cameras was a big nuisance.  But I managed.  My dad also taught me to think.

I am impressed with your ability to calmly outwit many of your enemies. How do you stay level-headed in the face of serious danger? 

I  wasn't calm!  I was scared to death all of those times.  But in an emergency, you either freeze or the adrenaline puts your brain on fast-forward.  You start looking at everything as a means to help you run, and only if your exit is blocked do you start looking for weapons.  There was a guy once, an actor, who pulled an injured man off the subway tracks just before a train ran him down.  I saw the actor being interviewed later on the news, and the reporter said that after he'd lifted the man to safety the actor told the people around him, "Call 911 and alert the transit authority."    The reporter commented that that was pretty precise vocabulary in an emergency situation.  I mean, who says "alert the transit authority"?  The actor laughed and said he had no idea where those words came from, that he'd never talked like that in his life.  It was adrenaline working on his brain, making his thought processes, and speech, very precise and directed.  So I guess it affects a lot of people like that.

I've been wondering: What was it like to watch Raven transform? Was it gross or cool to watch?

At first it was totally gross!  I was horrified.  After that it was always kind of stomach turning, but eventually I'd seen it happen often enough that it didn't bother me the way it had at first.  But it was always weird.  People are meant to stay the shape they are, and watching that change was always creepy, even when I was more used to it. 

*   *  *
Thanks for the interview, Kelsa! And, thanks to Hilari Bell and Teen Book Scene, I have a (used) ARC of this book for one of you. I did spill a tiny bit of coffee on it, so it's not a perfect copy. But, it's still very readable and definitely not ruined.  

To enter, just leave a comment stating why you'd like to read this book AND
an email address so that I can contact you if you win.

Open to US residents only. Closes on January 17th at midnight (EST).

Extra Entries:
+1 Follower of this blog
+2 Comment on my review of this book

The YA Historical Fiction Challenge: Sign-Up Post

For the past month or so, I have been resisting the urge to sign up for this challenge. Why? I don't know why exactly, but I think it had something to do with the fact that I've already signed up for a half dozen challenges and don't want to over-commit myself. But then, I was thinking more about it (and I spent all day reading an awesome HF novel) and decided to go ahead and sign up.

I don't read a ton of historical fiction YA, but I love it whenever I do. Books like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys are some of my favorite reads. So, I am hereby committing myself to reading 15 YA historical fiction titles this year. Off to finish title #1!

I know a bunch of you have already signed up, but if you're still interested/ want more info then check out the YA Bliss site.

Book Review: Trickster's Girl by Hilari Bell

It's almost 100 years from today. Kelsa, the main character, has just lost her father. He was her idol and her best friend. He cared deeply about the environment, and Kelsa mother's doesn't understand just how deeply his death has impacted her daughter. While trying to commune with nature and spread her father's ashes in places he felt most at home, Kelsa meets a cunning, conniving, and shape-shifting trickster. His name is Raven and he needs Kelsa's help to accomplish his mission: Save the planet from certain death.

In this futuristic world, humans and the supernatural have basically destroyed the environment. The ways that humans have impacted the earth are obvious: more of the pollution and global warming that is already happening. But, there are supernatural forces at work in this novel as well. Not all creatures want to save the earth; some work against Raven and Kelsa in their mission.

This book combines a couple of genres. It's like a dystopia in that the government is controlling and the environment has been completely wrecked because of human consumption. And, there is a paranormal element to this book. Native American mythology and underworld characters abound.

As a fan of both genres, I wish that I loved this book more than I did. I have read other book reviews (and listened to a rave review from my local bookseller), so I know that opinions are mixed where this book is concerned. Some people are loving it and others are not so much in favor of this new series. (Because there will be more...)

I was entertained when I was able to get into the story. Every time I had to put it down, though, it was not easy to get back into. I did enjoy Kelsa and thought that she was a strong female lead. I also love the idea of mixing the dystopian and paranormal genres. This attempt lacked a little in its finesse at merging the two, but I look forward to reading other books where authors try this merge.

If this is on your wishlist, stay tuned for an ARC giveaway and an interview with the main character tomorrow. Like I said, reviews have been mixed. You might just love it!

Blogiversary Giveaway #1: Debut Authors 2011

 I started this blog one year ago today!

I am so very excited to participate in The Story Siren's Debut Author Challenge for 2011. I joined in the fun a little late last year, but loved the books I read and the bloggers I met in the process. I know that several of you are also participating in this challenge, and I'd love to get you started with an order (or pre-order) of a debut 2011 book that is on my wishlist.

I know that there are 12 months in the year, but I'm going to offer up debuts from the first few months of this year. That should give you a bunch of great reads to choose from!

Here is the list that one lucky commenter can choose from:

Across the Universe by Beth Revis (1/11/11)

Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton (2/15/11) 

Clarity by Kim Harrington (3/1/11)

Wither by Lauren DeStefano (3/22/11)

Notice that all of these covers have their female characters pictured on the cover? I'm hoping that 2011 brings a batch of super-strong female leads! We'll have to read to see.

To enter, simply fill out the form included in this post. Please leave a comment so that you don't accidentally enter more than once. This INTERNATIONAL giveaway closes at midnight (EST) on January 31, 2011 and is ONLY open to followers of this blog.There will be at least a few more giveaways this month. Make sure to check back!

If this contest does not appeal to you, please stop by and check out all of the other fantastic giveaways that I have planned for January/ February!

In My Mailbox (8)

I haven't done an In My Mailbox (hosted by The Story Siren) post in a long, long time. Mostly, I stopped doing this because I was ordering so many books for my classroom that it was going to take me forever (and seem rather excessive) if I showed you all what was coming in.

But, I am breaking this hiatus for one very special package that came in today's mail. As most all of you know by now, I am a huge fan of dystopias. I look forward to a good "world gone wrong" book more than any other. Don't know why, but I do. So, it is with the utmost in (im)patience that I have awaited the arrival of Michael Northrup's Trapped. As it turns out, it was well worth the wait!

Why? Because it came with a cute little polar bear Silly Band bracelet. So cute! Here's a picture:

But, most of all, it came with a note. To me! It's just plain awesome. 

Click Image to Enlarge
I am so excited to read this book. I'm thinking that this weekend will be a perfect time to dive in--It's supposed to be in the mid-teens (in temperature)(Fahrenheit) in Maine and snowy this weekend. My imagination won't have to strain too much to picture this setting!

My review will come toward the end of January, so I'll let you know what I think then. This title will be released in early February.