Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: The Fault in Our Stars

Author: John Green
Publish date: January 2012
Source: Library
"Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now. 

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

I'm a big fan of John Green, but until now, I'd only read Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska. I adored Paper Towns, but I'm wondering if that was because it was my first John Green. Regardless, he is a talented author and The Fault in Our Stars is certainly no exception to that.

One of the things I like best about John Green as an author is how he infuses humor into most situations, and intelligent humor at that. I've read his books as an adult and I love that he does not "talk down" to his readers. He treats them as the smart people that they are. He certainly has a way with words--I loved the vocabulary in this book. Sometimes I thought the dialogue might have been a bit much for teenagers, but overall it was fantastic.

In every review I read of TFIOS, the reader said that he/she cried. Well, folks, here's where I reveal my heart of stone: I do not cry at books. And I did not cry at this one. There were obviously some heavy, emotional moments in this book (full of poignant humor, of course), but I didn't cry. Be prepared to, though. I certainly felt sad...but no tears.

All in all, a great book by a great author. I don't feel that I loved it as much as others, but definitely liked it and finished it in two days. Hazel and Augustus were great characters that I felt I could relate to and I think teens will as well. This is not your typical "cancer book" at all.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Former Favorites: The Face on the Milk Carton

Former Favorites is a fairly new feature in which I highlight a book series that I loved as a child. So far, I have done the BSC, Animorphs, Little House, and Sweet Valley. Today's series is:

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

There are four books in this fantastic series: The Face on the Milk Carton, Whatever Happened to Janie, The Voice on the Radio, and What Janie Found. I remember much more about the first two than the last two, so I will focus on those.

The series is based around a girl named Janie Johnson who, while eating lunch at school, discovered that the picture of the missing child on her milk carton is actually HER. She recognizes her toddler picture and remembers the itchy feeling of the dress. When I read this in late elementary school, it blew my mind. I couldn't even IMAGINE finding out that I was a missing child. It freaked me out, but was insanely intriguing at the same time.

The Face on the Milk Carton basically follows Janie as she tries to find out who she really is and if her parents actually kidnapped her. Her boyfriend, Reeve, is a major part of the story, and probably one of my first book crushes. He was a bit older than her and pretty awesome, as I remember it. I wanted a Reeve.

One of the great things about this series and all Caroline B. Cooney books is that each book is short. They are pretty appealing to people because of that, especially middle schoolers. She is a great writer and I am always sucked into her books immediately, including this series. Give it a try if you never read them as a kid!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Playing Hooky (or Spring Break Reads)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is top ten books I'd play hooky with, but I'm changing mine to:

Top Ten Books I Want to Read over Spring Break Next Week

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: Currently reading this one and anticipate being finished soon. As always, the humor is perfect.

2. Graceling by Kristin Cashore: I bought this one and plan to devour it soon.

3. The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell: Intrigued. On hold at the library.

4. Hallowed by Cynthia Hand: Bought this one and need to read it before I go to RT Teen Day!

5. Lay that Trumpet in Our Hands by Susan Carol McCarthy: This is part of our 10th grade curriculum where I work and I need to read it still! Reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird.

6. Born Wicked by Jessica Cahill: I requested this through the Michigan e-library (MeL), meaning it will come from a library somewhere in the state. Can't wait!

7. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly McNees: I love historical fiction about real people and about LMA? Sounds fun! Another MeL book too.

8. Austenland by Shannon Hale: This one sounds kind of awesome, I'll be honest. Should be ready at the library tomorrow.

9. The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant: I have read the first 20ish pages of this and really need to finish it!

10. The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness: My current audio book, which is fantastic.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Review: Cinder

Author: Marissa Meyer
Publish date: January 2012
Source: Library
"Cinder, a gifted mechanic in New Beijing, is also a cyborg. She's reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister's sudden illness. But when her life becomes entwined with the handsome Prince Kai's, she finds herself at the centre of a violent struggle between the desires of an evil queen - and a dangerous temptation. 

Cinder is caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal. Now she must uncover secrets about her mysterious past in order to protect Earth's future.

Cinder got a lot of attention toward the beginning of the year, as it was released on January 3rd. I only read good reviews and really wanted to read it, so I was pretty pleased when my library ordered it and my hold finally arrived last week. I thought Cinder was great and lived up to the hype!

I think Cinder is one the first fairy tale retellings that I've read and it's really making me want to read more. (Feel free to suggest your favorites!) Obviously I had an inkling about what was going to happen since I know the Cinderella story (and I predicted a huge part of the plot about 20 pages in), but the story itself was a lot of fun. The world of New Beijing and the idea of a moon colony was pretty interesting and I think we'll learn a lot more background in the books to come.

I'll admit, it took me a while to get into the story. I knew the plot was interesting, I knew I wanted to read and learn more, but I wasn't completely sucked in until halfway through. At that point, I was barely able to put it down and stayed up entirely too late on a work night to finish. I am really looking forward to the next three books and hope that more of Marissa Meyer's fascinating science fiction world is explored along with continuing Cinder's story. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: Cryer's Cross (audio book)

Author: Lisa McMann
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Publish date: 2011
Source: Library
"Kendall loves her life in small town Cryer's Cross, Montana, but she also longs for something more. She knows the chances of going to school in New York are small, but she's not the type to give up easily. Even though it will mean leaving Nico, the world's sweetest boyfriend, behind. 

But when Cryer's Cross is rocked by unspeakable tragedy, Kendall shoves her dreams aside and focuses on just one goal: help find her missing friends. Even if it means spending time with the one boy she shouldn't get close to... the one boy who makes her question everything she feels for Nico.

Determined to help and to stay true to the boy she's always loved, Kendall keeps up the search--and stumbles upon some frightening local history. She knows she can't stop digging, but Kendall is about to find out just how far the townspeople will go to keep their secrets buried..

Cryer's Cross is one of those books that has a great premise and some good elements, but just ultimately did not work out for me. I wanted to like it, but it was just disappointing.

The setting in Cryer's Cross was one of the best things about the book. The tiny town in Montana is the same as the title of the book and only had about 200 residents. I love tiny towns that no one has ever heard of, especially ghost or near ghost towns, so I was really excited while listening to the description of the setting. The small town feeling was like another character.

However...there just wasn't enough of anything else in the novel. I didn't feel like Kendall was fleshed out enough as a main character and I didn't like the third person present tense narration. For me, at least, past tense would have been better. Unfortunately, the plot wasn't enough to overshadow the characters. There just wasn't...enough. There could have been a lot more to the mystery and overall plot. It was almost boring at times.

As an audio book, I wasn't too impressed either. The narrator's voice was flat and didn't have much emotion, although my guess is that a different narrator wouldn't have changed my mind about the book.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is top ten books on my spring to be read list, of which there are MANY. These are books that either aren't out yet or I just haven't read them yet.

The first 3 are in order; not sure about the rest...

1. Insurgent by Veronica Roth

2. Shine by Jeri Smith-Ready

3. Graceling by Kristin Cashore

4. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

5. Hunting Lila by Sarah Alderson

6. White Cat by Holly Black

7. Hallowed by Cynthia Hand

8. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

9. Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

10. The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Monday, March 19, 2012

Review: The Mockingbirds

Author: Daisy Whitney
Publish date: 2010
Source: Library
"Some schools have honor codes.

Others have handbooks.

Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds.

Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way--the Themis Way. So when Alex is date raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps her, or enlist the Mockingbirds--a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow peers.

In this honest, page-turning account of a teen girl's struggle to stand up for herself, debut author Daisy Whitney reminds readers that if you love something or someone--especially yourself--you fight for it.

I don't remember hearing about The Mockingbirds or its sequel, The Rivals, at all when they came out. I saw a little bit of chatter about them on twitter and after reading the summary of The Mockingbirds, I gave it a try. I liked the premise and characters, but I didn't like the overall message.

First of all, I love the idea of the Mockingbirds as the actual group at school. A type of secretish society that takes care of problems at school? Love it. All the references to To Kill a Mockingbird were great, although I would caution to read TKAM first so you aren't spoiled by anything. I like boarding schools in novels, because that of course takes parents out of the equation. Themis Academy sounded like a cool place to be with good friends, although I did NOT like how teachers were portrayed as not knowing/caring about students outside of class. I am a teacher, friends, and I am not that naive.


Onto what I had an issue with: how the main conflict was actually taken care of. Alex is date raped (twice, actually) by a fellow classmate at Themis but never in the entire novel does she GO TO THE POLICE. She went to the Mockingbirds, who proceeded to hold a trial and then punish Carter as they see fit. I don't want young people, especially high schoolers who read this, to get the idea that a group of classmates can take care of this very serious crime. Rape is a crime and you go to the POLICE. Not your classmates. Police. Alex does tell a teacher toward the end, but I was unhappy with how that was portrayed as well. A teacher is not a friend. We are teachers and we take appropriate action, since we are mandated reporters. So yeah, I don't like how the outcome was written. Rape is a crime that deserves police, not teenagers.

Friday, March 16, 2012

TGIF: Social Networking

TGIF is a weekly feature hosted by Ginger at G Reads! in which she proposes a question to her followers and recaps the week's posts. This week's question is:

Social Networking: Do you use Twitter or Facebook to promote your blog? How has it benefited your book blogging experience? If not, how do you promote your blog? Share your twitter handle and/or Facebook link!

Right now, I only use Twitter to promote my blog posts. Not many of my family and IRL friends know about my blog, so I don't want to make a Facebook page for it just yet. I used to be really into Facebook when I was in college, but now I'm kinda meh about it. I've moved away from that whole "everyone must know everything about me" phase that I went through for a few years and have moved on to "it's none of your damn business" :)

However...I love Twitter. I have found so many fantastic people and blogs through tweets and I think it is an invaluable resource. I love following other bloggers, authors, and readers. You can find me at BookPensieve.

Posts this week
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Top Ten Tuesday: Dystopian/Science Fiction
Prized by Caragh M. O'Brien

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: Prized (Birthmarked #2)

Author: Caragh M. O'Brien
Publish date: 2011
Source: Library
"Striking out into the wasteland with nothing but her baby sister, a handful of supplies, and a rumor to guide her, sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone survives only to be captured by the people of Sylum, a dystopian society where women rule the men who drastically outnumber them, and a kiss is a crime. In order to see her sister again, Gaia must submit to their strict social code, but how can she deny her sense of justice, her curiosity, and everything in her heart that makes her whole?"

FYI: This review might spoil things for Birthmarked. Beware.

I love this series! I don't think it gets the recognition that it deserves, so I try to pimp it out to my students and friends as much as possible. The series is quite different from other dystopians out right now, but still great!

Prized picks up immediately after Birthmarked ends and even though it's been 3 months since I've thought about Gaia, I was able to jump right back in. Prized doesn't have quite as much action as Birthmarked does, but that was because the majority of the story takes place in Sylum. Still, the plot moves right along and craziness goes down.

One thing I really like about this series that makes it different from other dystopians is that it doesn't have a lot of fighting, per se, like The Hunger Games or Divergent do. Gaia is a midwife, which makes her necessary to society's well-being, but there is much more to the story than that, especially in Sylum. Sylum was a character in itself and I loved Gaia being all kick ass there and not giving up who she really was.

If you haven't tried this series and are looking for a great and unusual dystopian, check out Birthmarked and Prized!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Dystopian/Science Fiction

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is top ten genre books, so I picked my top EIGHT dystopian and/or science fiction novels!

1. Delirium trilogy by Lauren Oliver. LOVE.

2. Across the Universe & A Million Suns by Beth Revis

3. Divergent series by Veronica Roth

4. Birthmarked and Prized by Caragh O'Brien. I feel like this series doesn't get a lot of recognition, but I love it.

5. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

6. The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Not a fan of Mockingjay.

7. Matched by Ally Condie. Didn't like Crossed, but Matched was good.

8. Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go (audio book)

Author: Patrick Ness
Narrator: Nick Podehl
Publish date: 2008
Source: Library
"Prentisstown isn't like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee -- whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not -- stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden -- a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

I had never heard of Patrick Ness until I started seeing reviews for A Monster Calls. After doing some research, I discovered The Knife of Never Letting Go and read some rave reviews for the audio book. As a new audio book junkie, I decided to try this one out. HOLY CRAP. It was AMAZING.

Nick Podehl, the narrator, simply blew me away. I couldn't believe how many emotions he could convey with simple changes in his tone or style. The concept of Noise means that there are many different characters and voices throughout the novel and Nick nailed them all. I'm pretty sure his Manchee voice was my favorite, but everything was fantastic. It is now my goal to listen to any/all audio books that Nick Podehl narrates (of which there are many, I have discovered).

I thought Todd's dialect added a whole new dimension to the story. Because of the language, I think the audio book was a great choice, but I've also read that the words in the book are spelled like Todd speaks, which is also a cool technique. Overall, I think Patrick Ness took big risks with this book and to me, he succeeded. I didn't think the language was gimmicky at all. 

The plot was well-paced and I never found myself thinking it was dragging. I was scared for Todd the whole time and was so curious about the truth behind Prentisstown, its people, and the idea of Noise in general. I am definitely going to read the other two books in the series, The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Review: Pandemonium (Delirium #2)

Author: Lauren Oliver
Publish date: February 2012
Source: Won in contest
"I’m pushing aside the memory of my nightmare,
pushing aside thoughts of Alex,
pushing aside thoughts of Hana and my old school,
like Raven taught me to do.
The old life is dead.
But the old Lena is dead too.
I buried her.
I left her beyond a fence,
behind a wall of smoke and flame.

Lauren Oliver delivers an electrifying follow-up to her acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Delirium. This riveting, brilliant novel crackles with the fire of fierce defiance, forbidden romance, and the sparks of a revolution about to ignite.

Pandemonium is by far my most anticipated 2012 release, more so than Insurgent. I absolutely LOVED Delirium and it was clearly my favorite read of 2011. Obviously I had really high expectations for Pandy and while most of them were met, the book definitely wasn't what I thought it would be. That said, though, I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

Pandemonium is written in a different style than Delirium in that the chapters alternate between "Then" and "Now." I'll be honest: at first, I did not like that, AT ALL. I was all, why this flip-flopping; just give me my precious NOW!. However, about a third of the way into the book, I realized that Lauren Oliver made a great call with the Then and Now. If she hadn't, I think the story would have dragged a bit and gotten tedious.

As usual, the writing is FANTASTIC. Ms. Oliver just has a way with words that I don't even understand. Everything is perfectly crafted, with so much figurative language that I could imagine everything (but not too much that it was pretentious). I should really have known my mind was going to be blown since of course I read Delirium and Before I Fall.

I liked all of the new characters that we were introduced to and felt that the major players were well-developed. The story was great, although I didn't enjoy quite as much as Delirium and the ENDING. That's all I will say. Oh and also: I need Requiem NOW. The end.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Former Favorites: Sweet Valley Twins

Former Favorites is an original blog feature in which I highlight a book series that I loved as a child. So far, I've discussed The Babysitters' Club, Animorphs, and the Little House series. This week's topic is:

Sweet Valley Twins!!

Sweet Valley Twins and all of its variations was another series that I loved as a kid, but not as much as the BSC. The BSC was my go-to series that had a ton of books and a million spin offs, but I did enjoy the Sweet Valley Twins books a lot as well.

I was first introduced to Elizabeth and Jessica when I was in elementary school and read the series about them as second graders, much like the BSC Little Sister books about Karen. I of course identified with Elizabeth at an early age and that continued as I progressed into reading the books about them as middle schoolers. I thought Todd Wilkins was adorable and thought Bruce Patman and Lila Fowler were tools. Rich, rich tools. Elizabeth was my homegirl.

I didn't read too much of the Sweet Valley High series. At that point, I think I'd grown out of them, plus the high school series seemed really dated. I do remember reading one about Elizabeth getting into a motorcycle accident and being in a coma throughout the book; at that point, it was like, really? A coma? After all these Wakefields have been through so far?

There was ALSO a Sweet Valley University spin off series, but I'm not sure how many books were in that. I remember looking at one at a grocery store, which featured the twins on the cover in very revealing bikinis. I specifically remember being embarrassed looking at the cover, wondering how Elizabeth could WEAR that. In my mind, she was still this brainy little writer who would never dream of showing cleavage!! (Obviously, I am over that crisis now.) I never read any of the University series, mostly in fear that my parents would see the book and be like, what is this pornography???

The Sweet Valley books, finally, introduced me to the idea of ghost writers. During my SV heyday in late elementary, I remember wondering how Francine Pascal wrote ALL those books and consequently learned that she didn't. It blew my mind that she was credited for each book as the author on the cover, even though she was just the creator. Verrrry interesting to tween Kyle.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Review: Small Town Sinners

Author: Melissa Walker
Publish date: 2011
Source: Purchased (ebook)
"Lacey Anne Byer is a perennial good girl and lifelong member of the House of Enlightenment, the Evangelical church in her small town. With her driver's license in hand and the chance to try out for a lead role in Hell House, her church's annual haunted house of sin, Lacey's junior year is looking promising. But when a cute new stranger comes to town, something begins to stir inside her. Ty Davis doesn't know the sweet, shy Lacey Anne Byer everyone else does. With Ty, Lacey could reinvent herself. As her feelings for Ty make Lacey test her boundaries, events surrounding Hell House make her question her religion.

Melissa Walker has crafted the perfect balance of engrossing, thought-provoking topics and relatable, likable characters. Set against the backdrop of extreme religion, Small Town Sinners is foremost a universal story of first love and finding yourself, and it will stay with readers long after the last page.

I'd been meaning to read Small Town Sinners ever since it was published, but I just never got around to it. No excuses, really. I even checked it out from the library at one point, but never read it (which is very rare for me). It is only 2.99 for the kindle right now, though, so I bought it and read it when the mood struck. I really liked it and think its themes will stick with me for a long time.

One of the things that really struck me about this book was the character growth. Lacey goes from a very naive girl who maintained her religious beliefs because that's all she knew to someone who wanted to learn and grow and make decisions for herself. The writing style meshed well with Lacey as a main character: simple, but effective. The dialogue seemed a bit mature at times (especially when they talked about religion toward the end), but nothing that bothered me too much. So far, so good.

Reading about the Hell House was INSANE. I was aware of stuff like that before reading the book, but learning about what goes into one made them seem really crazy. The fact that everything they perform is exaggerated so much bothered me, like the Abortion Girl scene. Hopefully people are aware that everything is dramatized, like Ty was careful to point out.

Speaking of Ty...this book has a case of insta!love. Their relationship started with friendship, yes, but I didn't understand why they were immediately drawn to each other. Other than that, I liked this book a lot and definitely think teenagers would enjoy it. Reading about Hell Houses was fascinating and although I have absolutely zero interest in going to one, I'd like to find out more about them. Hello, google!