Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best Books of 2009

Alison's Book Marks Top 10 Books Read in 2009

This was not easy. It was so hard that I'm sitting at my computer at 8pm on New Year's Eve unsure of my picks. I'll probably change my mind, but I'm pulling the trigger anyway.

Of the books I read in 2009, not necessarily those that were released in 2009, here are my favorites.

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
2. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
4. The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson #5) by Rick Riordan
5. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
6. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
8. South of Broad by Pat Conroy
9. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
10. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
11. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

Yeah, so my list has 11 books on it. It's my blog. Honestly, the last four books have changed position on the list so many times, I had to include #11.

The Man's Top Pick:

My son's Top Pick:

Happy New Year!

The past few weeks have been extremely hectic, yet incredibly lovely. The time normally put aside for reading has been temporarily replaced by wrapping, cooking, baking, traveling, and celebrating. I had no idea how little time I was going to have to read and write. My apologies. Lesson learned for this novice blogger.

Before I allow another hour to pass, I want to count the blessings that 2009 has bestowed upon me:

My blog - what an experience the last six months has been, more fun than I could have imagined;
Publishers, Authors, Literary Publicists, and the like - how incredibly patient and generous they have been to a little book blogger like me;
The Clinton Book Store - Harvey and Rob, my book whisperers;
My Friends - old friends, new friends, and true friends, especially the friends that pushed me to start my blog (TPP) and the friends who push me to make it better;
My Family - the patient, the kind, the loving, and the supportive bunch of crazy people they are;
My Niece - I haven't been this in love with a baby since my own were in feetsie pajamas, her presence is a constant reminder to always look ahead
My Boys - I am the proudest mom in the world, everything I do is for them;
The Man - his confidence in me is unwavering, his support unending, and his love unmatched. I am too lucky to have found him, and I am too smart to ever let him go.

Thank you to everyone who has blessed me with their gifts this past year.

I could bore you all now with my list of New Year's Resolutions, but I won't. Instead, I leave you with a resolution that I made back in the year 2000. It was the one and only New Year's Resolutions that I EVER stuck to. In the year 2000, I pledged to read one book a month for 12 months. I kept a list, and I still have it. I also still have every book I read that year. Each one means so much to me, as this was one the year in my life that my whole world turned upside down. My books allowed me to escape. My books allowed my brain to shut off for a little while. My books actually gave me the gift of sleep. My books were my therapy. My books were my gift to myself, and something that stuck with me and grew. Who knew it would grow into THIS?

Have a very Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010 Author Debuts: The Tenners

I have discovered an amazing website called 2010: A Book Odyssey, a celebration of authors who are publishing their debut novels in 2010. Since authors are my rock stars, these are my rock-stars of tomorrow (literally).

This is not an exclusively Young Adult book blog, but I have read more Young Adult fiction in the past two years than I did when I WAS a Young Adult. Well, if you are a fan like me, regardless of your age, here are the debut YA/MR books for 2010 listed by release date. Mark your calendars! (For reminders on the hot new Tenners' books, I have a widget in my left-hand column)

2009 Releases

13-Oct Becca Fitzpatrick Hush, Hush
22-Dec Lindsay Eland Scones and Sensibility
22-Dec Bree Despain The Dark Divine
22-Dec Jaclyn Dolamore Magic Under Glass

2010 Releases

1-Jan Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich Eighth Grade Superzero
5-Jan Dia Reeves Bleeding Violet
7-Jan Jennifer R. Hubbard The Secret Year
7-Jan Irene Latham Leaving Gee's Bend
7-Jan Yxta Maya Murray The Good Girl's Guide to Getting Kidnapped
12-Jan Anna Jarzab All Unquiet Things
19-Jan Jen NadolThe Mark

1-Feb Julie Kagawa The Iron King
2-Feb Cynthia Jaynes Omololu Dirty Little Secrets
4-Feb Kristin Walker A Match Made in High School
4-Feb Suzanne Young The Naughty List
9-Feb Josh Berk The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin

1-Mar Mara Purnhagen Tagged
2-Mar Rachel Hawkins Hex Hall
2-Mar Amy Brecount White Forget Her Nots
4-Mar Teri Hall The Line
9-Mar Laura Manivong Escaping the Tiger
15-Mar Jacqueline Houtman The Reinvention of Edison Thomas
16-Mar Kimberly Derting The Body Finder
16-Mar Lindsey Leavitt Princess for Hire
23-Mar Holly Nicole Hoxter The Snowball Effect
23-Mar Alexandra Bracken Brightly Woven
30-Mar Caragh O'Brien Birthmarked

1-Apr Karen Healey Guardian of the Dead
13-Apr Kay Cassidy The Cinderella Society
13-Apr Jame Richards Three Rivers Rising
15-Apr Sarah DeFord Williams Palace Beautiful
20-Apr Stephanie Burgis A Most Improper Magick (Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson)
27-Apr Phoebe Kitanidis Whisper
27-Apr Scott William Carter The Last Great Getaway of the Water Balloon Boys
27-Apr Leah Cypess Mistwood
April Shari Maurer Change of Heart

1-May Christy Raedeke Prophecy of Days, Book One: The Daykeeper's Grimoire
5-May Jennifer Cervantes Tortilla Sun
11-May Chelsea Campbell The Rise of Renegade X
11-May Christina Diaz Gonzalez The Red Umbrella
11-May Greg van Eekhout Kid vs. Squid
25-May Kristina McBride The Tension of Opposites
25-May Tara Kelly Harmonic Feedback

1-Jun Angie Frazier Everlasting
8-Jun Jessica Leader Nice and Mean
10-Jun Emily Horner A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend
10-Jun Heidi R. Kling Sea
10-Jun Suzanne Young So Many Boys
15-Jun Shaun Hutchinson The Deathday Letter
22-Jun NH Senzai Shooting Kabul

1-Jul Karen Kincy Other
6-Jul Stacey Kade The Ghost and the Goth
13-Jul Anastasia Hopcus Shadow Hills

11-Aug Jackie Morse Kessler Hunger

Summer Chris Rylander The Fourth Stall

1-Sep Erin Bow Plain Kate
1-Sep Mara Purnhagen Past Midnight
1-Sep Steve Brezenoff The Absolute Value of -1
7-Sep Denise Jaden Losing Faith
21-Sep Kiersten White Paranormalcy
? -Sep Stephanie Perkins Anna and the Boy Masterpiece

14-Oct Andrea Cremer Nightshade
? -Oct Mindi Scott Freefall

November Margie GelbwasserInconvenient
November Daisy Whitney The Mockingbirds

Fall Guadalupe Garcia McCall Under the Mesquite (retitled)
Fall Matthew Kirby Clockwork Three
Fall Brenna Yovanoff The Replacement
Fall Kody Keplinger The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)
Fall Michaela MacColl

Caitlin Kittredge The Witch's Alphabet
Alexa Martin Pruit
Laura Toffler-Corrie The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz, Eighth Grader
Dee Garretson Danger's Edge: Wildfire at Camp David
Blythe Woolston Freak Observer
Cindy Callaghan Just Add Magic
Rae Mariz The Unidentified
Kelly Creagh Nevermore
Barbara Stuber Crossing the Tracks

with more great books to come from the Elevensies in 2011!

Now, for those of you, like me, who love a good book trailer:

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Review: Four To Score (Stephanie Plum #4) by Janet Evanovich

Still loving it!

Our favorite bounty hunter once again takes on what is supposed to be an easy FTA (Failure To Appear), but nothing in Stephanie Plum's life is easy. The sleazy boyfriend of her FTA offers her an extra payment if she helps him. His name is Eddie Kuntz -- I kid you not with that name.

She also has new competition - Joyce Barnhardt - the same woman she found "bare-assed " on her dining room table playing "hide-the-salami" with her ex-husband. Fortunately, Joyce isn't her romantic competition. Instead, Joyce has also been hired to apprehend the same FTA as Stephanie. GIRL FIGHT!!!

Her car is blown up, her apartment is fire bombed, and she gets shot at. Still, things are looking up for Stephanie Plum. I won't give away any more than that.

I'm not sure if this is the best FTA mystery she gets wrapped up in, but we get to see a whole lot of Joe Morelli. Oh boy, do we ever! *sigh* Then again, no matter how good the twists and turns of the FTA mystery was, for me it was only a distraction from the Morelli action.

Evanovich doesn't disappoint as she gives us some great one-liners, from Stephanie, Grandma Mazur and Morelli. Also, Stephanie takes a few trips down the shore to Point Pleasant. As always, she makes me proud to be a Jersey girl:

"And the best part is the smell. I've been told there are places where the ocean smells wild and briny. In Jersey the ocean smells of coconut-scented suntan lotion and Italian sausage smothered in fried onions and peppers. It smells like deep-fried zeppoles and chili hot dogs. The scent is intoxicating and exotic as it expands in the heat rising from crowds of sun-baked bodies strolling on the boardwalk."

Welcome to Point Pleasant. She nailed it.

About the Book:
Four To Score (Stephanie Plum, No. 4) by Janet Evanovich
Mass Market Paperback: 338 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks; 1998 edition (July 1, 1998)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0312966970
ISBN-13: 978-0312966973

Next up: High Five

Monday, December 28, 2009

Fall Into Reading: Time's Up!

I am a week late in posting my results the Fall Into Reading Challenge, but before I post any reviews on books that I've read AFTER the 12/21/09 deadline, let me do a re-cap.

I took on this challenge, hosted by Callapidder Days, back in September. We were to post a list of all the books we wanted to read in the three months of fall. Below is my list, with links to my reviews.

I think I did okay!

I started out with an ambitious list of 31 books, and I read all but 8 books on my original list, but added 3 books that I had not originally intended to read. So, all in all, I read 26 books in a little less than three months. Not bad.

It took some effort, though, to stick to my original list as best I could. I got some GREAT review books in, which I will be reading and reviewing in the next few weeks.

I also could have cheated during those last few hours and snuck in a quick read of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but I would have had to steal it out of the hands of my 7 year-old, and if I have learned anything as a mom, it's to pick your battles.

Fall Into Reading Book List:

1. The Year of The Flood - Margaret Atwood
2. Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger
3. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
4. Defining Twilight - Brian Leaf
5. Diary of a Wimpy Kid #4 - Jeff Kinney
6. The Blue Star - Tony Earley
7. Three To Get Deadly - Janet Evanovich
8. The Girl Who Played With Fire - Steig Larsson
9. The Gift of An Ordinary Day - Katrina Kenison
10. The Ninth Daughter - Barbara Hamilton
11. Malice - Chris Wooding
12. Rizzo's War - Lou Manfredo
13. The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls
14. Chin and The Magic Stones - L.J. Salazar
15. How to Be a Hepburn in a Hilton World -- Jordan Christy
16. How Successful People Think - John C. Maxwell
17. Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout
18. Lisey's Story - Stephen King
19. The Neurology of Angels - Krista Tibbs
20. Beat the Reaper - Josh Bazell
21. The Angel's Game - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
22. Tempted (House of Night #6) - P.C. Cast/Kristin Cast
23. Shadowland (The Immortals #3) - Alyson Noel
24. Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay
25. The Ghosts of Belfast - Stuart Neville
26. The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
27. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
28. Straight Man - Richard Russo
29. Obama's Blackberry - Kasper Hauser
30. *book club pick - November: Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
31. True Blue - David Baldacci
**32. Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
**33. Fire Will Fall by Carol Plum-Ucci
**34. A Better High - Matt Bellace, PhD

**Added to list. (I couldn't help myself.)

I really enjoyed this challenge. It kept me focused, as I tend to get very distracted from my review books as I'm walking around the shelves of the bookshop in town.

If any of you would like to see other blogger's wrap-up posts for this challenge, you can visit the official Fall Into Reading Wrap Up Post at Callapidder Days. (This is an excellent way of seeing a whole lot of book reviews with minimal clicks!)

Many thanks to Katrina at Callapidder Days for hosting this challenge...see you next time around!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Review: Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Powerful, beautiful, and so, so, sad.

I feel I have to begin as the author did: Although the characters in this book are entirely fictitious, many of the events described from 1942 are not.

Sarah's Key tells us the story of two different women. The first, Sarah, but known only as "the girl" for 3/4 of the book, is 10 years old,living during the 1942 Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv. The second, a 45 year-old American journalist, Julia Jarmond, living in Paris in the year 2002.

July 16, 1942. Paris
. Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv. In German-occupied France, during the early morning hours, the French police went door to door rounding up Jews. They were taken to the VĂ©lodrome d'Hiver , where they stayed for days in horrific conditions. Some never made it out of there, but the rest were then taken to one of three camps before being sent on to Auschwitz. The roundup accounted for more than a quarter of the 42,000 Jews sent from France to Auschwitz in 1942, of whom only 811 came home at the end of the war. Of the French taken to the Vel' d'Hiv, there were over 4,000 children. This is the part of the story that was fact.

May 2002. Paris. On the 60th Anniversary of the Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv, Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article for the magazine for which she works. Maybe it is because she was born and raised in Massachusetts, but Julia had never heard of the Vel' d'Hiv. Through her investigation she becomes engrossed in the tale of one family, specifically of a little girl named Sarah. Eventually, Julia uncovers family secrets that intertwine her own family with the Girl's, prompting her to reevaluate her life, her country, and even her marriage.

Tatiana de Rosnay beautifully slides between 1942 and 2002, as she tells the stories of Julia and the girl. We know their stories will come together eventually, but we're never really sure of how until we're upon it.

Whenever I read a book about the Holocaust, I find myself shaking with anger and frustration. How did this happen? How come no one stopped it? How could no one know? How could people look away and pretend it wasn't happening? How come they didn't fight back? How come no one fought back for them? This story of the Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv had me wanting to scream these questions out loud to the people of 1942. The French, obviously too proud or embarrassed to have this happen in the heart of Paris, were as guilty as the Gestapo. The French memorials and newspapers had placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Nazis ever since, but it wasn't until 1995, when Jacques Chirac gave a speech, he said it was time for France to face up to its past and the role the state played in the persecution of the Jews.

I have read reviews of Sarah's Key that criticized the role of Julia Jarmond in the book, and I wanted to address my own feelings on the subject. The critics wanted to read more about Sarah and less about Julia's seemingly mundane problems in the 21st century. I believe there were two key reasons for Julia's role in this book. The first is to give the reader a break from Sarah's horrific experience - without it, the book may have been too hard to bear. It's one thing to read a book about the Holocaust, but to read it from a child's perspective tears your heart into pieces. The second reason I believe Julia's role is necessary is to shine a spotlight on how the national denial of guilt still remained in France for 60 years. The stubborn, pompous attitude of Julia's husband may not have been the nicest way to depict the French, but his and his family's indifference to the roundup of 1942 was part of the problem then and remained a part of the problem now.

As Elie Wiesel said in 1986: "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference."

The girl in Sarah's Key was the first to hear the banging on the door in those early morning hours, but she believed, as I'm sure many children did, that since it was the French and not the German police, she was safe. "If they are French, they will not harm us."

As awful as this roundup was, all of those children being led to their deaths, the French maintained that sometimes it is better to forget, "sometimes it is better not to know". If there ever was someone who wanted to scream at this attitude, it is Tatiana de Rosnay. For the French, for the children, she wrote Sarah's Key. She grabbed my heart on the first page and did not let go. Through tears, I read this book and could not put it down. It has been a long time since a book has been so powerful to move me this way. I will pass this book on until the binding falls apart.

Book Extras:
To read more about Sarah's Key, visit the Macmillan website.
Visit the author's website here.

Watch Tatiana de Rosnay talk about Sarah's Key:

About the book:
Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (September 30, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0312370849
ISBN-13: 978-0312370848

About the Author:
Tatiana de Rosnay is the author of ten novels, including theNew York Times bestselling novel Sarah’s Key, an international bestselling sensation with over two million copies sold in thirty-five countries worldwide. Together with Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, and Stieg Larsson, she was named one of the top ten fiction writers in Europe in 2009. Tatiana lives with her husband and two children in Paris, where she is at work on her next novel.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Review: The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison

Corny, mushy, warm and fuzzy, sentimental, sappy, nostalgic, syrupy sweet, and weepy. Yet, I read every word, and soaked it all up.

The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother's Memoir by Katrina Kenison is a follow-up to the author's earlier memoir, Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry. In the first, Kenison tells us moms to slow down and allow kids to be kids. In The Gift of an Ordinary Day, she shares with us her experiences during her boys' teenage years.

This book is all about change -- house, town, family, school, career, and motherhood. As if one of these changes weren't enough, Kenison's life throws several new curve balls at her. In her forties, and dealing with her own set of mid-life issues, she and her husband decide to sell their house. Not expecting to sell their house before finding a new one, they live with her parents until they can move into their new house. Their new house ends up being an old house in need of serious renovations, or to be more accurate, in need of being torn down and completely rebuilt. She gets laid off just before the plans for the new house are approved. The new house is in a new town, which means new schools, new friends, and new routines. She is trying to keep it together, juggling the logistics of everyday life, all while her older son is preparing to go off to college, and her younger son is settling in to his first year of high school.

More than anything, it is this getting older, by her two boys, that threatens to change her life the most. It is in the midst of this craziness that she is forced to appreciate and treasure the ordinary days.

As life imitating art, I love how she compares rebuilding a house to motherhood:

It seems, in fact, that building a house is a lot like raising a child. It's hard not to get swept up in the frenzy, believing that children ought to look and act and achieve in certain ways and that success and competence must be attained at any cost. I realize I've already wasted months fussing over making the "best" choices when all I really needed to do was make some good choices, accept them without looking back, and move on to the next. It seems to be a lesson I need to learn again and again.

Yes, this memoir is a bit sappy and corny, sometimes too much so, but it was beautifully written and painfully honest.

To listen to an audio clip or to watch a video of the author reading an excerpt, visit the official page at Hachette Book Group

About the Book:

The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother's Memoir by Katrina Kenison
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Springboard Press (September 7, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446409480
ISBN-13: 978-0446409483

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

December IndieBound List


Since IndieBound is the first place I go to when looking for my next great read, I have to share December's new list!

And if anyone reads Stephen King's The Dome, let me know what you think! I almost bought it tonight in the book store, but I pulled a muscle picking it up. Then again, I could get a workout while reading...hmm....

I only noticed this now, so maybe it's new, but IndieBound also has a list of PRESENTING PAPERBACKS...for those of us who get sticker shock when looking at a hardcover novel.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Review: Malice by Chris Wooding

So scary and so much fun!

Remember when we would dare each other at sleep-overs to look into a mirror in the dark and say "Bloody Mary" three times? Well, such is the urban legend of Tall Jake in Malice.

Imaginative, suspenseful, original, exciting, and, yes, a wee bit scary!

I really enjoyed Chris Wooding's Malice, a story about an underground comic book named Malice and an urban legend called Tall Jake. All the kids have heard about Malice and Tall Jake, but few took the journey to the comic book shop to ask for one from behind the counter. Luke, one boy in a small group of friends, gets his hands on a copy, which scares Heather to pieces. The kids' faces in the comic book look too real, too frightened. He takes it one step further and performs the ritual that calls, "Tall Jake take me away, Tall Jake take me away." The the lights go out. Luke disappears and friends Kady and Seth investigate. What they find is that Luke has been taken into the comic book. The only way to find out what happened to him, and to get a few of their own questions answered is to follow Luke into the comic book.

Throughout the book are small scenes taken right from Malice, as we see the characters end up in the pages of this dark, underground comic book. I don't think I have ever read a comic book in my life, nor do I think I'll ever pick one up, but Wooding's use of this technique is brilliant, and adds so much to the story and to the feeling of the book.

When I put this book on my Fall Into Reading list, someone had suggested I skip it, which made me hesitate in picking it up. I am so glad that I stuck to my list, and read this book. It's awesome for kids, both boys AND girls (recommended for ages 12 and up).

Malice leaves us with a cliffhanger of an ending, with promises for more adventures in it's second installment, Havoc, due out in May 2010.

For more information, visit Chris Wooding's website here.

About the Book:Malice by Chris Wooding
Paperback: 384 pages (ages 12 & up)
Publisher: Scholastic (February 2, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1407103946
ISBN-13: 978-1407103945

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher

Monday, December 14, 2009

Review: Shadowland by Alyson Noel

Oh, how disappointing.

I really enjoyed Evermore, Alyson Noel's first book in the The Immortals series. So much so that I picked up Blue Moon, book #2. I was disappointed with Blue Moon, but wanted to give Noel's YA series one more shot with Shadowland.

A part of me was worried that I was simply too old to appreciate YA fiction, but I simply think a good book is a good book, no matter the audience.

picks up two weeks after Blue Moon left off. Damen is still alive, but the antidote that cured him also cursed him, thanks to Roman. He may not touch Ever, or else he will die an immortal's death - spending an eternity in the Shadowland, a place of nothingness. Ever searches for a way to get the antidote to the antidote from Roman, meanwhile another hottie comes into the picture. Enter Jude. Apparently, Ever has some past-lives drama she needs to rectify.

Unfortunately, there is no progress in any of the relationships in this book. Ever doesn't seem to have learned anything yet about her own abilities, responsibilities, or limitations. Adding a potential love interest added some excitement and tension, but not nearly enough to make up for the loose ends that simply remained, well, loose.

Maybe I'm showing my age here, but have you ever watched Daytime Soap Operas? My mom used to watch Days of Our Lives. I would catch an episode with her here and there, sometimes I would watch them every day for weeks (I had Mono when I was 14); other times, there would be months in between. One day or one month, never did I feel like I had missed so much that I couldn't pick up the storyline (Bo and Hope are probably still crying about something). This is how I felt with Shadowland. The potential for a good scene was there, but then it would fade to something else before the first one could pick up steam.

Apologies to Ms. Noel, but this one fell short for me.

For more, visit Alyson Noel's website and blog here.

You can also visit The Immortals Series site here, where you can read excerpts, listen to audio excerpts, and watch video trailers of each book in The Immortals series.

About the Book:
Shadowland by Alyson Noel
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1 edition (November 17, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 031259044X
ISBN-13: 978-0312590444

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review: A Better High by Matt Bellace, Ph.D.

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Christmas songs and hot chocolate. Gingerbread cookies and snowmen. Twinkling lights and kids making snow angels. All of these things put a smile on my face and a spring in my step. Do you know what that's called? It's called a natural high. If you ask me, there's nothing like it. If you ask Matt Bellace, author of A Better High, he'll tell you it's the best, and then proceed to let you in on some of the other ways he finds his natural highs.

This book is fantastic.

A Better High: A Humorous Look at Getting High Naturally, Everyday is Matt Bellace's interpretation of the nationally renowned youth program, "How To Get High Naturally." This book may be about getting high naturally, but it reads more like a biography - a biography written by a stand-up comic.

Bellace takes his readers through several different methods in which he finds natural highs in his own life -- running, laughing, loving, helping, etc. He even gives scientific proof that laughing stimulates the same part of the brain as cocaine. Let me assure you, this is not your average drug and alcohol prevention book. A Better High is a far cry from the dusty "just say no" pamphlets that used to be thrust at us as teenagers. I promise, it's neither preachy nor boring. Instead, the writing is conversational, funny and easy to read. This book is a shockingly personal account that will leave you smarter, entertained and inspired to change some things in your own life.

I found myself laughing and smiling so much, I think I got a natural high just from reading A Better High!

"This woman said to me, 'You don't drink? What a great accomplishment!' I responded, 'I also have a PhD.' She paused and said, 'Yeah, but not drinking...How do you do it?'?
- Matt Bellace

On a personal note: Authors are my rock stars. When someone I hold in high regard in my real life puts pen to paper and writes a book, it rocks my world. Well, Matt and I have known each other since we were teenagers. There are few people in this world whom I can say I respect and admire more than I do him. Where writing a book would be my greatest accomplishment, for Matt writing this book is probably just a check-mark on his long list of amazing accomplishments. He has been changing lives and inspiring kids since we were kids ourselves. He continues to inspire with A Better High. Bravo!

On another personal note
: My children are still small, so it's safe to say I have a little time before I have to worry about them finding their way to drugs and alcohol. Having said that, it's never too early to teach your kids about natural highs. Don't forget, kids learn by example. After reading A Better High, I couldn't help but say to myself, what better way to keep your kids from seeking dangerous ways to get high than to show them, and share with them different ways to get high naturally?

Food for thought.

If you're looking to get high...naturally...pick up A Better High by Matt Bellace.

To learn more about Matt Bellace, and to order a copy of his book, check out his website.

To learn more about Teen Institutes in your area, visit the National Association of Teen Institutes website here.

NEW: Matt just informed me that his book is now available on Kindle:;

FTC Note: I purchased this book and it is part of my personal library.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

News: Upcoming Releases

I have my 2010 calendar in front of me, marking down all the big book releases that are coming up. As I mark my calendar, I'll be keeping you in the loop as to the new hot book releases for 2010.

First things first, Scholastic will be releasing the third book in The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins this August, 24, 2010. It seems like it's far away...especially if you've read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, but time flies when you're reading good books. (Click on the links to read my reviews). For those readers who appreciate the paperback, the trade paperback edition of the first book in the trilogy, The Hunger Games, will be released on July 6, 2010. Alas, I can not find a name for this Book #3...anyone? anyone?

As I may have mentioned in my previous review, Stieg Larsson's third book in his Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is due out next year as well. We won't have to wait as long, though, for this is due to release on May 25, 2010. That will give you all enough time to read the first two books in the series, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire. I wonder if you're going to become as intrigued by "the girl" as I am!

For those of you who have no patience, (ahem, like me) J.M. Coetzee's newest book, Summertime, is due out December 24, 2009. Just in time for holiday break. I discovered Coetzee through my book club, which picked his novel, Disgrace, as our November read. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.

Last, but not least, I am already begging for the ARC for Linger by Maggie Stiefvater, the sequel to her amazing book Shiver. We can't expect to have this one in bookstores until July 10, 2010. I'm sure I'll be sneaking in a re-reading of Shiver at some point in the near future. Think werewolf love story, but with REALLY beautiful writing. As much as I'm looking forward to Linger, I can't wait until she writes her first adult novel. Maggie? Are you listening?

Next up: The "TENNERS" -- New Authors who have their debut novels coming out in 2010. I am bouncing in my seat I am so excited!!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Review: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson


I had trouble getting into the first book in Steig Larsson's Millenium series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but after the first hundred pages, I couldn't put the book down. The Girl Who Played With Fire is the second installment, and from page one, I was completely engrossed. Where the first book took a lot of time to build up the storyline, FIRE hits the ground running.

I am completely fascinated by Lisbath Salander, "the Girl" in these books. I couldn't wait to read more about her. The book picks up two years after the last one leaves off. In that time, Lisbeth has matured, settled some debts, and starts to find a quiet place for herself in the world. Meanwhile, Mikael Blomkvist and his business partners at Millenium magazine are investigating the seedy underground world of sex trafficking.

The two don't seem to have anything to do with one another at all, and even I couldn't conceive of how Larsson was going to bring these two characters together again. Then, the bomb drops. Two of Blomkvists's friends are murdered the same night as Salander's pig of a guardian, and Lisbeth is the solitary prime suspect in all three murders.

I will not give too much away, but my fascination with the character of Lisbeth Salander is satisfied by learning a lot more about her, her past, and her motivations. There is lots of action, tons of suspense, and a pace that leaves you awake at 2 AM turning the pages -- don't say I didn't warn you!

I must say that there are good writers out there that write mediocre dialogue. Sometimes you can look past it, but it reminds me of how hard it is to write great dialogue. Larsson was a genius at writing great dialogue. The cast of characters in his two books so far could fill a small cruiseliner, but they each have their own voice that is so distinct from the others. I won't lie. I can't pronounce all of the characters' names, and this would have bugged me in any other novel. But I found that I didn't need to know their names. Their voices were enough to distinguish them from one another. A true master. If you're a writer, you need to read his dialogue and take notes.

Larsson never fails to twist and turn his plots, completely surprising his readers. More than once, I gasped out loud, and on one occassion toward the end of the novel, I actually yelled, "NO WAY!"

I think the best review of this book I can give is something "the Man" said to me as I was reading one night. As he was watching Monday Night Football, I sat on the other side of the couch reading FIRE. At one point, he said, "Do you realize your hands are clenched into fists?" I was so engrossed in this book, I hadn't even noticed.

AMAZING book. Just as good as the first.

A NOTE: The Girl Who Played With Fire could be read as a stand alone book, although reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is worth every page. That being said, after reading the synopsis for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, you will have to have read at least the second book before diving into the third. Do yourself a favor, read them all.

The only thing truly disappointing is that Stieg Larsson died in 2004, at age 50, shortly after turning in three manuscripts for his Millenium Series. He never got to see the success of his novels, nor did he finish the series. According to what I can learn from the Stieg Larsson website, as well as other news sources, there were outlines for seven installments, and at least part of the fourth book was written. Unfortunately, only the trilogy will be published, unless a dispute is settled over his estate. Larsson died unexpectedly without a will. He lived with his girlfriend for 32 years, yet in Swedish law, his estate is passed to his father and brother (sounds like New Jersey). They have full rights at this point, but his girlfriend has possession of the laptop which contains the unfinished fourth book. She has agreed to release the book if the father and brother give her administrative rights over his literary property. As recently as November 2, 2009, Larsson's father offered her $2 million, which she refused, stating it was not about money but about his literary legacy. They remain at a stalemate.

To read a synopsis of the third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, (Due out: May 25, 2010) you can visit the Random House website.

A few days ago, in an article in the Wall Street Journal, I learned that a new movie version of The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo is set for release in the US. To see the exclusive trailer, visit the WSJ link.

Watch the Book Trailer:

About The Book:

Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (July 28, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307269981
ISBN-13: 978-0307269980

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

NY Times: 10 Best Books of 2009

The New York Times released their list of the Top 10 books of 2009. I am working on my own list, which I will try and post on December 20th (for all you people who want to put some books on your wish lists!)

Take a look at the NY Times list.

Which have you read?
Are there any books you wish were on this list?
Are there any you don't think should be on this list?

Talk to me!


CHRONIC CITY. By Jonathan Lethem
HALF BROKE HORSES: A True-Life Novel. By Jeannette Walls

THE AGE OF WONDER: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. By Richard Holmes
LIT: A Memoir. By Mary Karr
LORDS OF FINANCE: The Bankers Who Broke the World. By Liaquat Ahamed
RAYMOND CARVER: A Writer’s Life. By Carol Sklenicka

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Review: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Surprisingly powerful.

A friend of the family told me to read Mudbound while I was away in Florida. I had my own stack of books with me during my trip, so I threw this one in my suitcase to read at home. Even after I got home, I kept passing Mudbound over. I was supposed to give the book back on Thanksgiving, so the day before I figured I would pick it up and read a few pages, just so I could honestly say that it wasn't for me. Instead, I was pulled into the story and wasn't giving the book back until I had read it to the last page! If I hadn't been brining, basting, and roasting, I would have finished Mudbound in one day, easily. Great book, and worth having to put it in the mail back down to Florida.

I hesitated in reading Mudbound, because I thought it would fail in giving me something that I hadn't read before. Mudbound is not the first book I have read that deals with racial Mississippi. It's not the first to use multiple narrators. It's not the first to examine the dynamics of a family you would probably hate if they were your neighbors. It's not the first book that kept me turning the pages. Still...Hillary Jordan's debut novel, Mudbound, surprised me. With all of these common, familiar elements in place, Jordan is able to weave a story together beautifully, with subtlety, yet grabs you by the shirt and doesn't let go.

The rules of behavior between whites and blacks in rural Mississippi after WWII are painfully clear. No one wants to rock the boat. No one wants to cross that line. No one wants to find out what could happen if those rules are broken. No one except Jaime McAllen and Ronsell Jackson -- two boys who form a friendship after the war, and come to live on the same sharecropper farm with their families in the Mississippi Delta. The narration switches between the Jackson family - Ronsel and his parents Hap and Florence - and the McAllen family - Jamie, his brother, Henry, and Henry's wife, Laura.

Hillary Jordan was able to narrate this story from these six characters' points of view, and maintain a fluidity that made it very easy to turn the pages. She didn't use the musicality of her characters' voices, like Cathryn Stockett did with The Help, but the differences of emotion and tenor were there, especially between the voices of the two women, Florence and Laura. The climax of the novel brought out the power of Jordan's writing and used the technique to its fullest.

I could smell the farm, I could feel the mud, and I could hear the rain. This was some great writing.

Visit Hillary Jordan's Website here.

Watch the book trailer:

About the Book:
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Paperback: 340 pages
Publisher: Algonquin Books (March 17, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1565126777
ISBN-13: 978-1565126770

Many thanks to Leslie for allowing me to borrow this book!
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