Monday, June 27, 2011

WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green & David Levithan

Title: WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON
Author: John Green & David Levithan
Publisher: Dutton Books (a Penguin imprint)
Release Date: April 6, 2010
Number of Pages: 320
Source of Book: Received ARC at the ALAN Workshop 2009
Author's Website: http://johngreenbooks.com   www.davidlevithan.com

Goodreads Summary:
One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.

Hilarious, poignant, and deeply insightful, John Green and David Levithan’s collaborative novel is brimming with a double helping of the heart and humor that have won both them both legions of faithful fans.

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First of all, I need to say, these two authors are both amazing in their own right, but put them together and you get an explosion of awesomeness. However, they definitely don't pull any punches with their writing - it's very mature (in content and theme), intelligent, and in your face. The pacing never lets you put the book down as you first wonder how the two Will Grayson characters are going to meet and then, once they do, how this epic high school musical is going to be pulled off at the end and where that will leave all of the various relationships.

This collaborative novel is written in alternating chapters between the two Will's voices. Stylistically, the two Will's are distinguished not only by their uniquely strong voices, but also the format in which his chapter was written (Will #2 does not use any capitalization or quotation marks and writes in an instant messaging style for dialogue). They are fresh, honest, confused, damaged, conflicted, real teen voices. One is gay, one is straight with a gay best friend. I appreciated so much that it just was that way-it didn't feel forced or put in to preach about-it just was. Another aspect that I appreciated was the way in which Will #2's depression was handled and explained. I think it's important for teens to see this in characters they read about and to better understand it for themselves and how they handle friends that may deal with it. It's more than just feeling down, it's being depressed mentally, and Will explains that really well.

The characters are dealing with relationships (friendly and romantic (gay and straight)), truth, peer pressures, and figuring out who they really are and how to honestly be that person in this world. It's a wonderful coming-of-age story set with the backdrop of Chicago while taking place in the classrooms and halls of the high schools, the homes, the computers, the phones of these characters. The cast of characters are all well-written, engaging, entertaining, multi-dimensional, and real. It's humorous, it's serious, it's frustrating, it's enlightening, it's wonderful. It's about love - both romantic and platonic - and the ways in which we can show that to others and help support and stand up for those we love. The ending will make you want to stand up and cheer for these characters you've grown to adore.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

In My Mailbox - New Books This Week (24)

In My Mailbox is a posting idea run by Kristi at The Story Siren (read all about it here: In My Mailbox) for bloggers to share the books they've gotten that week to help publicize as many titles as possible. It's a little preview on what book reviews to anticipate along with a way to build excitement about new titles coming out. All titles link to goodreads so you can add books to your "to-read" list.


Sent to Me

ENCLAVE (Razorland #1) by Ann Aguirre
Ann was kind enough to offer copies of her book to teachers on twitter one day, so I emailed her and she sent me 5 copies for me and to share with others!  THANK YOU SO MUCH, ANN! I'm looking forward to reading this one-I've seen good reviews for it. I'm also very excited because she's a debut YA author and this will be another one to add to my dystopian book club list.



* Don't forget to enter to win a copy of MY LIFE UNDECIDED by Jessica Brody. Giveaway ends June 28th! 

*Oh, and if you missed my gushing review of THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER by Michelle Hodkin on Friday, check it out. I love this book and it's going to be much talked about come September!

Friday, June 24, 2011

THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER by Michelle Hodkin

Author: Michelle Hodkin
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 27, 2011
Number of Pages: 464
Source of Book: Borrowed the ARC from Sarah @ Y.A. Love

Publisher Summary:
Mara Dyer believes life can't get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.
     It can.
She believes there must be more to the accident she can't remember that killed her friends and left her strangely unharmed.
     There is.
She doesn't believe that after everything she's been through, she can fall in love.
     She's wrong.
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OK...I know this is a really early review, but I needed to process my thoughts about this book - and that's why I have a book blog - to share my thoughts! :)

I should warn you now - you're in for high amounts of gushing about this book (but no major spoiling!). I had seen the gorgeous cover, read the summary, then read the first chapter preview and I was hooked and knew this was a must-read book for me. Then, I was lucky enough to have Sarah agree to loan me her ARC, and I am so glad she did so I'll have more time to anticipate the love many people are going to have for this book (now, I know not everyone will love it, but I do and since this is my blog, I'll gush if I want to!). 

THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER is one of the most interesting books that I have read in awhile. It blew my mind, kept me on my toes, crawled under my skin, tugged at my heart, and won't get out of my head. It is a multi-layered story: part psychological thriller, part epic teen romance, part high school story, part mystery, part family dynamics, and part suspense. Oh, and I can't forget the slight paranormal tendencies (in the mental sense not creatures) underlying the events of this book. It is a page-turning, hard to put down, want to know what will happen and how the main character will figure it all out kind of book. It starts with a note from Mara setting up the premise that she's going to be telling you her story (under a pseudonym) of why her life is not normal. It's definitely a book you have to read with an open mind so you can just go with it. At times I thought, "oh, this is like ___" only to find out I was wrong, but I could definitely see the influences of other YA books, but done with unique twists. There are lots of "what is going on?!" and "did that just happen?!" moments, but that's what made it so much more readable.

Michelle Hodkin (a debut author!) has an engaging writing style that is a nice balance of descriptive, exciting, humorous, suspenseful, sarcastic, and intelligent. It just draws you in without even realizing it and you find yourself negotiating "just one more chapter before I go to sleep" fifteen times in a row until you can't keep your eyes open anymore. Parts of this book (especially the dialogue) were so smile to myself entertaining I found myself rereading them just to soak them in more and deeply process the subtle references and entertaining quality.

And the main character Michelle has written in Mara? Not the most reliable, or most sane, but she's got an awesome sass to her that I love, and underneath her insecurity and unsureness has a strength and integrity that drew me to her even more. Mara doesn't remember what happened the night the building collapsed and her friends were killed. One of the best parts of this book is the way that Mara's memories of that night start to come back to her. We get flashbacks through her dreams as she gets them - leaving us feeling as unsure as Mara does about what's going on - but eventually we finally get the whole story of that night and the story comes together really well. It's written in the way that makes you feel like the character is feeling at that point in the book - you'll be scared, hopeful, worried, confused, happy, and freaked out when Mara is feeling that way as you go through the story with her.

Should we talk boys now? How about my newest (and quite possibly best ever) literary crush - Noah Shaw. Really, after reading it, I sigh just hearing his name. I love, love, love Noah's character. He's got a great way of talking (and lots of hidden secrets to come) and interacting and being that is just captivating. The parts I found myself rereading the most were the interactions between Mara and Noah. Now, I should warn you, at first I was a little skeptical because he seemed like the stereotypical bad boy, insta-crush, jerk to girls, love interest character, but there's much, much more than meets the eye (or rumor mill as the case may be) with Noah Shaw. Don't let his early interactions fool you - there is an epic sort of romance that develops between Mara and Noah that will have you swooning by the end.

Secondary characters deserve a mention too - maybe because I have two brothers myself and am the middle/only girl, I really enjoyed Mara's relationship with her brothers - especially her older brother Daniel. He's great. He watches out for her, covers for her, protects her, and pushes her to get out there. I want a big brother like him. We also see Mara at her new school after they move out of state and meet her new friend Jamie. He is awesomely sarcastic and witty and good comedic relief. He also serves as commentary to set the stage for what's going on in the new school's dynamics. I enjoyed reading both Daniel's and Jamie's characters; I would have liked a little more of Jamie though.

This book all leads up to an ending that is unexpected and left me wondering What?! How did that happen?! It made me want to go back and reread the whole book with that new perspective and see if it changed my thoughts on earlier parts of the story. It ends at a point that added a final cliffhanger of a twist and left me hoping that there would be more - and there will be a sequel (thank goodness because I need answers!) You may feel a little off balance at the end of this one, but I truly think that's part of the reason that it is so good. I want my stories to surprise me once in awhile and this one was definitely surprising. Be on the lookout for THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER in September!

Book 10 of 12 for DAC 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Life Undecided GIVEAWAY


Thanks to the generosity of the publisher (Farrar Straus Giroux), I'm giving away a galley copy of MY LIFE UNDECIDED by Jessica Brody!  Read my review HERE and enter to win your own copy by filling out the form below.


Contest Rules:
- Only one entry per person
- U.S. addresses only
- Must be at least 13 years old to enter
- Contest ends at midnight on June 28, 2011
- Winner will be randomly drawn
- Publisher will send the book to the winner


CONTEST HAS ENDED - THANKS FOR YOUR INTEREST!

Congrats to Cheyenne @ thehollowcupboards.blogspot.com

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

MY LIFE UNDECIDED by Jessica Brody

Title: MY LIFE UNDECIDED
Author: Jessica Brody
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, Giroux (a Macmillan Children's Publishing Group imprint)
Release Date: June 7, 2011
Number of Pages: 320
Source of Book: ARC review request from publisher
Author's Website: http://jessicabrody.com
Book Website: http://mylifeundecided.com

Publisher Summary:
PLEASE READ THIS! MY LIFE DEPENDS ON IT!

Okay, maybe that was a bit melodramatic, but I’m sorry, I’m feeling a bit melodramatic at the moment.

Here’s the deal. My name is Brooklyn Pierce, I’m fifteen years old, and I am decisionally challenged. Seriously, I can’t remember the last good decision I made. I can remember plenty of crappy ones though. Including that party I threw when my parents were out of town that accidentally burned down a model home. Yeah, not my finest moment, for sure.

But see, that’s why I started a blog. To enlist readers to make my decisions for me. That’s right. I gave up. Threw in the towel. I let someone else be the one to decide which book I read for English. Or whether or not I accepted an invitation to join the debate team from that cute-in-a-dorky-sort-of-way guy who gave me the Heimlich Maneuver in the cafeteria. (Note to self: Chew the melon before swallowing it.) I even let them decide who I dated!

Well, it turns out there are some things in life you simply can’t choose or have chosen for you—like who you fall in love with. And now everything’s more screwed up than ever.

But don’t take my word for it, read the book and decide for yourself. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll scream in frustration. Or maybe that’s just me. After all, it’s my life.

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MY LIFE UNDECIDED is a super-cute book with a wanting her to get it right, unique premise. What a great idea in today's online world - Brooklyn is screwing up all the time because she's making bad choices - so she decides to let anonymous blog readers make the choices for her. It was a predictable book, but in a good way (kind of like watching a teen movie). The story turns out how I would expect, but took an entertaining and interesting path to get there. Brooklyn is dealing with the pressures to be better what with her older sister seemingly being the perfect one, with her supposed best friend keeping her in the right clothes and looks for being popular, and with her parents pressuring her to make better choices. But as she comes to realize later in the story, "Perfection is only a word that makes you feel bad about yourself."

This book provides strong messages for today's teenage (and sometimes older!) girls in a straight-forward way that is clear, but not too preachy because it's all done in Brooklyn's great teen voice. Jessica Brody has written a fun character who talks right to the reader and is funny, sarcastic, sassy, at times frustrating, but figures it all out in the end. She comes to realize that normal feels safe, but may not be the best choice. This book shows the fickleness and somewhat ridiculousness of high school social constructs, but with Brooklyn's struggle it's a realistic portrayal of the difficulties teens face in being popular versus being oneself. It's a book about learning from mistakes and making choices. It's also about her realizing that she has choices and doesn't have to do what's expected. It's breaking out from the mold of high school public opinion to what really makes her happy.

And, of course, there's a romance storyline throughout. There is definitely going to be a guy you're rooting for - and wanting to shake Brooklyn for not seeing what's right in front of her. It's obvious that the dorky, but caring guy is the one she should be with, especially when she realizes that he just gets her - even when she isn't figuring it out for herself. Brian is the guy who helps her realize that she should be with "the person who makes [her] feel like [she's] worth something...all on her own." In the end, Brooklyn realizes that "sometimes the most obvious choices are the hardest to see" but I don't see anything hard about the choice you should be making to read this book!
*Don't forget to enter my giveaway of a galley of this book HERE.

Monday, June 20, 2011

UNCOMMON CRIMINALS by Ally Carter

Title: UNCOMMON CRIMINALS (Heist Society #2)
Author: Ally Carter
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Number of Pages: 298
Source of Book: Bought at Barnes & Noble when I saw it on the shelves early!
Author's Website: www.allycarter.com

Publisher Synopsis:
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.

*************************
Full disclosure: UNCOMMON CRIMINALS was one of my most anticipated reads for 2011 and I've been waiting to read it ever since I read HEIST SOCIETY last year. I was super excited when I heard there were early copies out in the wild, so I hunted one down and devoured the book in two days. I love a good heist story - be it a movie (Ocean's Eleven or The Italian Job anyone?), TV show (Are you watching White Collar?), or book. If you like a good heist story, you're going to love this series by Ally Carter. 

One of the things I love most about Ally Carter's writing it how down to earth and straight forward it is, while maintaining a strong, humorous teen voice. There's just an ease to her writing - it's not complicated and it's really fun to read. It's like you're going through it with the characters. This second book in the series was another fun story with lots of excitement and suspense. At first I was worried the story was going too fast, but I had no idea the twists, turns, and surprises that awaited me (and Kat!) The elements of the con and the thief world are so well drawn throughout the story - it's an intriguing look on the inside behind the curtain.

Speaking of characters...I love Kat. Katarina is a masterful thief (a cat burglar named Kat - come on, how do you not love that premise?!), but she's also a fifteen-year-old teenager. She's strong, loyal, independent, confused, scared, and unsure of herself and her motivations. Her insecurities make her real - otherwise we wouldn't be able to connect with her because of how knowledgeable and good she is at what she does. I appreciated her struggle in this book to figure out who she is on her own and what kind of thief she wants to be - it was a great direction to take her conflicted character. 

Kat is an ultimate strategic thinker who needs to realize that she has people who love her that she can lean on. And oh how great are those people - Kat's crew is the best. She has friends and family who can be goofballs, difficult, opinionated, and direct, but always loyal. Her cousins are fun secondary characters. And then there's Hale. Hale whose relationship with Kat is uncertain, but it's so obvious that he cares about her - to everyone except Kat. He's her best (and only) friend, but could it be more? It's a backstory with teen struggles from the start, and it has a satisfying resolution by the end of the book (thank goodness!)

I'm definitely hoping that Ally Carter writes another book in the Heist Society series because I love hanging out with Kat, seeing the trouble she gets involved with, watching her relationship with Hale progress, and seeing her grow into her own strong girl as a thief and who she really wants to be. Go get UNCOMMON CRIMINALS (and HEIST SOCIETY if you haven't read it yet), you'll be in for a fun escape!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

In My Mailbox - New Books This Week (23)

In My Mailbox is a posting idea run by Kristi at The Story Siren (read all about it here: In My Mailbox) for bloggers to share the books they've gotten that week to help publicize as many titles as possible. It's a little preview on what book reviews to anticipate along with a way to build excitement about new titles coming out. All titles link to goodreads so you can add books to your "to-read" list.

Bought


UNCOMMON CRIMINALS by Ally Carter
I've been so looking forward to this sequel ever since I read HEIST SOCIETY last year. I was lucky to find an early copy at Barnes & Noble - it officially comes out this week on June 21st.





Borrowed

THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER by Michelle Hodkin
There's been a lot of buzz about this unique story (especially the beautiful cover!) so I read the first chapter preview online and was hooked. It doesn't come out until September 27th, but luckily Sarah @ Y.A. Love was kind enough to let me borrow her ARC (by the way, she's an awesome high school teacher/YA book blogger who you should be following/reading if you aren't yet! @yaloveblog).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

In My Mailbox - New Books This Week (22)

In My Mailbox is a posting idea run by Kristi at The Story Siren (read all about it here: In My Mailbox) for bloggers to share the books they've gotten that week to help publicize as many titles as possible. It's a little preview on what book reviews to anticipate along with a way to build excitement about new titles coming out. All titles link to goodreads so you can add books to your "to-read" list.


Won

BETWEEN HERE AND FOREVER by Elizabeth Scott
Won from The Contemps Challenge (if you haven't checked out their website celebrating contemporary YA lit yet, get over there - there's all kinds of info about new contemporary books on there!)





Bought


BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray
I've been wanting this one every since I first heard the synopsis - and everyone who I know who has read it has great things to say about it. Can't wait!




FORGOTTEN by Cat Patrick
Uniquely interesting premise and blurbed by Daisy Whitney (The Mockingbirds - which you MUST read if you haven't yet!) and Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why - which you absolutely MUST read if you haven't yet!!!) - had to get it!

Monday, June 6, 2011

SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi

Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 1, 2010
Number of Pages: 326
Source of Book: Bought Hardcover based on many strong recommendations
Author's Website: windupstories.com
Awards: Printz Award 2011, National Book Award Nominee 2010

Goodreads Summary:
Set initially in a future shanty town in America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being dissembled for parts by a rag tag group of workers, we meet Nailer, a teenage boy working the light crew, searching for copper wiring to make quota and live another day. The harsh realities of this life, from his abusive father, to his hand to mouth existence, echo the worst poverty in the present day third world. 

When an accident leads Nailer to discover an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, and the lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl, Nailer finds himself at a crossroads. Should he strip the ship and live a life of relative wealth, or rescue the girl, Nita, at great risk to himself and hope she'll lead him to a better life. 

This is a novel that illuminates a world where oil has been replaced by necessity, and where the gap between the haves and have-nots is now an abyss. Yet amidst the shadows of degradation, hope lies ahead.
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You need to read this book and you need to read it now! SHIP BREAKER is one of the more powerful books I've read in a long time. It is so clear to me why this was a National Book Award nominee. This is a smart book. It is beautifully written with vivid descriptions and raw emotion.  It was gripping from the very beginning and full of action: adventure on the high seas, evasive manuervering, hand-to-hand combat, and life or death situations.

Set in a rough world where people are fighting for the littlest scraps of money and food in order to survive, this book has fantastic, complicated characters who are put in horrifying situations of survival. The world that Nailer has grown up in, and the family he has to cope with, has created a strength, determination, and integrity of character rarely seen in one so young. He is a good boy who came from bad and his spirit hopes for better. I wanted to be Nailer's friend - or at least take him home to take care of him.

In his book, Paolo has created an evocative world touching on issues of oil use, poverty, big corporations, government, religion, abuse, addiction, class, luck, faith, family, and friendship. It's about loyalty, trust, hardship, work ethic, true meaning, earning respect, and fighting to take care of one's self.  It touches on important questions: How far would you go to survive? What would you do to fight for what's right? What would it take from you? Paolo does it all with such a deft hand that I never felt that I was being preached at, but instead felt that I was drawn into this world and pulling for the characters. 

SHIP BREAKER was heart-wrenching at times, but left me with a sense of hope. And, really, that's what I look for in really good books - it doesn't have to be a happy ending, but I need it to be a hopeful ending where I can feel confident that the character I've grown to love and care about is going to be okay in the end. And these particular characters in this books are ones who give me hope for people and morals as well.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

MEMENTO NORA by Angie Smibert

Title: MEMENTO NORA
Author: Angie Smibert
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Children's Books
Release Date: April 28, 2011
Number of Pages: 192
Source of Book: ARC Offer from Publisher
Author's Website: www.angiesmibert.com/blog

Publisher Summary:
Nora, the popular girl and happy consumer, witnesses a horrific bombing on a shopping trip with her mother. In Nora’s near-future world, terrorism is so commonplace that she can pop one little white pill to forget and go on like nothing ever happened. However, when Nora makes her first trip to a Therapeutic Forgetting Clinic, she learns what her mother, a frequent forgetter, has been frequently forgetting. Nora secretly spits out the pill and holds on to her memories. The memory of the bombing as well as her mother’s secret and her budding awareness of the world outside her little clique make it increasingly difficult for Nora to cope. She turns to two new friends, each with their own reasons to remember, and together they share their experiences with their classmates through an underground comic. They soon learn, though, they can’t get away with remembering.
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Another day...another dystopian :)  If you didn't catch the blog post back at the end of March, I've been running a dystopian book club group with a class of 8th graders. It's been a blast and they've been cranking out the books (some kids have read over a dozen!)  It's definitely true that dystopian is a genre that is hot right now with adolescents - and I've always loved it too. So, I've been trying to alternate dystopian books with my other genres so that I can keep recommending new ones for my students and participate in the reading time and conversations. I had seen an ARC offer for MEMENTO NORA and requested it because I knew the dystopian book club was coming. I'm glad I did as it's a short, quick read, and a unique take on the genre. Mostly my students liked it, although parts were a little confusing for some of them.

I liked the story quite a bit. The whole idea of a society in which people take pills after traumatic events in order to forget about them is intriguing. The idea of someone choosing to fake taking the pills in order to know what's really going on is even more intriguing! This story is told in three voices in alternating chapter perspectives. I really liked Nora and Micah, not so much Winter - she confused me a little bit. Overall, I felt the character development was a little shallow and I missed the reasons for the world having come to this. It felt a little underdeveloped because it was so short and such a quick read - I liked the concept enough that I really wanted more substance to it. The parts of the overall concept, the idea that Nora finds out there's more going on in her family than she thought, the way Micah engages with Nora in the first place, and Winter's grandfather were all interesting to me though. Everything came together in the end, and it was surprising how some people were connected that I didn't expect throughout. The concept of this world and the way the characters grow up were the elements that I enjoyed the most. I'll probably be reading the next book in the series, THE FORGETTING CURVE, I just hope for a little bit more depth to the characters as we grow with them.
Book 9 of 12 for DAC 2011
 
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