Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Let me say outright that I like Mindy Kaling. She seems like a fun lady, and her Office counterpart, Kelly Kapoor, is one of the few reasons I might actually still want to watch that show. And, as I have stated already, I love reading celebrity memoirs. Therefore, in one of those logical jumps, Mindy Kaling's memoir was right up my alley.

The book is divided into childhood stories, college stories, stories of trying to make it as a writer, stories about The Office, and some fun stories about romantic relationships and fun stuff. I think my favorite was when she posted the pictures of herself taken by her iPhone. She called it a glorified mirror. I too have used my camera phone to check my hair or decide if my sweater was more green or blue. Additionally, I can relate to Kaling's concerns about her weight. She counts dieting as her only hobby, so if she lost her excess weight, there would be nothing for her to do. Personally, I don't think she's fat or chubby at all. The story about her demanding a size 0 dress be altered for a photo shoot was pretty cool nonetheless.

Honestly, reading this book made me feel a little bad that I don't watch The Office anymore. Kaling is obviously proud of the writing and acting she does on the show. She was fun to read about, but there seems to be a bit missing. It's almost like those darned teen novels where the first volume is good, but you don't get the full story until the next installments. It's not a bad thing, and I hope that means we get another installment from Mindy Kaling.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay

We all know the story of Romeo and Juliet. Two households, star-crossed lovers, and a double suicide make for the greatest love story ever. By the way, that was all a big fat lie. What actually happened was that Romeo killed Juliet. Basically, there is an epic war going on between the light and the dark. The dark convinces one half of a couple in true love to kill the other person. The killer joins the dark side, the victim joins the light side. For hundreds of years, Romeo has been trying to get people to kill their lovers, and Juliet has been trying to stop him. She is understandably ticked off at her former husband, seeing as how he killed her and all.

The next time Juliet arrives to fight Romeo, she is in the body of a girl named Ariel. Ariel's life is pretty sad. She doesn't have a good relationship with her mom, she is losing her best friend, and most of the kids at school think she is a freak. Juliet figures out that her soulmates are Juliet's friend Gemma and new boy Ben, but not before she falls in love with Ben herself. This time around is also a game changer, because it seems as though it may be the final showdown. Neither side is in contact with their agents. Romeo claims he knows a spell that will allow them to regain their actual bodies, so they can end this battle once and for all.

As Shakespeare retellings go, this one wasn't so bad (Unlike, say, The Cellar). The twist was intriguing, but my immediate reaction was that this book sounds melodramatic and Twilighty. Therefore, I had to read it. There must be a wait list on the library website for a reason, right? Juliet Immortal indeed ended up being melodramatic and rather Twilighty. But I liked it, in spite of all the cheesy silliness. I'm a big gouda fan, what can I say?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Yes, I've officially completed my required 52 books, but I'm still going. The year isn't over yet, and I've got so, so many more books to read.

All These Things I've Done was rare in that it is a dystopian book, but there aren't any monsters or supernatural elements. It's a rather depressing view of the future. People born in the 1990s are elderly, and young people don't even know what antiquated terms like "OMG" mean. Natural resources are so depleted that water is strictly rationed, and clothing and books aren't produced anymore. Chocolate is an illegal substance, and just like during the Prohibition, when a substance becomes illegal, an environment of crime grows around it.

The Balanchines are a mafiya family dealing with the distribution of chocolate. Anya saw how the family business led to her parents' deaths and to her brother, Leo, becoming mentally disabled. She has a lot of responsibilities in taking care of her brother and sister, plus their dying grandmother. Anya's life gets more complicated when she starts a relationship with the new boy at school, Win. His father is the new assistant district attorney, and she is the daughter of a mafiya king. Win's father isn't exactly thrilled at his son's choice in girlfriend.

Everything really starts to go bad when someone is poisoned by chocolate. Anya appears to be the prime suspect. The plot gets cleared away very quickly, but it makes Anya have to face difficult issues. After witnessing so much violence (She was in the same room when her father was shot), it's understandable to want to stay as far away from the chocolate business as possible. Throughout the book, she still has the stigma of the last name Balanchine. No matter what, she can't change who she is, and the big conflict comes from whether she should embrace that or deny it.

As stated before, I enjoyed the slightly more realistic dystopian world of All These Things I've Done. I really started to relate to it because of the character of Leo. My brother is also slightly mentally handicapped, so I can sympathize with Anya there. Anya was a great character, one I wished could catch a break in all the bad stuff happening to her. I super loved the Anya/Win relationship. The ending bummed me out a little, but it leaves a lot of promise for the next book in the series.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

It starts with four teenagers breaking the rules. They want to experience something real for the first time. Everything is virtual in the city of Reverie, the people spend their time in the realms where anything is possible. But it's not real. Aria just wanted information about her mother, who was abroad and hasn't been in contact for days. Then the boys started the fire and they started to attack.

Aria is saved from the fire by an Outsider. Unfortunately, she is blamed for the fire and the security breach. They drop her off in the outside, known as the Death Shop (How awesome is that, by the way?). The Death Shop contains horrors ranging from the savage people to cannibals to the deathly aether storms. It should be a death sentence.

In the meantime, the Outsider is named Perry. Perry is trying to save his tribe by convincing them to move to this fabled land where there aren't any aether storms. He is constantly undermined by his brother, Vale, the current Blood Lord of the tribe. Perry would love nothing more than to defeat Vale and become Blood Lord in his place. He will never do that because he took an oath to his nephew, Talon.

One day, some Dweller (Aria's people) ships attack and kidnap Talon. Perry sets off to save his nephew. He encounters Aria, and it is hatred at first sight. She fears he is a savage, as all outsiders are. He doesn't know how to deal with her and the strangeness of her smell (He can smell what people are thinking, it's super-hard to get all these details in!). Regardless, they soon see how a partnership can be advantageous, and they set off together.

On their epic journey, Perry and Aria learn to like, and eventually like like each other. It's adorable as heck. Perry is gruff, but does incredibly sweet things like make her some shoes after her feet are wrecked by walking so much. Aria is an admirably tough girl who never complains about her blisters. I expected a romance from the get-go, and this was one of the sweetest, most lovable romances I have ever read.

As with pretty much every Teen book I read lately, this one ended way too soon. I would love to be able to actually have some closure with a book, without waiting for the next installment. That's more of a general gripe for the industry. Under the Never Sky was an exciting quest story, a lovely romance, and an all-around good read. I'm looking forward to the next book.

I received an ebook of Under the Never Sky from Netgalley. It will be published January 3rd, 2012.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

When I was younger, I thought that there was something incredibly romantic and exciting about Jack the Ripper. In college, I did a research paper on the subject for an English class. I learned that Jack the Ripper was pretty much some guy who killed prostitutes and cut out their organs. That's not so romantic.

In The Name of the Star, Jack the Ripper is terrorizing present-day London. Copy-cat killings are showing up on the same days they did back in 1888, and the victims are being killed in the same ways. The weird thing is that the killer didn't show up on the CCTV (Cameras that record practically everything in London; It's a thing in the book, and apparently real as far as Wikipedia can be trusted). At last someone catches a glimpse of the killer, a student named Aurora (Rory for short).

Rory is an American studying at Wexford Academy. She feels intimidated by the courses and by the newly learned field hockey. The book starts with Rory going to classes, getting acquainted with her roommate Jazza and romantic interest Jerome. The turning point comes when she and Jazza sneak over to see Jerome while the campus is on lockdown. Jack the Ripper is poised to strike very close to Wexford that night, so everyone is on alert. While climbing back into the dorm, Rory sees a strange man, a man who doesn't belong. This man is obviously the new Jack the Ripper. To make the whole situation weirder, Jazza can't see him.

Not to give anything away, but the book takes a very different turn from that point. The boarding school shenanigans before were very fun. I was a little sad when they ended after the Big Secret came out, but all that stuff is entertaining as well. I'd almost like to read it a second time to see if I should have spotted the Big Secret earlier, or at least clues to it. Regardless, The Name of the Star is a very entertaining book about a girl who goes to boarding school and deals with challenging courses, new friends, a potential boyfriend, and of course MURDER. I have this almost irrational fondness for the book, so please don't get angry with me if you don't agree.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts

For a book that starts out with so much action, I have a great admiration for Dark Inside. The chapters are narrated by four different characters, and they are all fleshed out people. You actually care about the characters and want them to survive.

We start out with an earthquake. It shakes something loose inside certain people. They snap, and they start murdering other human beings. Don't worry, this isn't any zombie infection. Nobody will eat you, they just want to bash in your skull or tear you apart, piece by piece.

Our four characters start out separate but end up in the same place. Mason was pulled out of school early because his mother was in a car accident. Soon after, someone set off a series of bombs and killed off his classmates. Aries was on a bus that overturned, killing her best friend and wounding most of the people inside. A mysterious stranger named Daniel helps her get to safety, but he seems to know more about what's going on than he should. Michael witnesses a case of road rage gone horribly wrong, then sees the police shoot the perpetrator. Clementine is attending a normal town meeting when some of the citizens show up with guns. Her mother makes her leave the room, right before these people she has known her whole life start to open fire on the crowd.

Dark Inside was full of action and suspense, though it was occasionally a little too graphic for my taste. Again, I enjoyed getting to know the characters instead of just having them shoved at me. It's also interesting to read about the parts of a post-apocalyptic type novel that you don't usually get. The characters don't have any electricity or running water, so they end up eating lots of junk food and they end up greasy and dirty. The author, Jeyn Roberts, has a degree in psychology, which seems interesting given the subject matter. Some chapters are narrated by Nothing, which seems to be humans who have changed. It might just be in my head, but I attribute the character development and the insights into "the enemy" to the author's psychology background. It all sounds like it comes from someone who knows people fairly well.

I received my copy of Dark Inside from Simon & Schuster Galley Grab. It's available now.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

At last, we have the book that asks the question we didn't know we wanted answered: What if Cinderella was a cyborg? The answer makes for a pretty solid young adult novel.

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Cinder who was part human and part machine. She was adopted by a kindly man who later died of Letumosis, a contagious plague that is killing the population of earth en masse. She is treated as a servant by her adopted mother, and as a second class citizen by the rest of the world.

Cinder works as a mechanic by trade, and one day is tasked with fixing a robot for the royal prince. Kai is taken with Cinder, though she is a lowly mechanic. He has no idea that she is also a cyborg, and though Cinder finds herself falling for him, she is afraid of how he will react when he discovers the truth.

In the meantime, Cinder's sister Peony, the nicer sister, falls ill with Letumosis. Their mother sends Cinder away for plague research, but instead of ending up dead, Cinder learns about who, and what, she actually is.

Finally, in yet another plot, the earth is also on the cusp of war with the Lunars. Lunars are powerful people from the moon and they are ready to go to war unless Prince Kai marries their Queen Levana. There are stories that Levana had the rightful Lunar heir, Princess Selene, killed. Nobody ever found the child's body, and there are rumors that she was smuggled to earth and adopted. The Prince has been doing research on Princess Selene, secret research that could mean trouble with the Lunars if Levana were to find out.

I very much enjoyed this retelling of Cinderella. Cinder was a great character, admirably strong and determined no matter how much adversity she faces (Which is a lot). I loved the romance between Cinder and Kai, and Kai made me laugh out loud several times. The whole Princess Selene subplot was incredibly predictable (It's obvious from the very beginning), but thankfully it doesn't detract from the story. All the elements of Cinder add up to a great read, and I for one am anticipating great things for the rest of the Lunar Chronicles.

I received my copy of Cinder from Netgalley. It will be released on January 3rd, 2012.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Snuff by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett's Discworld series and I go way back. I was just a young college kid looking for something to read when I saw a flyer at the library recommending science fiction titles, and the rest is history. Over the years, I've read a good portion of the books. The ones featuring Commander Samuel Vimes and the Ankh-Morpork City Watch are definitely my favorites. Therefore, I was excited to read the newest book, Snuff.

We start with Lady Sybil and the Patrician Lord Vetinari forcing Vimes to take a vacation in the country. Just dragging the Commander away from the city and his duties should be the hardest part. The country is nothing but relaxation, fishing, spending time with Young Sam, and enjoying the family estate. They never expected...murder.

(I always wanted to write something like that.)

Vimes discovers the mutilated body of a goblin woman. Discworld contains populations of humans, trolls, dwarfs, and vampires, among other species. Times have been changing in Ankh-Morpork, as other species have been given more rights. The Watch now contains members of every species. Goblins, unfortunately, are still treated as vermin. Nobody would demand justice for the slaughter of vermin, nobody except Sam Vimes. Vimes is a believer in justice for all, and that small crimes lead to big crimes. Whoever mercilessly killed that goblin will probably do far worse, and it's up to the Commander to stop him.

Snuff wasn't quite as plot-filled as other Discworld novels. I'm used to having a couple different plots going on and then tying into each other, but this book just had Vimes in the country and then a plot with one of the officers falling ill back in the city. Still, I enjoyed the story. I love Sam Vimes as a character, how he is still uncomfortable with being a wealthy Lord and basically the second most powerful man in the city, and all the darkness that he has to suppress so that he doesn't become the murderer himself. I love the manservant Willikins, how he can go from proper butler to hardcore gangster in the blink of an eye. I love a story that involves making people rethink their prejudices, and in conclusion, I love anytime Lord Vetinari gets involved, even though it was for a very brief time here.

A few years back, I learned that Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's Disease. This was very shocking to me, as my grandmother suffered from the disease before her death. I'm glad to see that he is still writing, and that the quality of his books isn't effected. I sincerely hope that Terry Pratchett gets to continue his series for years to come.

My copies of Snuff came from Netgalley and from an Advanced Copy sent to my bookstore. The book is now available for purchase.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ingenue by Jillian Larkin

The Playful flapper here we see,
The fairest of the fair.
She's not what grandma used to be-
You might say, au contraire.
Her girlish ways may make a stir,
Her manners cause a scene,
But there is no more harm in her
Than in a submarine. -Dorothy Parker

My review for the first Flappers book can be found here. I'm going to be talking about some of those events, so be warned.

Vixen told the story of three teenage girls in 1920s Chicago. In the second installment, all the action moves from Chicago to New York. The first book was full of drama, romance, and vintage fashion. Thankfully, Ingenue definitely lives up to its predecessor.

Gloria had been the perfect young lady, engaged to the perfect, rich, powerful man. Then she became a singer at a speakeasy. Then she fell in love with the black piano player, Jerome. Then she shot the man sent to kill Jerome. The couple fled to New York for protection, but they have trouble landing a job. It starts to put stress on their relationship. It seemed so easy to just love each other, but then their races add complications, her getting a job before him adds complications. I didn't enjoy their bad luck, but it seemed realistic.

Clara was exiled to Chicago for past misdeeds. She worked to appear as a proper young lady, but it was revealed that Clara had once lived as a flapper in New York. Through nights of wild partying, she started a relationship with an engaged man and became pregnant. Despite having her past exposed, Clara manages to win Marcus' heart. In New York, Clara gets offered a journalism job. She must reenter her old flapper life in order to write scathing exposes on the parties. Clara doesn't think that she will slip back into her old ways, but Marcus has issues with her job anyways. I loved those two together, so this was particularly upsetting. On the one hand, Marcus made some good points, but on the other, he was unreasonable and he made ultimatums, and it seemed out of character from the Marcus we saw in Vixen.

Lorraine was the jealous bitch. She was jealous of Gloria, she was jealous of Clara. Lorraine was the one who revealed Clara's past, at Gloria's engagement party no less! At the end of Vixen, the mob boss' son offered Lorraine a job in New York. All she has to do is lure Gloria and Jerome into her speakeasy, and the mob will teach them a lesson. She never expects to fall in love with the new bartender, or that he might love her back. It's difficult to like Lorraine, but I do sympathize with her sometimes. She is always so worried about besting everyone and getting everyone to see how beautiful and accomplished she is. Her clothes do sound really cute, at least. She needs some sort of perspective, some healthier self esteem so she doesn't see the world as a giant competition.

Vera, Jerome's sister, only had one chapter in the last book, where it was revealed that she betrayed Jerome and Gloria (Everyone thought Lorraine did it). Now, she travels to New York to warn her brother. In Chicago, Vera witnessed a woman shooting Gloria's fiancee. The assassin will be targeting Jerome and Gloria next. Other than trying to find her brother, Vera starts to fall in love with Evan, Jerome's bandmate. Honestly, we don't get much of Vera. She mostly lurked in the background in the first book, though she was entertainingly mean to Gloria. Here, we see more of the bold, feisty Vera.

In the end, our little flappers don't have the best of times in New York. They learn that even true love can require sacrifices, and sometimes the sacrifices are too great. They attend parties and sing at speakeasies and crash lunch dates with gangsters. There is a hitwoman, I cannot emphasize that enough. It's as fun as Gossip Girl, only with (slightly) more literary cred due to its historical setting. This is definitely a series worth reading, and I will be watching out for Diva, the next installment.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Ditched: A Love Story by Robin Mellom

Prom is one of those important high school traditions. Even as a girl who didn't participate much in high school (I was more of a get in, get diploma, get out type of girl), I feel a tiny twinge of regret at never going to Prom. It just sounds nice to play dress-up for one night, buy a pretty dress and shoes, get all fancy. I understand how the main character of Ditched feels in wanting a perfect Prom, and I understand why she's so disappointed with how everything turns out.

Justina was finally going to tell her best friend Ian that she likes him as more than a friend. She picked out a blue dress for him (He thinks she wears too much black) and even dyed her shoes blue to match the dress. Then every bad thing possible piles on, one after the other. At the end of Prom night, Justina is literally lying in a ditch on the side of the road. She ends up telling her whole tragic story to a couple of women at the 7-11, going over the events with every stain on her dress, even a bruise and knot on the head, and a Tinkerbell tattoo.

Ditched was incredibly cute. I loved the stain-by-stain storytelling, and how we get a little picture of where the stain was on the dress. I do have some issues with Justina. Sometimes she was just very irrational. All she would need was to take a couple seconds and actually talk to Ian, or "rival" Allyson, but she usually just spins out and does something crazy. She admits that she gets "crazy crackers" when she doesn't eat, but she runs around all night having near misses with food and it just makes her jumping to conclusions worse. I just wished she would take a couple minutes to breathe, actually listen to the people around her, maybe eat a bagel or something.

The entire night becomes a crazy adventure. I'd like to see a movie of it, though considering what happened with I Love You, Beth Cooper, they may not be a good idea.

I received an ebook of Ditched from Netgalley. It will be coming out January 10th, 2012.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

In the future, everything sucks worse than it does now. At least it does in the world of Ready Player One. The world is way more messed up. There's so much overpopulation that people live in trailers stacked up like high rises. The environment is way worse. The polar ice caps have all melted. Gas is so expensive that people just abandon their cars when they run out of fuel. Unemployment is so bad that there are months-long waiting lists for fast food jobs. Everything sucks, which is why the people spend most of their time logged into OASIS.

OASIS is the ultimate role-playing game. Sort of a Sims-World of Warcraft thing. Players control avatars, go on quests, and interact with other avatars. One such avatar is controlled by Wade Watts. Wade is a penniless student, but he has greater ambitions. He's a gunter, the shortened term for egg hunter. The egg in question was hidden by James Halliday, co-creator of OASIS. Whoever finds the egg will inherit control of OASIS.

Not everyone has honorable intentions in mind when it comes to the contest. Big evil corporation IOI has their target set on acquiring the egg and OASIS. OASIS is free for everyone to join, but they want to add a fee so that only the wealthy can access the game. IOI has a separate oology department set up, which all the gunter community refers to as "Sixers" because all their employee numbers start with six.

Still, the game has been going on for ten years and nobody has cracked the first riddle. Then Wade figures it out and finds the copper key. The game is on!

I thought Ready Player One was sort of a mix of The Westing Game and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, plus video games and 80's nostalgia. Halliday grew up in the 80's and loved the pop culture of the time, so all the gunters study the movies, video games, and TV shows of that time. It's weird to think that Ferris Bueller's Day Off might be considered vintage, though it is already over twenty years old. As someone with very little knowledge of video games, a lot of the book's references went over my head, as did the many descriptions of OASIS accessories. Ready Player One is still a good quest story with a nice romantic subplot. I loves me a geek love story, and Wade (Parzival) and Art3mis are a great one.

I got my ebook of Ready Player One from Netgalley, but it's been available for a while now.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst

Pearl is a typical vampire. She enjoys going out at night and drinking the blood of humans. Her family is one of the most powerful vampire clans, and all of her aunts, uncles, and cousins live with her. They just received news that they will be hosting the next Vampire Fealty Ceremony (One of those big vampire sucking parties) when something happens to shake Pearl's comfortable world.

One night after indulging in her favorite snack of ice cream server, Pearl is stabbed by a unicorn. Her family thinks it was really a vampire hunter, because unicorns don't exist. Vampire hunter doesn't explain how Pearl can now walk in the daylight. Her parents enroll her in high school, hoping she can lure some students to serve as the feast at the Fealty Ceremony. Unfortunately, the unicorn also brought on new kinder, gentler feelings. Pearl starts to grow attached to humans, starts to see them as more than just walking juice boxes. How can she be loyal to her family and not kill all her new friends in the process?

Okay, my knee jerk reaction to seeing the title Drink, Slay, Love was, "This is so dumb! I have to read it!" I have this reaction quite a lot. Then I read the description, saw the word unicorn and knew I had to read it. Drink, Slay, Love is a very fun book. A home-schooled vampire suddenly finds herself dealing with a scary new enemy...high school. It sounds like a teen comedy. It's funny to see Pearl's initial reactions to the crazy humans surrounding her, then touching how much she learns to embrace humans. There's a small amount of violence, and an unexpected dark turn. The book counterweights all that with a romance, a prom finale, and UNICORNS! It's more the fluffernutter sandwich to serious literature's meat and potatoes, the Lucky Charms to their Total. Still, it's good to indulge in some junk food every once in a while, and you could definitely find worse than this book.

I received a copy of Drink, Slay, Love through Simon & Schuster's Galley Grab. It's available in stores now.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Queens of All the Earth by Hannah Sternberg

The Queens of All the Earth is about two sisters named Olivia and Miranda. On the day she is supposed to leave for her Freshman year at Cornell, Olivia becomes catatonic. She has an obvious and acute fear of growing up. In order to help her sister, Miranda takes her on a vacation to Barcelona. While there, Olivia finds a love interest in Greg Brown, a shy preacher's son. Olivia has never had a boyfriend, but Miranda hates the Browns.

Honestly, Miranda hates everyone. And everyone rightfully hates her for being a shrew. She constantly accuses the hostel workers of pretending not to understand her (Though you can't blame them). Miranda keeps Olivia on a tight leash. She doesn't like the Browns immediately because she is uncomfortable around religious people, and she definitely doesn't like Olivia and Greg's budding romance.

Olivia just takes her sister's instructions and criticisms. She obviously likes Greg, but avoids him on her sister's instructions. It's a little infuriating, but I really think in some ways I was and still am like Olivia. She reads and rereads the books from her childhood, she is afraid of growing up and moving towards an ending, whether the ending is good or bad doesn't matter. She just doesn't want the ending.

The end of the book wraps things up a little too neatly. I love a happy ending, but this one doesn't seem earned. If nothing else, The Queens of All the Earth makes me want to take a vacation to Barcelona. Inspired by the descriptions of the city, I googled images of cathedrals, castles, and even the Magic Fountain. It's definitely a beautiful city.

I received a copy of The Queens of All the Earth through Netgalley. It's available October 11th.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ashes by Ilsa K. Bilk

”You only want to brawl. You want a fight. Fighting tricks you into believing you can change the past, even when the past is dead and gone and all of it is ashes.”

It’s a year about a decade or so from today. A sudden electro-magnetic pulse wipes out all electronics. Millions of people died immediately after the pulse. Some were changed.

Alex was one of those who was changed for the better. She had been dying of a brain tumor. After the pulse, she could suddenly taste and smell again. More than that, she could smell the others who changed.

The smell is like rotten meat. Then Alex knows one of the changed are around, brain-zapped cannibal teenagers. Alex, along with a little girl named Ellie and a slightly older boy named Tom, travels to a nearby ranger station in search of aid, and from there the trio head towards Canada. Before they get there, their truck is hijacked by a group of surviving senior citizens. They take Ellie, shoot Tom, and leave them for the nearby colony of Rule.

Alex was likable from the start. She has a giant tumor in her head, but she isn't all mopey about it, and she has great survival skills and an analytical mind that I admire. Ellie was more of an accustomed taste. She is a complete brat at first, and occasionally afterwards, but she turned out to be sort of sweet and lovable. Tom was sort of nondescript, though I did like him as Alex's romantic pairing.

I started Ashes expecting a zombie story, but it wasn’t that exactly. We don’t learn everything behind the pulse and the causes of the cannibals, but we know it has something to do with age and possibly hormones. The first parts of the book are exciting, and I experienced a ton of tension waiting for the cannibals to arrive. Needless to say, they made a great and stomach-turning entrance. The first parts of the book were very tense, then the parts in Rule slowed down a bit. It focused more on Alex trying to fit into a rule-intensive society and pretty much failing. The ending…wow, that ending really kind of sucks, because it’s a huge cliffhanger that won’t be remedied until the next book finally comes out.

I read a copy of Ashes through Netgalley. It's available now.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hereafter by Tara Hudson

It's just a typical teen romance. Girl meets boy. Girl helps save boy from watery grave. Girl is dead. Oh, wait, it's not so typical. And I officially hate myself for starting my review like that, but I'm not turning back now.

Amelia was wandering for as long as she remembers. None of the living people noticed her. Every now and then she would have "nightmares," reenactments of what little of her death she remembers. She wakes up thrashing in the river where she drowned. After one nightmare, she realizes that someone else is drowning, a boy. Amelia tries to save him, cheers him on. Surprisingly, he wakes up, and he can see her.

The boy is Joshua, and not only can he see Amelia, he can touch her. She has been totally numb until now, but she starts to be able to feel things, to smell things. More importantly, Amelia starts to remember her life. Joshua, though, gets his own pet ghost to follow him to school one day. I'm not sure whether that was against the rules. People probably thought he looked pretty crazycakes, talking to himself and kissing the empty air, but he's hot so nobody really minds.

Just to complicate things, there are dark forces trying to claim Amelia. A ghost named Eli has been watching her. Eli claims souls, and he's not working for the good guys. He wants Amelia as his new assistant. Further complicating matters, Joshua's grandmother believes that Amelia is an abomination and plans to exorcise her, as well as Eli.

At first, I had a difficult time getting into Hereafter. Once I took a little break from it, and got further into the story, I found myself eager to read more. These stories are always so depressing. Amelia will never be alive again, and it would kind of suck if she actually came back to life somehow, but you still wish Amelia and Josh can have their happy ending, even though they never will. Sorry for the horrible run-on sentence. The pining is what's attractive, the unattainable love. Ultimately, Hereafter is a sweet love story. I liked it, but I occasionally watch repeats of Ghost Whisperer on the Canadian channel, so I may have questionable taste.

I received a copy of Hereafter from Netgalley. It's available now, wherever books are sold.

P.S. I mostly watch Ghost Whisperer for mocking purposes. It's terrible, but like a car accident and I get so much enjoyment out of how long it takes her to figure out what the damn ghosts want.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It Looked Different on the Model by Laurie Notaro

Laurie Notaro is one of those authors that I just love. I was introduced to her writing by my friend Kellie (Hi, Kellie!). She has essays throughout the various stages of her life, from childhood to semi-adulthood, through singledom and marriage. She is incredibly relatable, the not quite the perfect weight woman who has to deal with unwanted hair just like the rest of us.

In the latest book, It Looked Different on the Model, Notaro tells stories about those special situations that only a select few ever encounter. There is everything from getting stuck in a shirt in a dressing room to getting snubbed at a neighborhood Christmas party for lip-syncing to wondering whether to call Homeland Security on an eBay rival.

These stories are why I like Laurie Notaro books. You could imagine going out with her and hearing these stories over drinks. Even if it doesn't make it better to be a klutzy, socially awkward girl, at least reading these books lets me know I'm not the only klutzy, socially awkward girl.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Witchlanders by Lena Coakley

Based on the cover, Witchlanders doesn't look much different than most books in the Young Adult section these days. I expected some girl main character, a half-baked Twilight thing. I admit, I almost passed up on reading it until I read the actual description. Fake witches, mysterious prophecies, and a male protagonist all sounded awesome. Truth be told, Witchlanders ended up being a great book.

Ryder doesn't believe in the power of the witches or their prophecies. His mother always told him that it was all made up, every time she threw the bones for her customers. Lately, though, she has been acting crazy. Mabis has been taking maiden's woe, a flower that is highly addictive and poisonous, but helps with prophecy. Ryder is concerned with harvesting enough food for the chilling and taking care of his sisters. Then his mother's prophecies get more vivid, and they are definitely about him. The witches dismiss her concerns, but then what she sees comes to pass.

Our other protagonist is Falpian. He was sent away from home to mourn his twin brother, and to perform a secret mission for his father. Falpian is a Baen, the enemies of the Witchlanders. Long ago, there was a war and the Witchlanders drove the Baen out to the Bitterlands. Falpian knows that his father wants to stage an attack and reclaim the land for the Baen.

The interesting part is when Ryder and Falpian meet. They had actually been inside each other's heads, sharing their dreams. Falpian thought he was a disappointment to his father because he couldn't perform magic, he couldn't sing with his brother. He finds that he shares his magical abilities with Ryder, his true "twin." They forge a bond that surpasses Witchlander and Baen, and they find out new information about both of their respective people.

In the end, the description that made me want to read the book wasn't actually true. Ryder and Falpian share protagonist duties. There's no big Ryder-witch romance. Fortunately, the book we do get is great on its own. There was a lot that made me cry (Especially Falpian's father issues), and plenty to make me laugh (Bo the dreadhound). Bonus points go to the more than respectable amounts of action, suspense, and killing. I definitely hope there's a sequel so I can know what happens to Ryder and Falpian in the future.

I got a copy of Witchlanders from the Simon & Schuster Galley Grab. It will be published August 30th.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dark Parties by Sara Grant

Long ago, there was the Terror. After that, the Protectosphere was built to keep the people safe and enclosed. All history from before the Terror was erased, and time was reset so there was nothing that came before.

Neva just turned 16, which makes her an adult. She is just starting to rebel, with the help of her friend Sanna. They want to try to convince the government to open the Protectosphere. It's obvious that the population is dying out and food supplies are running low. The government tries to get young adults to get it on to keep the population up, but Neva and her friends made a pact to remain chaste until some real change happens. There's lots of heavy kissing and physical intimacy in the book, more than I usually see in young adult books. I found it kind of refreshing as opposed to books of the Twilight vein, but it might not be for everyone.

The spark of Neva's rebellion is the memories of her grandmother. Neva's grandmother used to tell stories about outside of the Protectosphere, about the snow. Then her grandmother disappeared, and her mother and father pretend she never existed. That's what happens when you disobey the government, you are completely erased. Neva even keeps a list of these people, the Missing, in her journal.

If the rebellion and threat of being written out of your life wasn't enough, Neva starts to fall in love with Sanna's boyfriend. They kiss at a dark party (Party in the complete darkness) at the beginning of the book, and cannot deny their connection. Neva doesn't want to hurt her best friend, but she still feels this spark when she is around Braydon.

Overall, Dark Parties had some really great moments. The big conflict near the end (At the Women's Empowerment Center) had me on the edge of my seat. While I predicted a lot of the twists that came up, they were still fairly shocking. A minor complaint is that I wish they would have given more details about the Terror, or that everything was wrapped up in just one book for once. That never seems to happen anymore these days.

I read a copy of Dark Parties through Netgalley. It's available now.

P.S. Just wanted to add this alternate cover. I think the black one with the red snowflake is awesome and very striking, but this one intrigues me. It's very generic-looking among young adult books these days, I'm fairly certain this never happened in the book...I'm pretty sure I don't like it, is what I'm saying.

You can read more Dystopian reviews during the month of August at Presenting Lenore.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cinder and Ella by Melissa Lemon

In this loose adaptation of Cinderella, Cinder and Ella are sisters. After their father abandons the family, it's up to the two middle sisters to hold everything together. Cinder is the more helpful of the two, and she acts as the good little maid. Ella is less agreeable. She tries to be helpful, but cannot tolerate her older sister's shallowness and her younger sister's spoiled nature. When Cinder gets a job at the castle, she expects Ella to pick up her slack at home. After her mother forgets she exists, Ella takes the opportunity to embark out on her own for the first time in her life.

Cinder becomes upset at Ella's disappearance. A kind knight notices the girl's distress and asks the Prince's permission to seek out Ella. It's fairly common knowledge that the Prince is an evil, evil man. So, there's every reason to be suspicious that the Prince gives permission to find Ella, sends two of his own men along, and also has his own evil, evil reasons for finding the girl.

Altogether, Cinder and Ella is a respectable retelling. Ella was definitely my favorite sister because she wasn't as easy to step all over. She's a girl who knows how to push back. I also love her romance with her brave knight Tanner. He had a tendency to drop her and become incredibly accident prone around her, and she was absolutely vicious towards him. It's adorable. There aren't any fairy godmothers, glass slippers, or pumpkin coaches. But we do have magical guardian trees and an evil prince. That counts, right?

I read an advanced copy of Cinder and Ella through Netgalley. It will be published November 9th.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Blood Red Road by Moira Young

I must say, Blood Red Road exceeded my expectations. It sounds like a simple story about a girl in a dystopian wasteland searching for her twin brother. Then you get the complicated family dynamics, and the cage fighting, and the bantering with the love interest. It turns into something great, and I personally can't wait for a second book.

Saba is distraught when the men come and take away her twin brother Lugh. Seriously, she is creepy-close with him and I was a little worried about a twin-cest situation. Fortunately, that doesn't go down. Saba sets off to rescue her brother, vowing to stop at nothing.

Unfortunately, she gets saddled with her younger sister Emmi. Their mother died giving birth to Emmi. Saba has always resented her sister for killing their mother. Their complicated relationship was one of the highlights of the book.

Then there was Jack, my favorite part of the book. Saba was given a heartstone, a necklace that would give off heat when the object of her heart's desire was around. She thought that would be Lugh, but then she encountered a cocky guy named Jack, a guy who was able to hold his own with her. Almost every line out of Jack's mouth had me laughing and grinning like an idiot. It was enough to make me jealous of Saba, despite the dystopian landscape, stolen brother, and myriad troubles.

When I first started reading Blood Red Road, I was put off by the style of the language. It's very primitive, there are misspellings and poor grammar. Once I really got into the plot, though, I found myself flying over all the words, barely noticing mistakes. If you find yourself wanting to give up, just keep in mind that the book gets really good and the language will becom less of an issue when everything goes down.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Can you remember being a child and all the blind faith that came with it? You would believe in monsters and fairy tales, anything that could be dreamt up could be real.

When Jacob was younger, his grandfather would tell him stories of his childhood. Grandfather Lawrence grew up on an island with a group of other children, safe from any monsters that would harm them. All of the children had special abilities; One girl could levitate, one could produce fireballs, there was an invisible boy and one with bees living inside of him. There was even a collection of photographs as evidence that such marvelous things could exist.

Now that Jacob has grown up, it's obvious that his grandfather is delusional. The photographs are faked. The old man keeps ranting and raving about monsters and his gun cabinet. Obviously, the only monsters were the Nazis and the island was the safe haven for a Jewish child whose family was killed. It was all part of his grandfather's fantasy world. Except...his grandfather was right all along.

The stars of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children are definitely the photographs. They are all real, found pictures, and the story was written around them. I found myself looking forward to anytime a picture was described, because then the author would have a picture ready for the reader. It really adds to the experience of the book. As for the story, there are paranormal elements and time travel, scary monsters and lessons in growing up. What more could you ask for, really?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

I have been a devoted Go Fug Yourself follower for years. It's fun to criticize or drool over celebrities and their wardrobes. When the Fug Girls, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, announced that they were writing a young adult book, I was excited. After I saw the cover (All the shiny, pretty makeup!), I absolutely had to have the book. With such a cool cover, it barely matters what the book is about. Still, the plot wasn't bad on its own.

Molly Dix's mother recently passed away. Before dying, her mom revealed the identity of Molly's father: Brick Berlin, famous movie star. Now Molly is leaving everything behind to move to Los Angeles and live with Brick and his daughter Brooke.

Brooke Berlin is the most powerful girl at her school. She was abandoned by her mother and resentful that her father doesn't have much time for her. When she finds out that she has a half-sister, and that that half-sister will be stealing her spotlight and her father's love, she kind of loses it. Brooke vows to destroy her nemesis.

It's basically a tale of sisters fighting, making up, fighting, and making up. So...just a tale about sisters. There are plenty of fashion- and celebrity-related details that make it connect to the Go Fug Yourself site. The open ending (And GFY) let me know that there will be a second book. I'm up for another adventure with Molly and Brooke.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magicians told the story of Quentin, his times at magical college Brakebills, and the dazed and confused years after graduation. It's basically a grown-up, more angst-ridden Harry Potter. The sequel, The Magician King is in some ways even better.

At the end of the first book, Quentin and his friends defeated the Beast in the magical land of Fillory, though at great cost. As the second book starts, they are ruling Fillory as kings and queens. Unfortunately, Quentin isn't content to be the king of this magical world he has dreamt of since childhood. It's incredibly consistent with his character from the first book. He wasn't content being an overachiever with a promising future, he wasn't content with his relationship with Alice. It's kind of infuriating, but understandable. He wants something more, even if he can't express exactly what that something more is.

Quentin decides that what he needs is an adventure, so he sets off to visit some distant island that hasn't paid its taxes, ever. Once there, he stumbles upon a quest to collect the key that winds up the entire world. When he actually gets the key and turns it, he finds himself back on earth, right outside his parents' home. This wasn't quite the adventure he anticipated.

Of course, Quentin being Quentin, he is immediately unhappy with returning to earth and must return to Fillory by any means possible. He is joined in his earth adventure by Julia. In The Magicians, Julia had been Quentin's big crush. She also took the exam for Brakebills, but she failed. Anyone who failed was supposed to have their memory wiped, but it didn't take with Julia. She knew there was something she could have had, something missing from her life. Now she is somehow different, she uses powerful magic and doesn't use contractions.

Intermittent chapters in The Magician King tell about Julia's path to becoming magical, a hedge witch as Quentin calls her. They visit the half-way houses and magic underground where Julia first learned spells. Quentin's reaction to all this is absolutely delightful in its snobby pretentiousness. He reminded me of nothing more than Ted Mosby.

In the end, Quentin ends up with an even greater quest. There's gods and keys, a whole big adventure to save magic. Still, I can't imagine that Quentin is happy with how everything ends up, though Quentin isn't ever happy anyways. My favorite part of The Magician King is how it doesn't strictly focus on Quentin, the Harry Potter of the story. It wanders off and lets us know what happened with Ron, Draco, and even Dudley, the one magic doesn't choose. You realize that even the sidekicks want to be the hero of their own story, that sloths are awesome talking animals, and that sometimes you need to be happy wherever you happen to be, Quentin.

I received an advanced ebook of The Magician King from NetGalley. The book will be available in stores on August 9th.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant by Jennifer Grant

It's almost funny to think that there was a time when I didn't know who Cary Grant was. In college, I took a class on 20th century American history. The big project was for everyone to choose a movie theme and write about how the movies represented their time period. My theme was "The Ideal Man," all about Cary Grant. I was supposed to watch three movies and ended up watching something around twenty. I bought and borrowed anything I could get my hands on, just to get more Cary. He has that kind of draw.

Personally, I'm a fan of autobiography as opposed to biography. Nobody can know anyone better than themselves, right? As far as I'm aware, Cary Grant never wrote an autobiography (Though according to Ms. Grant, he started one). However, a biography by his daughter comes pretty close.

My initial reaction to Good Stuff was crying. I was on my break at work and just started crying. Jennifer Grant wrote a touching tribute to her father. No offense to my own dad, but Cary Grant was a wonderful father. He saved almost everything she touched, and the book is full of photographs, letters, and drawings. I was awestruck by how he took up fatherhood with such zeal.

It was nice to get a glimpse at the man behind the famous Cary Grant, and also reassuring to know that the real Cary Grant was basically just as he seemed. Rumors are addressed and mostly debunked. Cary Grant comes off as a poor boy who made it, then as a doting father trying to raise his daughter. Good Stuff made me cry, yes, but it also made me laugh and marvel at how amazing Cary Grant was in real life, even more amazing than C.K. Dexter Haven or any other character he played. My favorite Cary Grant quote was always:

"I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until I became that person. Or he became me."

In his case, Alexander Archibald Leech pretended to be a movie star named Cary Grant. Cary Grant the actor pretended to be a father. He was pretending to be all those things at once, when he already was all of them at once. He no longer had to pretend, he had become Cary Grant, and Cary Grant had become him.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Le Cirque de Reves translates to the circus of dreams. Without any warning, it arrives in a town. The gates open at nightfall and close at dawn. It contains tents filled with wonders beyond your wildest dreams.

It is also the setting for an epic battle. Long ago, two men chose students. They trained them in their ideology, telling them that one day they will be called upon to fight, but not telling them that only one of them will be left standing. Hector Bowen chose his newly inherited daughter Celia. The man in gray chose rescued orphan Marco. Celia and Marco are tied together before they even meet. Good-natured competition over controlling territory in the circus leads to respect leads to love. It's difficult to convey these things without sounding cheesy, but their romance is entirely charming.

Of course, the book isn't entirely about a magic battle. The other characters are fantastic, from the kitten-taming twins Poppet and Widget to circus groupie Frederick Thiessen. I think I'm in love with this book, because I absolutely adore everything about it.

I was drawn to The Night Circus because it reminded me of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Something about real-life magicians in fancy Victorian settings is very appealing to me. I'd recommend this book if you like Jonathan Strange and the movies The Prestige and The Illusionist.

I got my ebook of The Night Circus from NetGalley. The release date is September 13 (Which is also my birthday, FYI, and also sort of made me think I just had to read this book.).

Monday, June 6, 2011

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

There was something about the island that made the girls forget who they had been. All those rules and shalt nots. They were no longer performing. Waiting. Hoping.
They were becoming.
They were.
Beauty Queens is the story of a group of pageant winners whose plane crashes on the way to competing for the title of Miss Teen Dream. They land on a desert island and are forced to figure out a way to save themselves. Using the tools on hand, basically a bunch of beauty supplies and ripped dresses, they figure out how to get food, fresh water, and even make weapons.

One of the girls compared their situation to Lord of the Flies. The difference was that the boys lost their humanity while shipwrecked. The girls found themselves, their inner strength and untapped talents. Even now, there can be incredible pressure on girls to smile and look pretty, say sorry when they didn't do anything wrong. I enjoyed learning about the different contestants and how their history shaped their behavior on the island. All of their hidden secrets come out, but nobody is shamed for being who they are.

In the background of the book is the Corporation. They are the sponsors of Miss Teen Dream. Commercials run throughout the book, advertising products, movies, and TV shows. Unbeknownst to the beauty queens, there is also a secret Corporation compound on the island. They are planning a major weapons deal with an enemy nation, and the girls are getting in the way.

I thought Beauty Queens would be a fun and fluffy read. I have had a minor obsession with pageants since I was a child, when I made my Barbies compete for crowns. A lot of the book is fluffiness. At first, the girls practice for the pageant before ultimately focusing on survival. There's dresses and makeup and even a boatload of cute boys. It's also way more than expected, from surprise feminism lessons to a mysterious island that almost rivals Lost to a staggering body count. If this isn't a perfect beach read, I don't know what is.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson

Once upon a time there was a girl who was special...
This is not her story.
Unless you count the part where I killed her.

The last thing that Alison remembers is fighting with Tori Beauregard. Then Tori disintegrated. She isn't sure exactly how it happened, but Alison knows it's her fault, she killed Tori.

Now, Alison is being held in a psychiatric hospital. Her greatest wish is to be a able to return home. Unfortunately, despite her best efforts, sometimes Alison becomes overwhelmed and can't control herself. Certain stimulations, whether sounds, colors, or people, make her react in violent ways. When Alison becomes upset, the text even repeats, jumps around, and stops midsentence and starts over again. Reading that way almost made me feel like I was going mental as well.

About halfway through the book, we are given a name for Alison's condition: synesthesia. It's a real thing, which is a bonus. Synesthesia is a condition where different senses are connected to each other. Alison can see letters and numbers as different colors and she tastes words. She always felt the need to hide her abilities, just as she now hides her feelings and always tries to appear sane.

There's not much more I can say without giving anything away. I preferred the first parts of the book when Alison was trapped in the hospital, not even sure herself whether she was sane or not. That seemed like a very possible and scary situation. The following parts...well, they're less believable. It took me out of the book a little. It's not bad, per se. The whole book isn't ruined. It wasn't even completely unexpected (There's foreshadowing). I just wish it would have stuck with the original story.

I got my ebook of Ultraviolet from NetGalley. It will be released September 1, 2011.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Heist Society by Ally Carter

Katarina "Kat" Bishop thought she was out of the family business. Then they dragged her back in. She made a legit life for herself at a prestigious boarding school, then the next thing she knows, she is accused of vandalizing the headmaster's car and expelled. What really sucks is that she didn't do it. The whole thing was set up to get her back in the con game.

It turns out that Kat's father is in some big trouble with a very scary man. Someone stole the man's prized paintings. Kat's father swears he didn't do it, but Kat still has no choice but to find the actual culprit and steal the paintings back.

Kat assembles her own junior Ocean's 11 to get the job done. Shenanigans ensue. Honestly, the book was a bit lackluster for me. I was more interested in the conman culture than in the whole painting plot. Hopefully, the second book focuses more on that aspect.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me by Hilary Winston

I was reading this book while that whole big apocalypse/rapture thing was going on. It was slow going because every time I read the book, I couldn't stop thinking that I was definitely going to get left behind for reading this thing, for wanting to read this thing. Also, how much it sucks that I am definitely getting left behind for something I'm only reading about and have never done.

There are dirty, incredibly filthy moments. It's also incredibly funny. The book began when Ms. Winston saw a book at Barnes & Noble written by her ex-boyfriend. This book was all about their relationship together, even containing conversations they had, but it was in the Fiction section. In My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me, Winston is recounting every single relationship she ever had. But for her, everything is strictly Non-Fiction, 100% true.

There are stories about the ups and downs of relationships, elementary school crushes, high school betrayals, a string of gay boyfriends, adult relationships and casual hook ups. I found myself relating to Winston as an everygirl, as the adult trying to figure out how to be an actual adult, and as a girl with weight issues and sometimes low self esteem. Also as the owner of a cat with health issues (Mine is a senile almost 20 with kidney problems). The sheer numbers of men involved was kind of amazing to me, the girl who can't even seem to get a date. I admire her total honesty, even with embarrassing topics and uncomfortable situations. The resulting book shows a ton of love, lust, sex, baths (You'd have to read to understand), and pretty much just a single girl trying over and over again to find love, then just a good time, then realizing maybe it's not so bad being single after all.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bumped by Megan McCafferty

As a testament to how much I liked Bumped, I will transcribe my thoughts upon reaching the last page:

"Wait...that's the end? But I want to know what happens next! There better be a sequel...I'm going to read (skim) through the dedications to see if they are making a sequel...yes, there is going to be a sequel!!! BUT I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS RIGHT NOW!!!"

It's a bit of a difference from my usual reaction of: "Dammit, there's a sequel? I signed on for one book and they're making me commit to another?"

In the world of Bumped, the world is plagued by a virus that causes adults to become infertile at the age of 18. Because of the virus, teenage girls become the most powerful members of society. Society puts a great pressure on them to get bumped, as they call it. There's pregnancy-themed stores, songs, slang, even a club to promote getting it on. Getting knocked up is basically the new black.

The book focuses on twin sisters Melody and Harmony. They were adopted separately and just found each other again. Because of their different upbringings, the girls don't get along at first. Harmony was raised in Goodside, an incredibly religious and isolated settlement. Melody was brought up to be the perfect breeder. Her parents paid for countless lessons and tutors so that she would get an incredibly lucrative deal. She was already hired by a couple, but they need to find just the right boy with whom to match her. Harmony believes that "pregging" for profit is a sin and considers it her mission to get Melody to repent and return to Goodside with her.

Nothing ends up going as planned. Basically, twin switching and shenanigans ensue. Both sisters are hiding secrets. The dystopian reality in this book seems feasible, and I enjoy having such a possibly dark subject treated with a sense of humor. I really hope the second book comes out soon.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Cellar by A.J. Whitten

It's Romeo + Juliet + zombies in this macabre teen read. This was the book I wanted the most. How can zombies, young love, and Shakespeare go wrong?

The book focuses on two sisters, Meredith and Heather. Their father was killed in a recent car accident. His death tears their family apart. Heather blames herself because she was driving the car. Their mother can't deal and starts compulsively shopping out of grief. The girls' aunt has to move in to take care of them all.

To start the conflict, a new neighbor moves in, and he's a dreamboat. All the girls fall in love with Adrien...all the girls except Meredith. She doesn't see the appeal, and notices strange things about him, things like bugs crawling where his eyes should be. Heather is totally into him, and surprised that Adrien likes her back.

It turns out that Adrien is a zombie, the living dead walking the earth in search of flesh. He is supposed to be finding a new body for his mother, but he falls for Heather. Adrien wants to turn her into a zombie, keep her with him forever.

The Cellar had a little more gore than I would prefer. I suppose that I shouldn't be reading zombie novels if I'm feeling squeamish. Another issue is with the way the narrative is set up. The book travels from Meredith to Adrien to Heather. Strangely, Meredith always narrates in the first person, but Adrien and Heather have a narrator. Other than a few minor criticisms, the book was entertaining enough. There's suitable amounts of teenage melodrama, especially at the end, but it sort of fits the story.

I got a review copy of The Cellar from Net Galley. It's available now.

The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure

I could see Laura Ingalls WIlder everywhere. Really she was everywhere. She was no longer just a person but a universe made of hundreds of little bits, a historical fictional literary figure character person idea grandma-girl-thing.

My only encounters with Little House on the Prairie are the reruns I occasionally watch, this website, which is excellent, and reading the awesome Confessions of a Prairie Bitch. Sadly, I never read a single Laura Ingalls Wilder book in my youth. Reading The Wilder Life made me wish I had set aside the Baby-Sitters Club for a minute to try something else.

The book has a simple premise. Wendy McClure rediscovers her old copy of Little House on the Prairie. She proceeds to reread the entire series, then takes steps to recreate the "Laura World" that she had experienced as a child. McClure does a ton of research on the people, history, and places. She learns how to churn butter and make bread starter. Eventually, after continued research, she plans a road trip to important Little House locations.

The entire book is entertaining. It makes me want to get some obsession of my own, plan my own road trip. Alas, the BSC's Stoneybrook was a fictional town. I also lack the incredibly supportive boyfriend who followed McClure to the majority of her destinations. He read ALL of the Little House on the Prairie books for her! That is beyond adorable. Start reading for descriptions of property law, stay for encounters with religious sects who are using Little House as a training manual for the coming apocalypse/rapture! Trust me, just read this book.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Love You to Death by Melissa Senate

When did Abby Foote's life become an episode of Law & Order?

Abby has a terrible track record with boyfriends. As the book opens, her current boyfriend just leaves her at a Land's End when they were supposed to be attending her nephew's bris. The dude just freaks out about a baby circumcising party. Of course, everyone at the party is all, "Abby knows how to pick them!"

Granted, Abby's boyfriends suck. One tackled her so that she wouldn't catch the bouquet at her half-sister's wedding, subsequently breaking her aunt's ankle. The worst of them all brought his cousin Mary to Abby's birthday party. They were found engaged in a sexual act in Abby's bed. Soon after her Land's End abandonment, Abby spots ex Tom's engagement announcement to his not-really-cousin Mary, whose name is actually Kate. Then Tom turns up dead, and Abby is a suspect.

Detective Benjamin Orr is investigating Abby. Coincidentally, he is also her secret high school crush. She has these full-on hallucinations about him. I'm embarrassed for her. Two more ex-boyfriends report attempts on their lives near the time they broke up with Abby. Her co-workers are super nice so that she won't ax murder them. She even gets a promotion and vacation out of the deal. With all her whining about how her life is falling apart, it's not difficult to say that Abby isn't very sympathetic. She's supposed to be this everygirl. "I was awkward and invisible in high school." "I'm short and have unattractive brown hair." "The policeman assigned to investigate my murder case won't just date me!"

Love Me to Death is some sort of unholy union between chick lit and mystery. It was addictive and readable, but I spent most of my time rolling my eyes at Abby. There's a blurb on the last page that says to look out for the second Abby Foote mystery next year. The book was published in 2007, and no sequel was released. I feel embarrassed for Ms. Senate.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

This Is a Book by Demetri Martin

I'll always remember my first taste of Demetri Martin. He was a guest on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, which you young whippersnappers might not remember. I recorded the performance with an oldy-timey doohickey called a VCR. Later, I added more guest appearances by Demetri Martin to the tape. I enjoyed his one liners and deadpan humor, both accompanied by a guitar and unaccompanied. This was my new ideal for comedy, and I took Demetri Martin and placed him in a special place in my heart where he could do no wrong (Is that weird?).

This Is a Book contains short stories, illustrations, and lists. Considering my love of Demetri Martin, I am hardly an unbiased judge. Yet, at the same time, I don't lie. This Is a Book is hilarious. I read it in the break room and disturbed my co-workers with my laughter. I read it at home and disturbed my cats with my laughter. I read it at the car dealership and attempted to keep my laughter under control so I could convince them I would make a sane car purchaser.

The only thing that would make this book better would be having Demetri Martin reading it in person.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dead Beautiful by Yvonne Woon

Is it just me, or does the girl on this cover look like Amy Pond?

Renee Winters finds her parents dead in the woods, surrounded by coins and with gauze stuffed in their mouths. Before she knows what is happening, she is whisked away to Gottfried Academy. Gottfried emphasizes classical learning, from philosophy to horticulture (I kept thinking about that Dorothy Parker quote, "You can lead a horticulture but you can't make her think"). As often happens in these stories, Gottfried also contains Mysterious Secrets, secrets involving a mysterious death and cover up.

Who has time for Mysterious Secrets when there's brooding boys to chase? Renee's Edward Cullen is the alluring Dante. They start off with one of those verbal sparring matches that you just know are going to lead to kisses. Dante eventually offers to tutor Renee in Latin, as he is incredibly good at it. She enjoys being around him so much that she starts intentionally blowing quizzes to continue the tutoring (We've come so far! The dream is to make all boys think we are mentally incompetent). Still, there are some issues with Dante. He has freezing skin, he seems so old-fashioned, and he never kisses her on the mouth.

A great emphasis is placed upon Rene Descartes' fictional Seventh Meditation. Soon after its release, it was refuted by the church and every copy was burned. The Seventh Meditation deals with the undead. It mentions that all children, under 21, who die and are not properly interred will rise again, but without a soul. These children then have 21 years to find their proper soul, which was transferred to a baby born the day they died. If they find their soul, they kiss the person and live out a normal life. If they don't, their body rapidly deteriorates after the 21 year mark and they die. I find this concept to be terrifying. Signs that children are undead include cold skin, fluency in Latin, and awkward movement.

Not to give away too much, but it takes Renee a lo-o-ong time to connect any dots. It takes so long that I'm kind of suspicious of whether she failed those Latin quizzes on purpose. She's also kind of self-absorbed. She talks her roommate Eleanor's ear off about Dante and the Mysterious Secrets, but she never reciprocates. Eleanor goes missing at one point, and Renee doesn't even report it for two days because she, "Thought she was at the library." She kind of infuriated me with that one.

The parts of this book that I liked were: the boarding school, tying in real philosophy with the made up Seventh Meditation (I'm glad it isn't actually real, because then I would end up punching way more children than usual), the scene where Renee raids her mother's childhood closet, because I would love a closet full of vintage clothes and jewelry at my fingertips. On the other hand, I disliked: yet another retread of Twilight-esque storytelling, self-absorbed heroines, the super power of "finding dead stuff," that there is going to be a sequel, according to Wikipedia. I wouldn't normally mind, because everything has a sequel these days. The ending to Dead Beautiful just seemed very final, and I liked it that way. I'm nervous they're going to spoil that ending.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Here's the gist of Before I Fall: Groundhog Day meets Mean Girls. It seems like a typical day for narrator Samantha Kingston. Typical, that is, until the car crashes and she dies. It doesn't end there, because she wakes up again to the exact same day.

For a little background intel, Sam hangs out with a group of girls, Elody, Ally, and queen bee Lindsay. They're the popular ones, the ones everyone admires and the ones everyone fears. Even Sam takes careful steps to ensure she doesn't get kicked out of her group because she ate the wrong sandwich or talked to the wrong person. It's difficult to sympathize with Sam, but she makes a good point: does all the Mean Girls stuff mean she deserves to die?

I enjoyed the book, how Sam learned the effects caused by her actions as she relived the day. It's fascinating how many things are happening around us and we just don't notice them. I wonder how I would react in the same situation. What would I do if there would be no consequences the next day? Would I have the courage to make the same decisions that Sam did?

I started out disliking Sam because she did what was expected, and I never exactly liked her, but I understood why she acted the way she did. I liked that she changed some of her behavior, though it's sad that she had to go through such a big event to do so. Finally, books that talk about mortality usually leave me feeling nervous, thinking about Donnie Darko and crashing buses and the million things converging to ensure that I'm dead. Thankfully, Before I Fall didn't do that for me. It wasn't so much about Sam's death as about her last day, making sure she did all the right things before that final moment.

I guess that's what saying good-bye is always like- like jumping off an edge. The worst part is making the choice to do it. Once you're in the air, there's nothing you can do but let go.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Deadly Little Lies by Laurie Stolarz

At the end of the first Touch series, mysterious loner Ben was leaving town after saving Camelia from her stalker ex, who planned the old "You will grow to love me" kidnapping ploy. To her credit, Camelia doesn't pull a Bella Swan and go completely catatonic.

A lot of focus in Deadly Little Lies is on Camelia's sudden development of psychometric powers of her own. She's doing psychic sculptures, which sounds ridiculous because it totally is. The intermittent chapters aren't from a psycho stalker, but journal entries from Camelia's aunt. Aunt Alexia used to paint future events, and it seems that Camelia may have inherited said trait.

I'm sorry to say that Ben graduated his Edward Cullen 101 lessons in this book. He implements lessons I and II by loitering outside Camelia's house at all hours and then telling her that he needs to protect her, but not telling her why he needs to protect her. What confuses me about Ben is that he keeps worrying about losing control of his powers, but it's not like he can touch people to death. His touching doesn't actually hurt the person. His ex-girlfriend only died because he touched her and then she backed away OFF A CLIFF.

The second Touch book definitely went off in a slightly ridiculous direction. Ben became a total creeper stalker. Camelia found a new boyfriend, but she was still all moony over Ben. There were psychic sculptures, but just of juice bottles and things that didn't really mean anything. What's the point of having psychic powers if they're useless?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Deadly Little Secret by Laurie Stolarz

Deadly Little Secret is the classic story of girl gets saved by boy, girl falls for boy, but boy has mysterious secret. Stop me if you've heard this one. Chapters about Camelia, the girl in question, are occasionally interrupted by chapters narrated by her stalker, who is clearly deranged. I liked the book much better when I realized that the boy in question, Ben, wasn't the deranged stalked. The world really only needs one Edward Cullen.

The Touch series does retread a lot of ground other Young Adult series have gone over before. A part of me also feels that the author used some form of random plot generator to come up with elements such as "quirky, horny, fashion designer friend," "platonic, fashion-challenged boy friend," and "vegan, new age mother." To be fair, the characters weren't as annoying as they could have been.

It's kind of funny that in the end, Ben's secret isn't even all that exciting. Basically, he touches things or people and can see the future or past of the object or person. It's called psychometry. I don't see why it's a big secret. The situation where his ex-girlfriend fell off the cliff seems like the juicier secret. I also don't really understand his appeal. Camelia is always talking about how good he looks, but beyond that he doesn't seem to do much of anything, except get psychic visions and trigger the bad boy/town pariah signals in Camelia's brain.

I'm being a little harsh on the book. It wasn't all that bad, and I'm almost half-way through the second book (Two words: Psychic sculptures!). Perhaps if I never read Twilight and its ilk, Deadly Little Secret wouldn't suffer from so much comparison. I thought it would be predictable, but the stalker was only my second choice as suspect. Ultimately, it was a quick and painless read.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bad Girls Don't Die by Katie Alender

This book reminded me so much of being a teenager. Everything is set in place and these boundaries cannot be crossed. So you can only talk to certain people, and you must hate other people. Your parents, of course, just don't understand. Keep in mind that all my memories of being a teenager come from the television shows I still watch despite the fact that I am now older than the twenty-somethings playing high schoolers.

Alexis has pink hair and an attitude. She hangs out with a crowd of gothic kids that she secretly refers to as the Gloom Squad. Her enemies are the cheerleaders, especially Megan, the captain and the perfect high school girl.

One day, a boy named Carter opens a door into Alexis' head. It's pretty much the greatest meet-cute ever and I totally have a crush on a fictional high school boy, mock me if you wish. The problem is that Carter is a preppy, Young Republican type. Goths and Young Republicans dating is JUST NOT DONE!

At home, Alexis is worried about her younger sister Kasey. Kasey used to be normal, but now spends all her time with her doll collection. Sometimes she uses strange language and flies into a rage for no reason. Sometimes her blue eyes turn green. Alexis starts to wonder if her sister is crazy...or possessed?!?

So, I really liked this book. Alexis could have been annoying with all her rules of high school living, but it seemed realistic for that age. I also admired her for the stands she took, for slapping "Gas Guzzler" bumper stickers on SUVs and trying to get unknown kids elected to student government instead of cheerleaders and popular kids. Of course, her preconceived notions are all wrong. She's wrong about Megan and Carter, Kasey, her parents, everything. In the end, it doesn't matter. Everyone goes to prom and it's happily ever after.

P.S. I really want to read the second book in this series that comes out in July, From Bad to Cursed.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Wanted by Sara Shepard

Once upon a time there were four girls, fair as the snow but unable to tell the truth. Long ago, their most intimate friend Alison vanished and was later found slain. In the last installment of their tale, the dastardly Billy Ford, builder of gazebos, was accused of the heinous crime. We now follow our heroines into the end of their saga (Until the new book comes out July 5th, the year of our lord 2011).

Wanted begins with the DiLaurentis family gathering men and women from every village around to share a most hidden secret. Mrs. DiLaurentis had born another daughter, identical to tragic Alison. The second child had the same hair golden as the sun and eyes as blue as sapphires, but her head suffered a form of delirium. As a result, Courtney was sent away and never spoken of until now. Her goodly physician assured her family that her brain is no longer vexed by visions and frustrations, thenceforth, Courtney returned to Rosewood and Rosewood Prep.

Courtney appeals to our duplicitous heroines one by one. She offers them their innermost desires, as though she has corresponded with them for years. To Spencer, Courtney is the sister long wished for and long denied. To Emily, Courtney is the girl forever yearned for, love reciprocated at last. To Hanna, Courtney is a means of regaining the power of her kingdom. Fair Aria is the only maiden lacking need of Courtney. Alas, it appears as though Courtney wishes to steal Aria's gentleman Noel, much as her sister Alison did years ago.

Soon, dear readers, young Courtney reveals a truth to her guileful companions: she is in truth Alison posing as Courtney. That fateful night at the conclusion of their seventh year education, Billy Ford had slain Courtney in place of her rightly-minded sister. Alison's dearest family believed her to be her addled-minded doppelganger and sent her away for years.

At last, the merry group of friends achieve the second chance they never expected. Following the school's prom festivities, the girls hearken to Courtney-now-Alison's family estate in the Poconos. Aria, so distrustful of Courtney-Alison now attends the proceedings after young Noel was found kissing his old love. At last, it appears as though serenity has returned to our unconscionable four. Yet, throughout our tome, we have received reports that pernicious gazeboman Billy Ford may not be as heinous as he first appeared. If Ford was not the murderer in days of yore, who could have committed the foul crime? And are our fair fabulists in danger whilst relaxing with their newly rectified friend?

*Read no further past this point, lest you find out the even greater secret at the conclusion of Pretty Little Liars.*

In order to forge greater bonds in the chain of friendship, the young maidens reenact the fateful night of Courtney's murder. Alison once again attempts to compel her friends. Once they emerge from their state of sleepfulness, Alison has vanished once more. Then the mythomaniacs find the letter. It tells the story of two sisters. As we knew, Alison had been posing as Courtney. What had never been revealed was that Courtney had played the part of Alison. When our storytellers had been rescued from obscurity by Alison and placed in their positions of power, Alison had been Courtney. After years spent locked away as Courtney, the true Alison became just as addled as her sister. Hence, it was Alison who killed her sister and tossed her in the pit. Alison slain poor pedophile Ian Thomas, and Alison snuffed the candle of sightless Jenna Cavanaugh. As a final act of vengeance, true Alison alights the house in an attempt to end the lives of our duplicitous four. Our heroines escape, but the villainess is ensnared by her own trap. It may not be the end, yet, as neither hide nor hair is found of the true, insane Alison DiLaurentis, also called A, tormentor of the Pretty Little Liars.

*Returning to normal, spoiler-free speech*

So, that was a fairly exciting speech. I'm not sure how I feel about a ninth book. Everything is pretty wrapped up at this point. Am I going to read the ninth book? Hells yes!