Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review: Bumped

Title: Bumped (Bumped #1)
Author: Megan McCafferty
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Date: April 2011
Genre: Dystopia
When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents are forced to pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society.

Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and had never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Until now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend Zen, who is way too short for the job.

Harmony has spent her whole life in religious Goodside, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to bring Melody back to Goodside and convince her that “pregging” for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.
-- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
I'm a huge, huge fan of Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling series, so I was trilled to hear she was working on a new series. Bumped is so different from McCafferty's first series, but still has her wonderful writing style and awesome characters.

I'll start with my few issues with the book. I found the beginning to be very confusing; the story just suddenly starts and there's a lot going on and the language is a bit strange. But after a couple chapters I'd figured out what was going on. I did go back a re-read the first few pages because the opening scene totally confused me. It didn't take long for me to get into the story, so a confusing beginning wasn't really that big of an issue. Beyond that my only other issue was with the language. It reminded me of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series; there's a lot of strange slang and technology that isn't explained. It didn't really bother me, but it was a little confusing. Spending time explaining what everything meant would have slowed things down and really taken you out of the story. So I guess the language wasn't really an issue, but it might be for some readers.

Ok, onto the good stuff. The story: how on earth did Megan come up with this?! The whole situation of the world and technology is just amazing and although not completely original, a nice unique spin on a dystopian topic that's been around for a while (infertility). Megan was able to take a topic that usually would equal a depressing tale of teen girls/women forced into marriages or pregnancies and turn it into a sometimes funny and light, meaningful story about teens and sex.

I liked both Melody and Harmony, but I didn't connect with them in the way I was hoping to. I felt so connected to Jessica in Megan's other series, and I guess I expected the same sort of connection with Bumped. I didn't dislike the characters, I just didn't fall in love with them. The story felt more story and plot driven, than character driven. Maybe in the next books I'll connect more to the twins as their characters' grow now that the world is created and established.

Although the book was not at all what I was expecting, I loved it and am excited to see where the series goes.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: Putting Makeup on Dead People

Title: Putting Makeup on Dead People
Author: Jen Violi
Publisher: Disney/Hyperion
Pub Date: May 2011
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
In the spring of her senior year, Donna Parisi finds new life in an unexpected place: a coffin.
Since her father’s death four years ago, Donna has gone through the motions of living: her friendships are empty, she’s clueless about what to do after high school graduation, and her grief keeps her isolated, cut off even from the one parent she has left. That is until she’s standing in front of the dead body of a classmate at Brighton Brothers’ Funeral Home. At that moment, Donna realizes what might just give her life purpose is comforting others in death. That maybe who she really wants to be is a mortician.
This discovery sets in motion a life Donna never imagined was possible. She befriends a charismatic new student, Liz, notices a boy, Charlie, and realizes that maybe he's been noticing her, too, and finds herself trying things she hadn’t dreamed of trying before. By taking risks, Donna comes into her own, diving into her mortuary studies with a passion and skill she didn’t know she had in her. And she finally understands that moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting someone you love.
Jen Violi’s heartfelt and funny debut novel is a story of transformation—how one girl learns to grieve and say goodbye, turn loss into a gift, and let herself be loving, applying lipstick to corpses, and finding life in the wake of death. -- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
The cover and title of this book really drew me in; I needed to know what it was all about. I was really hoping that the book would be awesome, but I hadn't heard much about it so I didn't have super high expectations. Putting Makeup on Dead People was amazing; I devoured it in two days.

I really connected with Donna. She's having a really hard time getting over her father's death and has basically stopped living her own life. Although I haven't experienced the death of parent, I still felt connected to her because her struggle is more with moving on after tragedy and being who you really want to be. She deals directly with her father's death, but that's not the only thing going on. She has to figure out what she wants to do after high school, how to deal with mother, and navigate through the world of dating. Donna is really lost at the beginning of the novel and slowly figures out how to move on and be who she was meant to be. This isn't an easy task and I felt the Violi created a very realistic coming-of-age story. Not everything works out perfectly for Donna and she has to make some difficult decisions, just like we all have to in our lives.

Beyond really connecting with Donna, I really liked her relationship with the Brighton Brothers who run the funeral home. They were wise, helpful mentors who steered Donna in the correct direction, but gave her freedom to figure things out in her own way. They were exactly what I'd want in a mentor.

The whole Parisi family dynamic also felt realistic to me. Donna struggles to create a meaningful relationship with her mother, feels alienated from her siblings, and fights against old family dynamics and discord. her family wasn't all good or all bad (or just missing like in many YA novels); they're a bit of both and just trying to live their lives and help Donna return to living her's.

The whole story is really wonderful, but the characters are what really made the story so good. 


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Giveaway: Unrequired Summer Reading

As promised in my IMM, I'm giving away a deck of cards and a book as part of Disney's Unrequired Summer Reading Promotion. The deck of cards is a completely usable deck with cover images of the books featured in the promotion: Girl Wonder, Mercy, Putting Makeup on Dead People, Queen of the Dead, From Bad to Cursed, Uncommon Criminals, Sharks & Boys, and The Near Witch. I really loved Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi so I am giving away a finished copy.

I'm not into complicated contests or extra entries, so this will be simple just follow the rules below, fill out the form, and ta-da you are entered. You don't have to be a follower, but it would be nice if you'd shared the contest on Twitter, Facebook, or whatever social network thingy you do (not required, but it be nice, thanks).

The rules:
  • Entrants must be 13 years of age or older 
  • The book and cards will be sent out by me at the end of the giveaway, so I need your address (don't worry I will delete all information as soon as the contest is over and not share it with anyone)
  • The winner will be notified via email
  • I am not responsible for items lost in the mail
  • US residents only please (sorry international readers)
The contest ends July 11.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Title: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ranson Riggs
Publisher: Quirk Books
Date: June 2011
Genre: Mystery, Horror, Paranormal
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here—one of whom was his own grandfather—were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.
-- Goodreads
My Thoughts:

What really drew me to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was the inclusion of historical images. I don't really read a lot of horror (not really sure if this is horror, more like really good creepy paranormal), so I was a little nervous about reading this. But the story and world-building were wonderful and it wasn't difficult for me to jump right into the story.

The story was interesting, strange, and creepy right away, but I really got into the story once Jacob got to the island. The world of the small island, the home his grandfather grew up in, and the peculiar children is different from anything else I've read -- Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is unlike any other paranormal YA novel. The whole plot was unexpected and interesting, which I think is really saying something for paranormal right not.

I don't want to give too much of the story away (because the surprise, mystery, and build-up are just so good), but I will say that the children of Miss Peregrine's Home and their stories and peculiars are fascinating and make the story not so much a horror story, but a strange exciting mystery story.

The book is beautifully designed. The images are integrated nicely into the text and the whole thing just looks and feels like an old photo album. It's probably one of the best interior designs I've seen in a while.

I want there to be more; I don't think the book is part of a series and it stands alone just fine, but I really didn't want it to be over. I wasn't ready to Riggs' world behind yet.


Super awesome book trailer:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Review: Uncommon Criminals

Title: Uncommon Criminals  (Heist Society #2)
Author: Ally Carter
Publisher: Disney/Hyperion
Pub Date: June 2011
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Crime

Katarina Bishop has worn a lot of labels in her short life: Friend. Niece. Daughter. Thief. But for the last two months she’s simply been known as the girl who ran the crew that robbed the greatest museum in the world. That’s why Kat isn’t surprised when she’s asked to steal the infamous Cleopatra Emerald so it can be returned to its rightful owners.
There are only three problems. First, the gem hasn’t been seen in public in thirty years. Second, since the fall of the Egyptian empire and the suicide of Cleopatra, no one who holds the emerald keeps it for long — and in Kat’s world, history almost always repeats itself. But it’s the third problem that makes Kat’s crew the most nervous, and that is . . . the emerald is cursed.
Kat might be in way over her head, but she’s not going down without a fight. After all, she has her best friend — the gorgeous Hale — and the rest of her crew with her as they chase the Cleopatra around the globe, dodging curses and realizing that the same tricks and cons her family has used for centuries are useless this time.
Which means, this time, Katarina Bishop is making up her own rules. -- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
I assumed (wrongfully) that this sequel to Heist Society would be similar to the first, in that Kat and her teenage gang of thieves would be stealing the emerald and having a few issues along the way -- basically the same general plot line of the first book just with a different item. But Uncommon Criminals was completely different, and I think I liked it better than Heist Society.

Just as with the first book, I loved Kat and her friends, especially Hale and Nick. Their characters all continued to grow and be interesting. I especially enjoyed the Kat and Hale love interest angle (which is introduced in the first book, but is nicely expanded upon in the second book). Their possibly budding relationship felt very true to life to me; Kat is struggling to figure out who she is and what she wants and Hale is simply complicating that. She really struggles to figure out what she wants and if what she wants is Hale.

Beyond characters, I loved the plot twists. The whole book is full of little twists and changes, which really kept it exciting and different from the first installment. I loved that it wasn't just a heist story -- Kat does steal things and her gang comes up with crazy plots and schemes to get the emerald, but the core of the story is about Kat struggling with being a thief and what that means to her.

Don't know when the next installment will be released, but I'm looking forward to more adventures with Kat and her gang.


Review: Heist Society

Title: Heist Society (Heist Society #1)
Author: Ally Carter
Publisher: Disney/Hyperion
Pub Date: February 2010
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Crime

When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her to the case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own—scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving "the life" for a normal life proves harder than she'd expected. Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring her back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has good reason: a powerful mobster's art collection has been stolen, and he wants it returned. Only a master thief could have pulled this job, and Kat’s father isn’t just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat’s dad needs her help.
For Kat there is only one solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it’s a spectacularly impossible job? She’s got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family’s (very crooked) history—and, with any luck, steal her life back along the way. -- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
Ally Carter's books have been on my to-read list for a while, but I just hadn't gotten around to reading them for whatever reason, but I should've read them sooner. Heist Society was a fun, exciting light crime novel.

I really like Kat and her whole family of criminals; everyone's a thief, but you can still relate to them and picture them as regular people who just happen to steal precious art. The whole crime family dynamic was great -- it was fun high risk, not Godfather killing people scary high risk. Although Kat's father is in danger and she's dealing with an evil criminal, the book stay's light and fun (which was perfect for me). I generally don't read crime novels or watch thrillers because they're too much for me. I like my crime light and fun like Heist Society. Not to say that Heist Society didn't have edge-of-your-seat-page-turner moments, because it did and you worry about Kat being able to really pull off the heist.

The plot itself was a bit different from what I was expecting. I assumed the book would be about a girl who's part of an art-stealing-family who has to steal a few paintings to help her father, but there's a whole lot more than that going on. Kat and her teenage friends and family members are the ones trying to figure out how to get her father out of trouble. And Kat herself is struggling with her criminal past and trying to figure out if she even wants to be a part of the family.

Although the book has nothing to do with summer, it was the perfect summer reading opener for me. Exciting, light, and full of art (I studied art in undergrad). And lucky for me I had Uncommon Criminals sitting on my bookshelf, so I could jump right into Kat's next adventure.


Monday, June 20, 2011

In My Mailbox (7)

"In My Mailbox" is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren to showcase what books bloggers have received in their mailbox, from the library, or bought. If you want to participate check out her site here.

Books Mentioned: 
Misfit by Jon Skovron
Divergent by Veronica Roth 
XVI by Julia Karr 
Bumped by Megan McCafferty
Heist Society by Ally Carter 
Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter 
Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi
Girl Wonder by Alexa Martin

What did you get this week?

Interview: Nigel Hinton

YA Titles:

Walk the Wild Road Summary:

Leo took one step forward and then stopped. This was it-the road away from everything he knew. He could turn back. But then who would save his family from starvation? No, Leo was their last hope. He must go on...

The journey is not easy-he'll have to sleep on the streets, steal food, and even fight off greedy soldiers. Along the way, Leo discovers the kindness of strangers and the loyalty of friends. But he also learns there are some people you just can't trust, especially when you're on the wild road to America. -- Goodreads


Describe Walk the Wild Road in three words.

Here are three words which other people have used about the book - Moving. Epic. Gripping.  I can only hope they are true.

The Preface says that there's a legend in your family that your grandfather left home when he was young, but this isn't his story. Since the story came from this legend, what sort of research did you do for the book?

I read a lot about Poland’s history, notably God’s Playground by Norman Davies. As background for peasant life I read Stanislaw Reymont's four volume masterpiece, The Peasants. I researched my own family history, as far as possible, on the internet. I then went to Poland and found my grandfather’s tiny village and I traveled the 200 mile route that I imagined he took from there to the Baltic Sea.

You've written other historical fiction novels, what drew to write historical fiction?

The only other novel I have written which can be considered historical is Time Bomb, which is set in 1949 in the part of London where I grew up. In that book I wanted to record a world and a way of life which has totally disappeared during my lifetime and which allowed children the possibility of freedom and exposure to danger which is rarely found nowadays. As for Walk The Wild Road the starting point – my grandfather’s experience – obliged me to set it in 1870. I certainly loved having to imagine that ‘foreign place’ which is the Past.

What's your writing process (do you generally go through a lot of drafts and revisions, are you part of writing group, etc.)?

Yes, I do an enormous amount of re-writing which, as much as anything in my case, comes down to cutting and making more simple. I am looking for the most direct and shortest way of saying things. The stripped-down style of writers like John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway is what I’ve always wanted to emulate.

I work in that solitary state of being alone with my ideas and writing. I would not be very good in a writing group situation – I need to concentrate on my own vision. On the other hand, when I write screenplays I really enjoy the collaborative process and have written a number of scripts with another writer. In that particular case I think we bring out the best in each other.

How did you approach editors to get Walk the Wild Road published?

I gave the manuscript to my agent and she approached possible editors.

Were you an avid reader as a teen, and what were your favorite books?

I have been an avid reader at every stage of my life but my teen years, especially 15-19, were probably those when I read the least, being caught up with other pursuits: sports and girls. Nonetheless I still read regularly. I loved sci-fi books by people like John Wyndham, and popular blockbusters such as Gone With The Wind, Peyton Place, The Man In The Grey Flannel Suit. I was very much in love with America and American culture in my teens. And, of course, Steinbeck and Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald were ever-present favourites though those years.

What made you want to become a writer, and what drew you to YA in particular?

Much as I loved reading, it never occurred to me that I could write myself until, almost by accident, I wrote a story for a class of teens I was teaching. I read it to them and they loved it and encouraged me to try to get it published. It became my first book, Collision Course. I suppose that first experience led me to write more for the YA market, although I have also written for younger children and for adults. I am attracted to the tension which is implicit in the experience of adolescence – the often painful thrust of the child towards adulthood.

What are you reading now?

I have just finished the wonderful One Day by David Nicholls. Next, I think it’s time to revisit some of the Russian classics – Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. A lot of my friends, quite independently of each other, have recently gone back to War and Peace, so it might be that.

Thank you Nigel for stopping by and best wishes!

My review of Walk the Wild Road  here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review: Walk the Wild Road

Title: Walk the Wild Road
Author: Nigel Hinton
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Pub Date: January 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Leo took one step forward and then stopped. This was it-the road away from everything he knew. He could turn back. But then who would save his family from starvation? No, Leo was their last hope. He must go on...

The journey is not easy-he'll have to sleep on the streets, steal food, and even fight off greedy soldiers. Along the way, Leo discovers the kindness of strangers and the loyalty of friends. But he also learns there are some people you just can't trust, especially when you're on the wild road to America. -- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
Like I've said in several of my other recent historical fiction reviews, I don't know why I never just go out and pick up historical fiction. Someone always has to recommend the book to me or I have to read a bunch of good reviews before I read historical fiction. That really needs to change; Walk the Wild Road was a wonderful historical adventure story and I'd highly recommend it to middle reader/teen boys.

A historical adventure story sounds like it would be geared towards a younger boy audience, but Hinton doesn't shy away from the difficulties of life in the 1870s. The realities of war, political unrest, poverty, illness, and violence are presented in such a way that they feel true to the time period, but not inappropriate for younger readers. This isn't a fluffy boy adventure story -- it's a more adult adventure story. I feel that sometimes historical fiction writers gloss over some the realities of earlier time periods because they don't think teens will "get it" or that it's too violent or difficult for teens to handle. Teens need to really understand what people really went through and how difficult it was for many immigrants to make their way to America. Hinton had done a really wonderful job of showing life in the 1870s in Europe.

Beyond historical significance, I really liked Leo and almost all the major players in the novel. He was strong and determined to get to America and to help his family, but he isn't an unrealistic super-hero type character. Things doesn't always go well for Leo and he doesn't save the day. He gets through hardships because he has to. It was really refreshing to read a realism "boy" adventure book.

I think this book would be a great one for teachers to use when teaching European history. It really paints a picture of everyday life during the turmoil of the 1870s, while being entertaining and action filled.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Review: Divergent

Title: Divergent (Divergent #1)
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Date: May 2011
Genre: Dystopia

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.
-- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
I said a million times that I love dystopias, so of course I put Divergent on my to-read list, but I wasn't super excited about it. I don't know why; maybe I've been reading too many dystopias. Whatever the case, I wasn't dying to read it until I started hearing all sorts of really good things about it. And I'm so glad I listened to what some my fellow awesome bloggers were saying about Divergent.

Right from the very first page I was totally into the story (I read all 480 something pages in two sittings). Tris and her world are fascinating and you can't help but be sucked in. I loved the way Roth described the faction choosing ceremony and the initiation process. You can really picture the dystopian society and see Tris change and figure out who she really is.

Tris is an awesome female character; I really loved her and felt instantly connected to her. Her struggle and reactions to everyone around her seemed very realistic to me. Tris doesn't just fit in to her faction immediately and do well; she has to struggle and fight constantly to earn her place in her faction.

I don't think I can wait until next year for the next book. I need to know what happens next!