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Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 Expectations: I'll Be There

Hoping to continue with the good fortune of finding some great contemporary novels I started and read I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan [no cover yet unfortunately] last week I believe. For 2011 I'm hoping to get out of my comfort zone of paranormal novels and pick up stories that I would normally not read. I'll Be There was one of those novels that could have gone either way for me, luckily it was magical without the fantasy.

I'll Be There is Sloan's debut novel that will come out in Mary 3, 2011 from Little, Brown and Company.
Raised by an unstable father who keeps the family constantly on the move, Sam Border hasn't been in a classroom since the second grade. He's always been the rock for his younger brother Riddle, who stopped speaking long ago and instead makes sense of the world through his strange and intricate drawings. It's said that the two boys speak with one voice--and that voice is Sam's.

Then, Sam meets Emily Bell, and everything changes. The two share an immediate and intense attraction, and soon Sam and Riddle find themselves welcomed into the Bell's home. Faced with normalcy for the first time, they know it's too good to last.

On the back of the ARC, Jennifer Hunt, Editorial Director for Little, Brown and Company says this:
It's been a long time since I've read a novel that so deftly explores the intricacies of connection and belonging. I was so enchanted from the first page by the captivating storytelling, memorable characters, and voices that literally shimmer off the page.

I won't spoil anybody, but I'll Be There is for those willing to step out of the perfect box. For those who believe in coincidence and fate in the most oddest, but amazing of ways.

First page:
"The days of the week meant nothing to him.

Except Sunday.

Because on Sunday he listened to pipe organs and pianos.

If he was lucky, handheld bells, pounding drums, or electronic beat machines might vibrate while people sang and sometimes clapped and on occasion even stamped their dressed-up feet.

On Sundays, wherever he was, whenever he could, Sam Border woke up early, pulled on his cleanest dirtiest shirt, and went looking for a church.

He didn't believe in religion.

Unless music could be considered a religion. Because he knew God, if there was one, was just not on his side."

That being said I think 2011 is already off to a good start!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Favorites

2010 was definitely a turning point for me as I shifted from being a paranormal/fantasy fan to eyeing every contemporary book out in the market. My top books of 2010 reflect that, in no particular order. All images link to Amazon.

The Rise of Renegade XThe Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea M. Campbell
The Rise of Renegade X is a novel of wicked humor that gives its own unique spin of heroes vs. villains through an unexpected crass narrative. This ain’t your average Marvel Comics kids.
Recommended for people: looking for a fun laugh; something different with action; fans of superheroes; who likes spandex. Ages 14+

Harmonic FeedbackHarmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly
Thank God I bought this book. Harmonic Feedback was exactly what I was craving for at that moment. It filled my need for a sweet romance yet did not overdo it that would have left me gagging. Harmonic Feedback had a nice balance of intense drama and warm fuzzy feelings accompanying the blooming relationship.
Recommended for people: looking for a nice guy; a well-balanced romance; an underdog to come out on top; interested in autism; interested in music. Ages 14+

Forbidden (Definitions)Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
Brilliantly told in alternating point of views Tabitha Suzuma will have William Shakespeare run for his money in this modern-day adaption of forbidden love. The novel will leave its reader exhausted from the constant heart thumping, panic attacks, and shaky smiles. It is a riveting tale of struggle: against your own emotions, against your family and peers, against the world filled with people who do not know you, but will not hesitate to judge you. I thank Suzuma and gleefully applaud her for an intense 5 hour read.
Recommended for people: looking to step out of the box; wanting intense and forbidden love; to have their heart ripped out; in search of a novel that I can't stop talking about. Ages 16+

Mostly Good GirlsMostly Good Girls by Leila Sales
Mostly Good Girls requires every exclamation point! for a freaking hilarious! fun! sassy! entertaining! (did I mention hilarious!?) read!
Recommended for people: looking for friendship; a good-humored laugh. Ages 10+

A Match Made in High SchoolA Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker
This book was hi-freaking-larious! The traded insults, the clever pranks, the laugh out loud rants! I spent the majority of the time actually laughing rather than reading, but of course I did love the words, plotlines, as well. But what made me fall in love with this book was the author behind it. When we put Kristin under the spotlight with questions about her living in a nudist camp [April's fools joke] she rolled with the punches.
Recommended for people: an unpredictable story; a laugh; a head-strong female lead. Ages 10+

The Sky Is EverywhereThe Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Jandy Nelson enveloped me in warm fuzzy feelings, grief, and recognition. Her writing was stunning, her prose was moving, and her characterization on point. The Sky is Everywhere is an intensely rich novel that leaves this reader extremely pleased for this debut author!
Recommend for people: looking for a nice guy; for everything that is amazing in a contemporary romance novel; who wants something angst-filled and happy all rolled into one; interested in poetry; dealing with grief. Ages 15+

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book I: The Mysterious HowlingThe Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
The Mysterious Howling was wickedly funny, whimsically amusing, and delightfully charming....the illustration accompanying the novel was just splendid! If you like the artistic style of the cover then you’ll love the illustrations. It fits quite well with the quirkiness of the novel....“a delightful wack-job”
Recommended for people: wanting to try middle grade novels; who enjoy narrations like Lemony Snicket; like Mary Poppins; who wants to try the product if Mary Poppins and A Series of Unfortunate Events had a baby; interested in humor. Ages 8+

A Little Wanting SongA Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley
A Little Wanting Song leaves the reader wanting a little more after finishing. It was only when I finished the novel and got up to leave did I realize that Charlie, Rose, and the rest of the gang got up and followed me as well. A Little Wanting Song is a haunting song because it describes every person.
Recommended for people: interested in music; subtle romance; getting out of a small town; dealing with grief; exploring life. Ages 12+

Jellicoe RoadJellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
I put Jellicoe Road down and purposely drowned it underneath my other books to diminish my guilt for not reading it. I read three to four other books between the interval on when I stopped and when I decided to unearth the book again. And Oh.My.God. I should have never stopped. I fell in love with the characters and felt a deep connection as if they were my own family. I grieved, I cried, I rejoiced, and I loved (—every freaking minute of it even the first few chapters that I had trouble with).
Recommended for people: lost in their thoughts; dealing with grief; looking for hope; finding love; finding family. Ages 15+

Almost PerfectAlmost Perfect by Brian Katcher [not one of the best graded books but it's unforgettable in the most interesting of ways]
"Sage finally discloses her big secret: she’s actually a boy. Enraged, frightened, and feeling betrayed, Logan lashes out at Sage and disowns her. But once Logan comes to terms with what happened, he reaches out to Sage in an attempt to understand her situation. But Logan has no idea how rocky the road back to friendship will be."

Almost Perfect was just that, almost perfect. 
Recommended for people: dealing with gender issues; stepping out of the box; love and friendship; getting out of a small town; looking for acceptance. Ages 15+

Brightly WovenBrightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken
I am prepared to go all fangirlish on you but I’m refraining (even though it’s quite hard). Action—check; romance—check; pacing—check, characters—check; plotline—check; ending—ehhh; Overall—is ubercheck an option because it should be!
Recommended for people: trying out fantasy for the first time; who liked Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl's Moving Castle; interested in action, adventure, and romance. Ages 12+

    Wednesday, December 29, 2010

    2010 Covers

    I love book covers [hence the blog name] so I can't help but list some of my favorite covers of 2010. Please note I am only listing the books I have read; I realize that there are other stunning covers, but I cannot rate covers until I've read the book. Sometimes the covers have nothing to do with the book which takes the gorgeousness of the cover down a couple notches. All images link to Amazon, all title link to reviews, all summaries are from goodreads. In no particular order:

    Sisters RedSisters Red by Jackson Pearce
    Scarlet March lives to hunt the Fenris--the werewolves that took her eye when she was defending her sister Rosie from a brutal attack. Armed with a razor-sharp hatchet and blood-red cloak, Scarlett is an expert at luring and slaying the wolves. She's determined to protect other young girls from a grisly death, and her raging heart will not rest until every single wolf is dead.

    Rosie March once felt her bond with her sister was unbreakable. Owing Scarlett her life, Rosie hunts ferociously alongside her. But even as more girls' bodies pile up in the city and the Fenris seem to be gaining power, Rosie dreams of a life beyond the wolves. She finds herself drawn to Silas, a young woodsman who is deadly with an ax and Scarlett's only friend--but does loving him mean betraying her sister and all that they've worked for?

    The ReplacementThe Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
    Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world.

    Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate's baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.

    Fixing DelilahFixing Delilah by Sarah Ockler
    Things in Delilah Hannaford's life have a tendency to fall apart.

    She used to be a good student, but she can't seem to keep it together anymore. Her "boyfriend" isn't much of a boyfriend. And her mother refuses to discuss the fight that divided their family eight years ago. Falling apart, it seems, is a Hannaford tradition.

    Over a summer of new friendships, unexpected romance, and moments that test the complex bonds between mothers and daughters, Delilah must face her family's painful past. Can even her most shattered relationships be pieced together again?

    John Belushi Is DeadJohn Belushi is Dead by Kathy Charles
    Pink-haired Hilda and oddball loner Benji are not your typical teenagers. Instead of going to parties or hanging out at the mall, they comb the city streets and suburban culs-de-sac of Los Angeles for sites of celebrity murder and suicide. Bound by their interest in the macabre, Hilda and Benji neglect their schoolwork and their social lives in favor of prowling the most notorious crime scenes in Hollywood history and collecting odd mementos of celebrity death.

    Hilda and Benji’s morbid pastime takes an unexpected turn when they meet Hank, the elderly, reclusive tenant of a dilapidated Echo Park apartment where a silent movie star once stabbed himself to death with a pair of scissors. Hilda feels a strange connection with Hank and comes to care deeply for her paranoid new friend as they watch old movies together and chat the sweltering afternoons away. But when Hank’s downstairs neighbor Jake, a handsome screenwriter, inserts himself into the equation and begins to hint at Hank’s terrible secrets, Hilda must decide what it is she’s come to Echo Park searching for . . . and whether her fascination with death is worth missing out on life.

    Inside Out (Harlequin Teen)Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder [no review yet]
    I'm Trella. I'm a scrub. A nobody. One of thousands who work the lower levels, keeping Inside clean for the Uppers. I've got one friend, do my job and try to avoid the Pop Cops. So what if I occasionally use the pipes to sneak around the Upper levels? The only neck at risk is my own...until I accidentally start a rebellion and become the go-to girl to lead a revolution.

    Other (An Other Novel)Other by Karen Kincy
    Gwen Williams is like any other modern teenager with one exception: she's a shapeshifter. Never having known her Pooka-spirit father, Gwen must struggle with the wild, wonderful magic inside of her alone—and in secret. While society may tolerate vampires, centaurs, and "Others" like Gwen, there are plenty of folks in Klikamuks, Washington, who don't care for her kind.

    Now there's a new werewolf pack in town, and Others are getting killed, including Gwen's dryad friend. The police are doing zilch. In the midst of terrible loss and danger, Gwen meets a cute Japanese fox spirit who's refreshingly comfortable with his Otherness. Can Gwen find the courage to embrace her true self and find the killer—before she becomes the next victim?

    The Ghost and the GothThe Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade
    Alona Dare–Senior in high school, co-captain of the cheerleading squad, Homecoming Queen three years in a row, voted most likely to marry a movie star… and newly dead.

    Will Killian–Senior in high school, outcast, dubbed “Will Kill” by the popular crowd for the unearthly aura around him, voted most likely to rob a bank…and a ghost-talker. 

    FaithfulFaithful by Janet Fox
    Sixteen-year-old Maggie Bennet's life is in tatters. Her mother has disappeared, and is presumed dead. The next thing she knows, her father has dragged Maggie away from their elegant Newport home, off on some mad excursion to Yellowstone in Montana. Torn from the only life she's ever known, away from her friends, from society, and verging on no prospects, Maggie is furious and devastated by her father's betrayal. But when she arrives, she finds herself drawn to the frustratingly stubborn, handsome Tom Rowland, the son of a park geologist, and to the wild romantic beauty of Yellowstone itself. And as Tom and the promise of freedom capture Maggie's heart, Maggie is forced to choose between who she is and who she wants to be.

    You WishYou Wish by Mandy Hubbard
    Kayla McHenry's sweet sixteen sucks! Her dad left, her grades dropped, and her BFF is dating the boy Kayla's secretly loved for years. Blowing out her candles, Kayla thinks: I wish my birthday wishes actually came true. Because they never freakin' do.

    Kayla wakes the next day to a life-sized, bright pink My Little Pony outside her window. Then a year's supply of gumballs arrives. A boy named Ken with a disturbing resemblance to the doll of the same name stalks her. As the ghosts of Kayla's wishes-past appear, they take her on a wild ride . . . but they MUST STOP. Because when she was fifteen? She wished Ben Mackenzie would kiss her. And Ben is her best friend's boyfriend.

    The Rise of Renegade XThe Rise by Renegade X by Chelsea Campbell
    Sixteen-year-old Damien Locke has a plan: major in messing with people at the local supervillain university and become a professional evil genius, just like his supervillain mom. But when he discovers the shameful secret she's been hiding all these years, that the one-night stand that spawned him was actually with a superhero, everything gets messed up. His father's too moral for his own good, so when he finds out Damien exists, he actually wants him to come live with him and his goody-goody superhero family. Damien gets shipped off to stay with them in their suburban hellhole, and he has only six weeks to prove he's not a hero in any way, or else he's stuck living with them for the rest of his life, or until he turns eighteen, whichever comes first.

    To get out of this mess, Damien has to survive his dad's "flying lessons" that involve throwing him off the tallest building in the city--despite his nearly debilitating fear of heights--thwarting the eccentric teen scientist who insists she's his sidekick, and keeping his supervillain girlfriend from finding out the truth. But when Damien uncovers a dastardly plot to turn all the superheroes into mindless zombie slaves, a plan hatched by his own mom, he discovers he cares about his new family more than he thought. Now he has to choose: go back to his life of villainy and let his family become zombies, or stand up to his mom and become a real hero.

    Monday, December 27, 2010

    Manga Monday: Rurouni Kenshin

    Rurouni Kenshin, Vol. 1 (VIZBIG Edition)Rurouni Kenshin by Nobuhiro Watsuki

    Genre: Action, Adventure, History, Slight Romance, "Shounen".

    A hundred and fifty years ago in Kyoto, amid the flames of revolution, there arose a warrior, an assassin of such ferocious power he was given the title Hitokiri: Manslayer. With his bloodstained blade, Hitokiri Battosai helped close the turbulent Bakumatsu period and end the reign of the shoguns, slashing open the way toward the progressive Meiji Era.  Then he vanished, and with the flow of years became legend.

    In the 11th year of Meiji, in the middle of Tokyo, the tale begins. Himura Kenshin, a humble rurouni, or wandering swordsman, comes to the aid of Kamiya Kaoru, a young woman struggling to defend her father's school of swordsmanship against attacks by the infamous Hitokiri Battosai. But neither Kenshin nor Battosai are quite what they seem....
    Rurouni Kenshin is one of those quintessential mangas set in the Meiji Era starring a samurai. An assassin turned wandered trying to atone for this sins. I would definitely recommend watching the anime since the fight scenes would be more impressive. The coloring is a little off for me, but the details and the oomph factor in the anime makes up for it. Sometimes it gets a bit annoying, but once you get past it, Rurouni Kenshin is one of the best anime/manga of its genre.

    Thursday, December 23, 2010

    Almost to Die For

    Almost to Die For by Tate Hallaway

    Grade: 1.8 stars out of 5
    Anastajia Parker turned 16 on the 16th, but it’s not a happy birthday party that will be the surprise. She discovers that not only is she a witch, but her father is the prince of the vampires. 
    To say that I am a sucker for vampire books is a bad pun, but so true. I will gobble up anything vampires, werewolves, and faeries because I am a paranormal/fantasy nut. Almost to Die For is up the alley being my favorite genre, but I have to rethink this over the last couple of months. Vampires and werewolves have mushroomed in the last couple of years that entire books have become one giant cliché. Over and over again I’ve come across books that I may have read before: tweak a name here and there, alter their appearance and catastrophic teenage trauma, and viola. Almost to Die For has become that cliché for me and failed to impress me in almost every way.

    Anastajia, or commonly known as Ana, is easygoing and laidback. She goes with the flow. Case 1) Nik—hot witch/vampire hunter—asks Ana on a date and that he has always had a crush on her. She says yes and internally squees.  Case 2) Next day: Elias—captain of Ana’s father’s guard—offers her a ride. She takes it. Nearly gets decapitated by the enemy. Brushes it off for the rest of the novel. He has to go back underground because he’s not a daylight person. She joins him. Case 3) Same day: Text from Nik. She of course gets bored underground with all the vampires who are asleep and runs off to bowl. They make out before heading to bowl. Case 4) Elias shows up in the bowling alley. He and Nik duke it out. Ana tries to stop the fight. There is no fight. Does she think before she acts? The consequences are much more severe now that she is a royal princess stuck between the two enemy worlds. I found Ana to be a quiet rebel who really has no idea what she’s doing.

    I found Hallaway’s writing distinctive, but not for me. There were some sentences, and while proper, didn’t feel right. Example: “I determined to pay better attention for the rest of the class” (Hallaway 11). I am more accustomed to the sentence if there was a “was” stuck between “I” and “determined”. Every so often things like that pop up which makes me do a double read.

    In all Almost to Die For offers nothing impressive with poorly executed storyline, albeit one that tried to add a little twist, and underdeveloped characters. There is leeway because it is the first in a series but when there’s two romances already happening, a pissed off best friend, and a mother who’s either hot or cold, I expect something. Almost to Die For falls on my level of expectations.

    Source: personal copy
    Cover B+
    Published: 3 August 2010; paperback

    Wednesday, December 22, 2010

    The Fortune of Carmen Navarro

    The Fortune of Carmen Navarro by Jen Byrant

    Grade: 2.5 stars out of 5

    The Fortune of Carmen Navarro is influenced by the musical, Carmen. Jen Byrant had a few things in mind even before writing the book of how she wanted it to turn out, slightly spoilish: “(1) Carmen would remain a fiercely independent young woman; (2) that a soldier (or a cadet at a military school) would fall in love with her; (3) that his desire for her would consume him and bring about his downfall; and (4) that their relationship would end in violence” (Byrant 228).

    However despite the onslaught of drama and feministic influences The Fortune of Carmen Navarro was short of being spectacular. Told through 4 different perspectives there still remains a lack of awareness in the character’s mind or behavior. Rather than a trajectory of movement as their thoughts would ramble on and off, there just seemed to be one or two main ideas lodged in each character. The novel is of moderate length, but once you split the book between 4 different people, it makes it so much smaller. The Fortune of Carmen Navarro  needed to be more fleshed out.

    Carmen is “a fiercely independent young woman” that we’re told is exotic, is beautiful and that despite dropping out of high school to work at the local Quikmart, is smart. She is ambitious. Carmen wants her name out there and her band to be in the biggest spotlight of all. But I found her highly unapproachable and unlikable. Carmen was very much, in my opinion, a difficult girl to befriend in real life: selfish, stubborn, headstrong, and so used to getting her way. Boys come and goes. Friends are very few and those few are mostly male.

    Maggie is Carmen’s best friend and as close as not blood related sisters can be. It is uncommon for the secondary character to have their own role in novels, but Maggie does. Maggie wants to be a veterinarian (or as Maggie and Carmen say, an animal doctor); she’s smart, but very “plain” or so we’re told over and over again. Maggie lacks self-confidence and being around Carmen for so long can do that. Your best friend can get every guy she wants and you’re just her little brainy side-kick. Carmen is magnetic, charismatic, and a sight to behold. But still.

    Ryan the cadet is just another puppy that has fallen under Carmen’s beauty and her voice. Byrant focuses solely on his shift from piqued interest to adoration to love to obsession—all in relation to Carmen. The transitions are smooth and the obsessive thoughts are spot-on. But I have so much trouble understanding why. Why does Ryan love Carmen so much even after the cold shoulder?

    Will, Ryan’s close friend, is forgettable. His chapters only further showcase how Ryan is falling under the Carmen spell slowly but surely. Everything else didn’t have a point in the context of the plot.

    The tension riding up to the ending was palpable. The climax was anticlimactic. All the ending proved was how much I disliked Carmen and how befuddled I was by Ryan’s actions. Was The Fortune of Carmen Navarro  a twisted coming-of-age story?

    Source: Knopf
    Cover: B
    Published: 9 November 2010

    Tuesday, December 21, 2010

    Fall for Anything

    Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers

    Grade: 4.8 stars out of 5
    After her father’s suicide, Eddie can’t seem to move on.
    Straight off the bat readers’ find Eddie to be different from Summers’s typical heroine: quiet, fragile, and much more solemn. Going in I mentally prepared myself to dislike Eddie as I did to the previous other characters of her previous works. But there wasn’t that bitchy, outwardly hostile, and combative girl I was so used to and expecting from Summers’s. And I loved it. This was an uncharted area.

    Courtney Summers keep readers on their toes who expected the worst of a situation. She always seems to surprise me with every new novel on how she’s stretching the line of no-man’s-land. How evil can a character be while still making them well-rounded and letting the reader connect to them? And with every new novel, I sit back and ponder that question: can I really blame so-and-so for acting in such a fashion?

    Fall for Anything deals with the emotional trauma of not only a death, but an intentional death. Eddie deals with it by just not letting it go. She becomes obsessive with the reasons why her father killed himself. (Her father, might I point out, is much older than Eddie’s mother. He can possibly pass for Eddie’s grandfather.) When Culler Evans appears with the same obsession and a different link to her father than she has, Eddie is drawn to him. He is the connection to the world of photography and the apprentice of Eddie’s father. But Cullen does something unforgettable that makes the reader go ‘holy ****’. It goes back to the question, can you blame him? The intention was good, but did he overstep the line of no-man’s-land? There are some hints along the way that readers can pick up so this wasn’t something completely from left-field. The climax and the resolution was something that I really hoped Summers nailed and she did.

    I love how open-ended the novel is. I love how not nothing can be solved because in real life the real reason why behind suicides are only known by the people who committed the suicide. While it’s frustrating not having a 100% positive sure answer after going on this journey with Eddie, it is a realistic ending. The novel itself is the journey to accepting this fact and moving past it.

    Despite not having the spotlight on the mother, I believe she follows the typical behavior of dealing with deal that I seem to see in novels. Just this complete shut-down and shut-off. Fall for Anything has two characters who deal with death separately that affect the entire community and each other. Readers will come across classmates, acquaintances, best friends who are affected through ripple effect.

    P.S. I love Summers’s sense of humor.

    P.P.S. I love Summers’s novels period.

    Cover: B
    Source: St. Martin's Griffin/ accepted review pitch
    Published: 21 December 2010; paperback