Friday, October 28, 2011

Book Blogger Hop: 10/28-10/31

The Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Crazy for Books, is a great way to get know other bloggers and find new blogs to read. This week's question is:

“What is your favorite Halloween costume?
Even if you don’t celebrate, what kinds of costumes do you like?”

Halloween in my family was a BIG DEAL when we were little. My parents loved taking us trick-or-treating and I went until I was a senior in high school. My last costume was a bag of jelly beans, but I think my favorite was the Statue of Liberty. We found a shimmery, sparkling silver sheet for the gown, made a crown out of tin foil, and created the torch using tissue paper and a flashlight. It looked great and even better, it was homemade! Homemade costumes are the best.

The best I've seen so far this year are Transformers. My friend made her own and they are awesome. They even "transform" into cars when they crouch down on the floor. So cool.

Review: Shine

Author: Lauren Myracle
Publish date: April 2011
Source: Purchased
"When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice. 

Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author."
To put it lightly, this was a very powerful, moving book. It had been on my TBR list for a while (since April, really) and a few weeks ago, I put it on hold at the library. After the National Book Award debacle, I decided that instead of waiting for the library for the book, I would just purchase it myself and try to support Ms. Myracle a little more. I grabbed it from the local bookstore and devoured it this week. Shine moved me a lot more than I was expecting. I knew I would like it, but I didn't realize just how much.
First of all, I loved the voice and tone of the novel. Ms. Myracle wrote the story from the point of view of Cat, the main character, and the whole novel is told in her voice. It was so authentic and really just made the book that much more real and believable. I talk about voice all the time with my English students and think excerpts from this book would make great mentor texts for their own writing. I could so easily imagine a sixteen year old girl from a small southern town as I was reading, which can really help show how important voice is in writing.
In this story, I think the setting sometimes is just as important as the characters. The small town atmosphere can sometimes be a breeding ground for hatred, especially when someone is hated and persecuted just because he/she is simply different, like Patrick was in Shine. It is so critical for people to understand that that is wrong! There are towns and places like this all over and it is so disheartening and makes me feel sick. While reading this book, I felt so enraged about how people are mistreated and what makes me angrier is that I have seen this play out in my own life. Not to the extent of injuring someone, like Patrick, but in verbal taunts and attitudes. 
I will definitely be recommending this book to my students, as I think this kind of persecution is something they need to be aware of and educated about.  I wish this could be required reading for our school. What an excellent, thought-provoking, anger-inducing novel. I am absolutely glad that I bought it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Review: Shift

Author: Jeri Smith-Ready
Publish date: May 2011
Source: Library
"Aura’s life is anything but easy. Her boyfriend, Logan, died, and his slides between ghost and shade have left her reeling. Aura knows he needs her now more than ever. She loves Logan, but she can’t deny her connection with the totally supportive, totally gorgeous Zachary. And she’s not sure that she wants to.

Logan and Zachary will fight to be the one by her side, but Aura needs them both to uncover the mystery of her past—the mystery of the Shift.
As Aura’s search uncovers new truths, she must decide whom to trust with her secrets…and her heart."
Note: If you haven't read Shade (and you should!), don't read this review. Unless you want to be spoiled. Which you don't. (Unless you do). The end.
This is the second book in the Shade series by Jeri Smith-Ready, and I'd heard that this one was even better than Shade. And in fact, it was! I loved it even more than the first one and am really looking forward to book #3, Shine.
I loved that in this book we get to learn even more about the Shift and what caused it. I knew as soon as the Shift was mentioned in Shade that its background and repercussions would be awesome and I was right. I'm so glad Ms. Smith-Ready gave more information about the circumstances surrounding Aura's birth and her parents, whom I was very curious about. I'm hoping there is even more about her parents and Eowyn in Shine. Also, I kind of love the name Eowyn.
I was really glad that there was some positive development with Logan and Aura (I think). I am totally Team Zachary, by the way. No question. I don't want to give too much away, but I definitely like how this book ended in terms of those characters and I can't wait to see what happens next! 

Book Blogger Hop 10/21-10/24

The Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Crazy for Books, is a great way to get know other bloggers and find new blogs to read. This week's question is:

"What is your favorite type of candy?"

Tough question! I hardly ever eat candy, but if I do, I like kinds that I can eat little pieces of, like gummies, m&m's, or nerds. I think it seems like more when there are tiny pieces :)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Review: The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern
Publish date: September 2011
Source: Purchased
"Opens at Nightfall; Closes at Dawn." The Le Cirque des RĂªves is a circus unlike any other, just as this magical debut novel is equally unique. At the center of The Night Circus spectacle are two specially gifted young magicians, Celia and Marco, pitted against each other in professional competition, drawn towards one another in love. Erin Morgenstern's literary fantasy has already drawn raves for its captivating evocativeness: "A world of almost unbearable beauty.... A love story on a grand scale: it creates, it destroys, it ultimately transcends." "A novel so magical that there is no escaping its spell... If you choose to read just one novel this year, this is it.""

This novel, Ms. Morgenstern's first, is unlike anything I have ever read before. I feel like I will never be done sorting out my feelings about it, but in a good way. I had heard only good things about it, so I figured I would just get the book and read it instead of waiting for it at the library. It actually ended up being a gift and I read it over a few days (and will be rereading at some point).

The prose in this book is some of the most beautiful I have ever had the pleasure of reading. I often found myself stopping while reading to go back and reread because the writing was just that wonderful. (Sidenote: I NEVER do that.) Ms. Morgenstern's way with words is just incredible. I could only ever hope to write half as well as she does. I think I would have finished the book more quickly if the writing itself wasn't so beautiful (and I am not one to gush about prose like this).

Let's talk about imagery, shall we? This novel is just FULL of imagery and in the best way possible. With all the descriptions, I could really feel like I was there at the circus or any of the other settings that are in the novel. If you are someone who teaches craft or wants to learn how to employ great imagery, read this book! I was continually amazed at how she showed us her fantastic world.

The plot was confusing at times, I will readily admit that. There are a multitude of main characters and the chapters alternate narration between many of them, but I thought the different points of view really added more depth to the story. The chapters also take place during different time periods, which could add to the confusion, but each was labeled with a time and place at the beginning. That said, the chapters were all fairly short, which was nice and really helped with pacing. 

There is a romance within the story, but it doesn't overpower the plot, which can easily happen in so many other books. I really liked how it just slowly built over time. It, like the writing, was lovely. I thought the two (trying to avoid spoilers) were great characters by themselves and the romance just made me like them more. 

I don't think my review is really doing this book the justice it deserves. I didn't necessarily enjoy the book for its plot, even though it was magical and very creative. I really liked it more for its actual writing, for the world I was easily able to imagine because of, again, the excellent writing. It may start off a bit slowly, but it grows and grows until the end hits you and, like me, you'll want to reread immediately.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Review: Shade

Author: Jeri Smith-Ready
Publish date: 2010
Source: Library
"Love ties them together. Death can't tear them apart. 
Best. Birthday. Ever. At least, it was supposed to be. With Logan's band playing a critical gig and Aura's plans for an intimate after-party, Aura knows it will be the most memorable night of her boyfriend's life. She never thought it would be his last.
Logan's sudden death leaves Aura devastated. He's gone.
Well, sort of.
Like everyone born after the Shift, Aura can see and hear ghosts. This mysterious ability has always been annoying, and Aura had wanted nothing more than to figure out why the Shift happened so she can undo it. But not with Logan's violet-hued spirit still hanging around. Because dead Logan is almost as real as ever. Almost.
It doesn't help that Aura's new friend Zachary is so understanding—and so very alive. His support means more to Aura than she cares to admit.
As Aura's relationships with the dead and the living grow ever complicated, so do her feelings for Logan and Zachary. Each holds a piece of Aura's heart...and clues to the secret of the Shift."
I have heard a lot of good things about Shade, especially from other bloggers, so I figured I'd give it a shot, even though I don't necessarily consider myself a fan of paranormal. Something about vampires and werewolves just doesn't work for me, but I've read a couple stories with ghosts that I've enjoyed and this one was definitely no exception. I really liked it.
One of the elements that I particularly loved about Shade was the setting. Ms. Smith-Ready created her story so that it takes place in the present day, but with the added aftermath of the Shift (people 16 and under can see and talk to ghosts). Because the setting and time period is similar to ours, the characters talk about current music and movies. I thought that was such a great technique and really helps readers relate to the characters. 
I also really liked the whole idea of the Shift. As the story progresses, especially in the last third, we learn more background of the Shift and how it specifically affected Aura and Zachary, the intriguing Scottish boy (I loved imagining his accent). I'm really looking forward to reading Shift, the second book in the series, to learn more about the Shift and how it happened. 
Whenever bloggers talk about this book, they always seem to mention the Aura/Logan/Zachary love triangle. Maybe I'm weird, but I definitely liked Zachary more because, you know, he's alive and breathing. I'm assuming there is more of a triangley thing in Shift since right now, it's Zachary all the way (to me). Other than wondering about that and groaning at Aura's name, I really liked this book! It wasn't too long and kept me turning the pages. Shift is already on hold for me at the library and I know I'll be diving in soon.
Also, Jeri Smith-Ready is on twitter and you should follow her. She's awesome.

Book Blogger Hop 10/14-10/17

The Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Crazy for Books, is a great way to get know other bloggers and find new blogs to read. This week's question is:

“What is your favorite spooky book (i.e. mystery/suspense, thriller, ghost story, etc.)?”

I don't read a lot of spooky things because, uh, they scare me since I'm a wuss, but recently I read The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson and loved it. It definitely had a lot of scary elements in it and like other reviewers/readers have said, I may have had a bit of trouble sleeping after finishing it. Maybe. Check out my review here.

I am open to suggestions if anyone thinks I am missing out by not reading suspense/thrillers/other spooky books!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday 10/11

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is:

Top ten books I wish I could read again for the first time!

1. Harry Potter series, hands down. I consider myself legit obsessed with these books and am always so jealous of people who get to experience it for the first time.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird: I read this for the first time in 8th grade and I think had I been a little older, I would have appreciated it more. I loved it at the time and even more so now.

3. Tuck Everlasting: I think I was in 4th grade when I read this and just absolutely loved it. Beautiful story, great characters, and a decent film version to boot.

4. Delirium: I know I just read this recently, but I loved it way more than I thought I would! Excellent writing and story and I couldn't put it down.

5. The Little House books: I really loved these as a child and it would be wonderful to experience them again for the first time. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong era (she typed on her blog).

6. Roald Dahl books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Danny the Champion of the World, etc: I loved these as a kid and my parents even read them aloud to us. I loved imagining everything in the books and think it would be fun to do that again.

7. The Face on the Milk Carton: I LOVED this series as a middle schooler and found the concept so intriguing and crazy.

8. Pride and Prejudice: When I read this for the first time, I didn't really appreciate what it was and now I wish I could do it again.

And that's about all I could think of!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: Perfect Chemistry

Author: Simone Elkeles
Publish date: 2008
Source: Purchased (and signed!)
"When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created “perfect” life is about to unravel before her eyes. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she's worked so hard for—her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect. Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more.  In a passionate story about looking beneath the surface, Simone Elkeles breaks through the stereotypes and barriers that threaten to keep Brittany and Alex apart." (from Goodreads)

Last Tuesday, I attended the Smart Chicks Kick It tour at Schuler's Books & Music in Lansing, MI. I purchased and got books signed by Simone Elkeles, Melissa de la Cruz, and Carrie Ryan. Simone and the rest of the ladies were HILARIOUS and I honestly decided to read Perfect Chemistry first (before the other signed ones) because she was so funny and honest. I am so glad I did because I LOVED the book!

Perfect Chemistry is labeled as kind of a steamy YA, and while, yes, it was that, it was so much more. I really liked the characters and could easily picture them in my head. For the first three quarters of the book, I thought the dialogue and plot were excellent, although they did seem to taper off a bit by the end, almost like the author was in a rush to finish the novel, but that didn't lessen my enjoyment. For the majority of the book, though, I enjoyed Elkeles's writing style. The chapters alternated in narration by Alex and Brittany, which I liked. It's nice for readers to get a glimpse into both of the main characters' heads. 

After reading this, I've kind of realized that I'm a sucker for the bad boy/good girl stories. It makes me feel like a teenager again, but I can't help but like them! Of course, we learn throughout the story that Alex is a good guy with this bad guy/gang persona, but it's the still the whole "boy from the wrong side of the tracks" story (and we know they're going to end up together but HOW?). I'm definitely going to recommend this to my students, especially after we read Romeo and Juliet in my 9th grade class. Lots of similarities and since most of the kids enjoy R&J, it won't be hard to convince them to read Perfect Chemistry, especially since it's a modern and believable setting (with you know, Alex Fuentes). I'm looking forward to the sequels to see what else happens with the Fuentes brothers!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Book Blogger Hop (10/7-10/10)

The Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Crazy for Books, is a great way to get know other bloggers and find new blogs to read. This week's question/spotlight is:

“It’s time to spread some love beyond the borders of the Book Blogger Hop! This week, we aren’t answering a question. We are spotlighting our fellow bloggers. Find your favorite(s) author interview(s), guest post(s), book review(s), or bookish article(s) that ANOTHER BOOK BLOGGER featured on their site recently and tell us why you love it/them! As an additional challenge, find your favorite one of EACH of the categories above and spotlight all 4 (interview, guest post, review, article).”

Well, I failed at the challenge, but I could easily think of a few reviews and a book cover discussion blog post to share with everyone.

1. Review of Daughter of Smoke & Bone over at The Story Siren. She starts the review by proclaiming that she LOVED the book, which immediately makes me want to read it. The story itself sounds odd, but with all the blogger love of this book, I think I need to read it soon.

2. Review of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer at Young Book Love. She titled the review "The Unbecoming of Bethany's workouts," which made me crack up, then she followed it up with a very detailed and funny review. I knew I wanted to read Mara, but now I do more than ever!

3. Review of Shade at Gone with the Words. Jess was tweeting about loving this book a few weeks ago, then her review was gushing with more love! She (and her review) convinced me to get it from the library and it is currently sitting in my car, waiting patiently to be read.

4. Discussion of Revolution's cover changes at The Compulsive Reader. I have an arc of this, currently in my classroom, and I noticed at a book signing on Tuesday night that the cover is now different from the arc. I liked the arc cover much more and then on Friday saw the blog post about the very same thing! I liked how she compared all the covers, including the UK one. The old one is by far the best :)

Review: Forbidden

Author: Tabitha Suzuma
Publish date: May 2010
Source: library
"Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives—and the way they understand each other so completely—has also also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending." (from Goodreads)

This book was intense; no doubt about it. The author, Tabitha Suzuma, took a taboo subject and created this intense, passionate story that I could not put down. I would definitely only recommend this for mature readers, as the subject matter is obviously controversial. There are people out there who do not/will not understand why Ms. Suzuma chose to write a book about incest, but Forbidden is about much more than that: the main themes are of love and the importance of family.

Lochan and Maya are essentially the parents in their family of 5. Their mother is frequently absent and an alcoholic on top of that, so they cannot rely on her, plus their father is gone. That dynamic pulled me in from the start and as the story continues, Lochan and Maya get closer and closer until they finally recognize their feelings. This is the kind of novel where you just want to keep reading and reading to find out what happens to them and their families. I liked all of the characters, especially Lochan's teacher, although I wish Ms. Suzuma would have included more about her.

The whole time I was reading, I kept wondering how the book would end. How do you end a story about two siblings who get so close that they fall in love? Well, my friends, the ending does not disappoint. If you are looking for a happy, peppy book, don't read Forbidden, but if you are looking for a great, unlike anything you've read before kind of book, read it! 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Review: Blue Bloods

Author: Melissa de la Cruz
Publish date: April 2006
Source: Kindle e-book (only $2.69!)
"When the Mayflower set sail in 1620, it carried on board the men and women who would shape America: Miles Standish; John Alden; Constance Hopkins. But some among the Pilgrims were not pure of heart; they were not escaping religious persecution. Indeed, they were not even human. They were vampires.The vampires assimilated quickly into the New World. Rising to levels of enormous power, wealth, and influence, they were the celebrated blue bloods of American society. 

The Blue Bloods vowed that their immortal status would remain a closely guarded secret. And they kept that secret for centuries. But now, in New York City, the secret is seeping out. Schuyler Van Alen is a sophomore at a prestigious private school. She prefers baggy, vintage clothes instead of the Prada and pearls worn by her classmates, and she lives with her reclusive grandmother in a dilapated mansion. Schuyler is a loner...and happy that way. Suddenly, when she turns fifteen, there is a visible mosaic of blue veins on her arm. She starts to crave raw food and she is having flashbacks to ancient times. Then a popular girl from her school is found dead... drained of all her blood. Schuyler doesn't know what to think, but she wants to find out the secrets the Blue Bloods are keeping. But is she herself in danger?
" (from Goodreads)

Firstly, this is not a book that I would normally pick up. I'll be the first to admit that I don't typically enjoy "vampire books." I gave Twilight a shot a few years ago while I was student teaching, wondering what was so great about this book that my students loved so much. Not much, I found out, but that's another story. Anyway, I found out that the Smart Girls Kick It tour is stopping in Lansing Tuesday night, so I decided to quickly read a Melissa de la Cruz book since she is with the tour. Blue Bloods was only 2.69 for the Kindle, so that made that decision pretty easy.

It was surprisingly enjoyable! I thought it might be cheesy since, you know, vampires, but it was quite entertaining. I think one of the reasons that I liked it was all the history that was interwoven in the story. I adore American history and love unsolved mysteries like Roanoke, so I really liked that aspect of the story. The present setting, though, reminded me of Gossip Girl with all the wealth and designer clothing and whatnot. It got kind of old after a while since it's not something that I can relate to, but it wasn't a dealbreaker.

One thing that I thought was confusing about the novel was the differing points of view. The chapters switched between third person narrators- Schuyler, Mimi, Bliss, etc. It got annoying sometimes; maybe I am a one or two narrator kind of girl? I also wish that de la Cruz had just gone more in depth with everything, but maybe that will happen throughout the rest of the series? I plan on buying the next book in the series tomorrow at the signing (and get it signed), so we'll see!