Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: The Thirteen by Susie Maloney

A Paranormal Page-Turner.

SYNOPSIS: Haven Woods is suburban heaven, a great place to raise a family. It’s close to the city, quiet, with great schools and its own hospital right up the road. Property values are climbing, and the crime rate is practically nonexistent.
Paula Wittmore hasn’t been back to Haven Woods since she left as a disgraced teenager. Now she’s returning to care for her suddenly ailing mother, and she’s bringing her daughter and a pile of emotional baggage. She’s also bringing, unknowingly, the last chance for her mother’s closest frenemies . . . twelve women bound together by a powerful secret that requires the sacrifice of a thirteenth.

Ultimately, this story was about the history, and the future, of a coven of thirteen women. Brought together by their willingness to make sacrifices to get what they desired most - successful business, syndicated television show, or to fit into a size 4 - The Thirteen needs numbers most of all. When one of them betrays the rest, another sacrifice needs to be made.

I have been on a run with witchy-themed books lately, and while THE THIRTEEN was quick and enjoyable, it was not my favorite. 

First, what I liked: Give me a generous helping of creepy goodness in my witchy stories and I'm a happy girl.  Susie Maloney has been compared to some of the greats in horror fiction, and I felt she stands out all on her own in this regard.  I am both in awe of, and a bit afraid of, the way her mind works! 

I enjoyed the relationship between Paula and Rowen, her daughter.  Three generations of women dominated the pages of this book, and I wanted to know more about the bonds that tied them together - both natural and supernatural. My favorite character was Izzy, the leader of The Thirteen.  She's beautiful, she's strong, and she's not afraid to do what needs to be done.  She's also deliciously evil.  The pages turned quickly, and was the perfect book for a long car ride home from our spring break vacation. 

Now for what left me feeling flat:  While the beginning of the book drew me in with intriguing female characters and subtle hints to entice the reader, the hints became a bit tiresome and obvious.  I was extremely frustrated by Paula's convenient misunderstanding of her mother's warnings, not to mention her lack of regard for her mother's well-being.  I also found the romance with the only man in Raven Woods predictable, if not unnecessary.  If Susie Maloney decided to cut his character out completely, I don't think the story would have missed him. 

If you're looking for a paranormal page-turner, The Thirteen is devilishly fun, but slightly lacking. 

Book Extras:
Susie Maloney website, Twitter

About the Book:

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Original edition (March 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062117661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062117663

  • About the Author:
    Susie Moloney is the bestselling author of Bastion Falls, A Dry Spell, and The Dwelling. She has been published in numerous countries and assorted languages. She divides her time between the wilds of Canada and the wild world of New York City. She’s not a witch, except maybe a little in the morning.

    *Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher

    Wednesday, April 25, 2012

    50 Shades of HUH?

    On my weekly "What Are You Reading" I included a very brief note saying that I did not finish FIFTY SHADES OF GREY by EL James.  Allow me to elaborate.

    First of all, let me start off by saying, I do NOT judge you by what you are reading or not reading.  I even have plenty of friends that do not read at all - no matter how hard I try!  So, I do not judge any of you who are reading and enjoying this trilogy.  I certainly don't judge you if your spouses and partners are benefiting from said enjoyment (nudge, nudge...wink, wink)

    I feel like I have to talk about this book to some of my unsuspecting readers out there. 

    Even though it's stated on the cover - the back cover - FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is erotica.  So, if you choose to download it to your iPad, be careful it doesn't end up on your kids' iTouch through the iCloud

    If you enjoy romance novels, but get a little squeamish or uncomfortable by some of the more graphic sex scenes this is NOT your book.  There is sex...a lot of sex...a lot of freaky this book...and that's only in the first 100 or so pages that I read.

    If you are an adult who enjoys sexy times in your books (bow chicka wowwow) and want a little heat in your bedtime reading, go for it.  Just whatever you do, please think twice before choosing it for your book club.  This is one of those books that a lot of women are reading, or else it wouldn't be on the bestsellers list (bestsellers' lists?!? more later...) but a few women might not feel comfortable discussing.  A friend of mine recently compared the book to the movie Nine and a Half Weeks, which was a perfect example.  I might watch the movie late at night, after the kids are in bed, but I wouldn't want to watch that movie with my girlfriends and then expect to sit around drinking wine discussing it.  But that's just me. I'm a prude.

    Wait, no I'm not!  I'm not a prude!  I like Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse series) and Janet Evanovich (Ranger and Morelli, anyone??)  so I appreciate a little heat in my lighter reading. I was just probably completely unprepared for 50 SHADES OF GREY.  No, I take that back.  True, I was not prepared, but if I enjoyed the book, I would have finished it.  This time, it just wasn't my kind of heat.  Full disclosure, I prefer the kind of heat in YA books - the kind that fades to black, like an old Doris Day movie. 

    So, my own reasons for not finishing it aside, I'm still blown away by how MANY people are reading it, and then continuing on to read the other two books in the trilogy (yes, it's a trilogy...and I feel that I've lost half my readers to online shopping).  But Why? Why 50 SHADES OF GREY?  This is not the first piece of erotica to be printed.  In fact, romance books available now go way beyond your mom's Harlequin romances and offer up their own hot stuff in many forms (modern mysteries, bodice rippers, etc.), some of which are actually quite good.  I was surprised to learn how many book blogs are dedicated to romance novels.  So, why has this book broken the boundary and landed on the Bestsellers Lists?? Why was there an entire table dedicated to the trilogy at Barnes and Noble?  I don't get it.

    There you have it.  This was not a review.  It wasn't even an opinion piece.  Consider this your heads-up.  If you're curious, go for it, but keep it away from the kids.  If you're squeamish, you've been warned. 

    More romance books:
    Sourcebooks Casablanca
    Harlequin Blaze
    Avon Romance (HarperCollins)
    Romance at Random House

    Tuesday, April 24, 2012

    World Book Night - Part 2

    I LOVE the idea of World Book Night, and I was thrilled to be a part of it!!

    I did it! ...however, I'm not sure I completely thought it through.

    First, let me say that I had a bit of a set-back with my first few ideas for locations - my fantasy of going to a middle school, a park or a high school baseball game did not happen.  On a rainy day, I thought a Panera cafe would be a good spot. 

    I had a bit of a panic attack at the idea of approaching strangers to offer them free copies of THE BOOK THIEF. 

    So, as I tried to calm myself down, I picked up my phone and turned to Twitter:

    Not sure I thought this thru. Anxiety over talking to strangers setting in. Should pretend I'm *deep breaths*

    I chose to turn to my inner Bermuda Onion because Kathy is warm, sweet, and has a quiet confidence that draw people to her.  When I imagined who would probably have the easiest time handing out books - Kathy was the first person who came to mind! (It's the accent...need to fake the Southern accent.)

    I quickly got lots of encouragement from my Twitter friends:  @BermudaOnion, @TrishHeyLady @erinfaye and @SabrinaCallahan who made me laugh and gave me the boost I needed to make it in the door of the cafe.  Once I got in the door....

    Let's just say that people in New Jersey do not trust that anyone is giving anything away for free.  Here are some of the reactions I got:
    • -  No.  I won't read it. I'm sure there's a catch. 
    • -  Are you one of those writers that publish their own books?
    • -  How much?, really, How much?
    • -  We don't read books.

    Going to the Book Expo or to an event at Clinton Book Shop, I don't feel any anxiety in talking to new people, because we already have one passion in common - books! This was very different. I was approaching people who were 100% comfortable eating lunch by themselves without having a book in front of them! I have actually gone without lunch, rather than face a book-less meal by myself.

    I was almost ready to pack up my books and bring them somewhere else.  Luckily for me, Mike, the manager of the Panera Bakery in Flemington, New Jersey, took pity on me and became my cheerleader.  He saw that I was getting all flushed and flustered and told me to try another approach. (God bless you, Mike!).  It was like I hit the reset button.  I was there to give out books, not enemas! 

    I spotted a table with a mom having lunch with her 3 year old daughter. (You can't turn down a book in front of your preschooler!  What message would that send??)  Then came a table with two women who had heard about THE BOOK THIEF from their high schooler, and that sparked up curiosity from a woman sitting at the next table over. (Word of mouth!  Happening before my very eyes!) Before I knew it, I had three books left! 

    In the back of the cafe, I came across one avid reader who had already read THE BOOK THIEF, heard about WORLD BOOK NIGHT, and thanked me for volunteering.  Thank you, kind stranger! I should have started at the back!! 

    Let's just say that people in New Jersey are even more surprised and delighted when they learn that they are, in fact, receiving something for free, and that something is a book!  Some of the nicest things I heard:
    • -  I never get anything for free!  I feel like I won the lottery!
    • -  My daughter is going to love this!
    • -  For me?  But it's not even my birthday! 
    • -  No strings attached?  Really?  That's super!
    • -  I was hoping you were going to come over to me.
    • -  This is really cool what you're doing, thank you!
    I gave out my books, and I felt really good.  What could have been a huge disappointment, turned into a success on so many levels.  There are only two things that I would change for next year: I would like to team up with another book giver AND I might like to hand out more books - 20 was just a warm-up! 

    After getting back into the car, I updated my Twitter friends about my success in the cafe, when I got this Tweet from @WBNAmerica:

    All these stories, just goes to show book givers are the bravest of them all :) We salute you brave givers!

    Aw, shucks. 

    Thank you, to the World Book Night America team for allowing me to be a part of such a special event.  A million books were handed out yesterday.  A million new readers.  That's because of YOU and all your hard work.  BRAVO!!

    I wish I could have attended the closing ceremonies in Union Square and shared my experiences with other givers, and heard their stories in return.  Maybe next year!

    Many, many thanks to the generosity of all the publishers who made this night happen, especially Random House, who published special copies of THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak.

    **If you have received a World Book Night book, let me know!  Comment here, contact me on Twitter or write on my Facebook wall! 

    Monday, April 23, 2012

    World Book Night

    Tonight is WORLD BOOK NIGHT!

    World Book Night is an annual celebration designed to spread a love of reading and books. To be held in the U.S. as well as the U.K. and Ireland on April 23, 2012. It will see tens of thousands of people go out into their communities to spread the joy and love of reading by giving out free World Book Night paperbacks.

    One million books in the US and in the UK/Ireland will be given away.  50,000 Book Givers have been chosen from around the country to each hand out 20 copies of a book.  The full list of books in both the US and UK/Ireland can be found here. They are specially printed books that are not for sale.

    Tonight, I will find homes for 20 copies of THE BOOK THIEF in Flemington, New Jersey.  I wish the weather would cooperate in helping me set up at an outdoor space - like a park or outside the high school!  I thought about going to Hunterdon Medical Center, but I'm not sure I feel a hospital is an appropriate location for handing out a story narrated by death.  Instead, I think I am going to hit a coffee shop and/or a diner.  After all, New Jersey loves her diners! 

    Wish me luck!  I will report back tomorrow and let you all know how it went!

    To learn more about World Book Night, visit the website HERE.

    What Are You Reading?

    Today is Monday, April 23, 2012...What Are You Reading? 

    Wait, really?  The 23rd of April?  Do you know what this means??  There are only 6 weeks until I see Sheila again!  Who is Sheila?  You know her!  She's the hostess of this weekly game of What Are You Reading!  I can't wait to see all my bloggy friends again at BEA.

    In the meantime, I guess I'll just keep doing what I do best - talk about books!

    Here's what's been on my nightstand, in my car, in my beach tote, and tucked under my arm for the past few weeks:

    Books Completed:

    A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES by Deborah Harkness (Penguin; December 2011; Paperback; 592 pgs)
    THE EXPATS by Chris Pavone (Crown; March 6, 2012; HC 336 pgs)
    THE THIRTEEN by Susie Maloney (William Morrow PPB; March 27, 2012; 336 pgs)

    THE LAST BLIND DATE by Linda Yellin (Gallery Books; October 2011; PPB; 336 pgs)

    Audio Books Completed:

    FALLEN by Karin Slaughter (AudioGO; book from Delacorte; June 2011) 
    STORIES I ONLY TELL MY FRIENDS by Rob Lowe (Macmillan Audio; book from Henry Holt and Co; April 2011)

    Middle Grade Books Completed:

    WONDER By RJ Palacio (Knopf; February 14, 2012; HC 320 pgs; Ages 8 and up)

    Currently Reading:

    THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE by Adriana Trigiani
    CALICO JOE by John Grisham

    Currently Listening to:

    LET'S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED by Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess)

    Did Not Finish:

    Not My Thing.

    Sunday, April 22, 2012

    World Book Night - Part 1

    Tomorrow is WORLD BOOK NIGHT and I will be handing out 20 copies of
    THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak,
    one of my favorite books of all time.

    Got Books?

    Before I could hand out my books, I had to pick them up!  The nice people at WBN America allowed the Givers to choose our pick-up location.  Lucky for me, THE CLINTON BOOK SHOP rolled out the red carpet!  We had snacks, wine, and this amazing cheese platter.  Even my boys behaved themselves (after being bribed with promises of cookies and books) while I mingled...

    Rob and Alison

    Action Shot!  Thank you, Rob, for putting up with me and my camera!

    Why, yes, that IS author MaryAnn McFadden admiring the staff picks!
    And, yes, this is me name-dropping!  Authors love their Indies, and Clinton loves Maryann McFadden.  I swear I have bumped into her so many times, I simply thought she was just another really nice neighbor before Rob introduced us! 

    Carol Fitzgerald and Alison

    The Clinton Book Shop is always full of interesting bookish people.  I made a new book friend, Carol Fitzgerald of THE BOOK REPORTER.  This woman KNOWS her books! I could have talked to her all night.  Instead, I came home to check out her website and got stuck on my computer practically all night.  So many great recommendations, I didn't know where to start.  Check it well as all the affiliate book sites (Reading Group Guides, Teen Reads, Kid Reads, etc.).

    Books...and Bo
    It's like my dog is saying, "Really, Mom?  More books?  You realize they're all the same, right?"

    I will be documenting my World Book Night adventures here, as well as on my Facebook and Twitter pages. 

    Check back for more!!!

    In My Mailbox

    Good morning!

    I would like to share some of the fabulous things my mailbox has given me in the past week or so.  I love to see what other people find in their mailboxes, shopping bags, and library totes! 

    CALICO JOE by John Grisham (Doubleday; April 10, 2012; Hardcover; 208 pgs.)
    LET'S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED by Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) (Penguin Audio; April17, 2012; read by author) (Hardcover; Amy Einhorn/Putnam; 336 pgs)
    DREAMS OF JOY by Lisa See (Random House; May 31, 2011; PPB 400 pgs)

    Young Adult:

    FEROCITY SUMMER by Alissa Grosso (Flux, May 2012, Paperback; 288 pgs; Ages 12+)
    GUY LANGMAN: CRIME SCENE PROCRASTINATOR by Josh Berk (Knopf; March 13, 2012; Hardcover; 240 pgs; Ages 12+)

    Middle Grade:

    SNIVEL: THE FIFTH CIRCLE OF HECK by Dale E. Basye (Random House; May 22, 2012; 448 pgs; Ages 9-13)
    SUPER DIAPER BABY 2 by Dav Pilkey (Scholastic; June 28, 2011)
    THE 39 CLUES: BLACK BOOK OF BURIES SECRETS by Rick Riordan and Mallory Kass (Scholastic; 2010; hardcover)

    Saturday, April 14, 2012

    Review: Ollie The Purple Elephant by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

    Sweet and funny!

    When a parent promises a child they can have a purple elephant should they ever come across one, it is a promise made in jest, a folly!  Not to the McLaughlins.   At the park one day, what should they happen to see, but a purple elephant named Ollie.  As promised, Ollie is given a home and a permanent place in the McLaughlin home, until one of their crabby neighbors (and the family cat) complains and Ollie is taken away to join the circus. 

    Don't fear - this is a children's book, where happy endings run supreme!  A year later, Ollie's circus comes to town, as do his friends.  When Ollie brings his friends to meet his family, they stop some bad guys and become heroes.  And, they all live happily ever after...together.

    I judge books by their covers, and I made a beeline for this book when I saw it amongst the many.  I opened it right up and read it on the spot, and I'm so glad I did.  The author's name stood out to me, and I couldn't figure out why.  I couldn't remember reading any other picture books by Jarrett J. Krosoczka.  It wasn't until I got home did I realize - he is the genius behind THE LUNCH LADY series!  My kids LOVE these books!!  (psst, Lunch Lady is going to be made into a movie!)

    The illustrations were simple and engaging, the colors vibrant, and there were just the right amount of words on each page (parents, you know what I mean by this!).  It's fun, and silly, with a happy ending!

     **Check out the video below from Dad Labs.  It's a great interview with Jarrett, along with images from the book.

    Book Extras:
    Random House Book Page
    Author Website (tons of cool stuff!)

    About the Book:
  • Reading level: Ages 5 and up
  • Hardcover: 40 pages 
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (October 11, 2011) 
  • Language: English 
  • ISBN-10: 037586654X 
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375866548

  • About the Author:
    JARRETT J. KROSOCZKA is the author and illustrator of many picture books, including Punk Farm, Punk Farm on Tour, and Baghead, as well as the popular Lunch Lady graphic novel series. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with his wife and daughter and their pug, Ralph Macchio.

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

    Saturday, April 7, 2012

    Review: The Lonely Book by Kate Bernheimer, ill. by Chris Sheban

    In a word - cozy.

    The children's love of a new book.  We have all seen it.  A book new to the library, given the enviable position atop the shelves, and all the kids clamor for their turn to bring the brand-new book home.  Until one day, the new book is replaced by other new books (sounds like my own bookshelves).  The new book isn't so new, and is placed on a shelf.  It doesn't mind its home, but one day Alice finds it and falls in love with the story, as children sometimes do.  Unfortunately, the book gets lost, and lonely.  Alice reads other books, never forgetting the special book from so long ago.  Finally, Alice is reunited with the long-lost book. 

    The illustrations by Chris Sheban are perfect, as they create a warmth and softness to this story.  The library is just generic enough so that both the child and adult can easily remember their own favorite library.  The illustrations of Alice's book, however, will want readers wondering about the book within the book!  Don't worry, they aren't so bold as to be distracting, but they are exquisite enough to send one's imagination alight.

    I see a lot of children's picture books throughout the course of a week, but this one stood out among them all.  If you want to share a story of libraries, reading, and the love of books with a child, bring THE LONELY BOOK home.

    Book Extras:
    Random House book page
    Author webpage
    Illustrator Webpage

    About the Book:
  • Reading level: Ages 4 and up
  • Library Binding: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (April 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375962263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375962264

  • About the Author:
    Kate Bernheimer is the author of a short story collection and a trio of novels. She also writes children's books, including The Girl in The Castle inside The Museum (Random House Children's Books/Schwartz & Wade), which was illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli and was named a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2008.  Kate Bernheimer founded and edits the literary journal Fairy Tale Review. She is Associate Professor & Writer in Residence at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette.

    *Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher

    Friday, April 6, 2012

    Review: Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

    If you're a fan of The West Wing, The Outsiders or simply love Rob Lowe, you must read this book.  You might be surprised to learn, he is much more than a pretty face!

    I fully admit it:  I swoon over Rob Lowe.  Making the choice to listen to him read his own book on audio was absolutely the best decision I could have made, as it added to my overall enjoyment of STORIES I ONLY TELL MY FRIENDS.  Ok, ok, so Rob Lowe could have read War and Peace and I would have swooned, but the man put together an intelligent, entertaining, and insightful book.

    Even though I felt like I knew what I was getting myself into, I was wrong.  I had prepared myself for humorous behind-the-scenes stories and bawdy after-dark tales of drinking, drugs, and women.  Instead, what I got was a grounded man who reflected upon his life, and stood by his decisions, (the good and the bad) learning from them, and ultimately moving beyond them. 

    Maybe it's my obsession with actors and their craft, but I feel like this book was anchored by his experience filming his first film, The Outsiders, and his role as Sam Seaborne on The West Wing (I never missed an episode!).  I love the stories peppered in between of Emilio Estevez, Melissa Gilbert, and especially JFK, Jr.

    I have to talk about Rob Lowe's audio.  Yes, I do love his voice, he's known for it, but I'm no stranger to audio books and have very high standards when it comes to the performance of an audio recording.  Even the best of actors have trouble reading audio books - it sounds, well, like someone is reading it.  Not Rob Lowe.  I swear, it sounds like he's just talking - eloquent and smooth and very very personal.  Ugh, here I go again, swooning all over the place.  (This is getting embarrassing.)  His voice is mesmerizing and natural, even when doing impersonations of his cast-mates and friends - like Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, and (probably the best impersonation) Robert Wagner - or of his brushes with greatness - like Liza Minnelli, Frank Sinatra, and Cary Grant. He is fearless in these impersonations, giving audiences a glimpse of the enormous talent that lurks beneath his "pretty" looks. 

    It's an honest book, and even more entertaining than I had anticipated.  I found myself just as riveted to his stories of a high-maintenance-even-before-Risky-Business Tom Cruise calling his agent when he learned he had to share a hotel room with his Outsider castmates, as I was to the strange story of his grandparents awakening in the middle of the night to find three drunk teenage girls in their bedroom wondering if, "Rob Lowe lives here?"  I am even more interested in reading The Outsiders and watching the director's cut of the movie,  to see just how much of Soda Pop we missed the first time around!

     I highly recommend STORIES I ONLY TELL MY FRIENDS, and if you have a little crush on Rob Lowe, do yourself a favor and listen to the audio!

    Book Extras:
    Macmillan Book Page (excerpts, reviews, etc.)
    Rob Lowe official website, Twitter

    About the Book:
    Audible Audio Edition
    (Also available in eBook, Paperback, and hardcover editions)
    Listening Length: 9 hours and 11 minutes
    Program Type: Audiobook
    Version: Unabridged
    Publisher: Macmillan Audio

    *Disclosure: I purchased a copy of this audiobook.

    Shop Indie Bookstores

    Thursday, April 5, 2012

    Giveaway!! (4/5/12 - 4/30/12)

    CALICO JOE by John Grisham

    The nice folks at Doubleday have invited me to host a contest to give away TWO copies of John Grisham's latest novel about fathers and sons, forgiveness and redemption, and Major League Baseball.

    Someone over at Random House knows I love baseball, because CALICO JOE is my kind of book!

    SYNOPSIS: Whatever happened to Calico Joe?

    It began quietly enough with a pulled hamstring. The first baseman for the Cubs AAA affiliate in Wichita went down as he rounded third and headed for home. The next day, Jim Hickman, the first baseman for the Cubs, injured his back. The team suddenly needed someone to play first, so they reached down to their AA club in Midland, Texas, and called up a twenty-one-year-old named Joe Castle. He was the hottest player in AA and creating a buzz.

    In the summer of 1973 Joe Castle was the boy wonder of baseball, the greatest rookie anyone had ever seen. The kid from Calico Rock, Arkansas dazzled Cub fans as he hit home run after home run, politely tipping his hat to the crowd as he shattered all rookie records.

    Calico Joe quickly became the idol of every baseball fan in America, including Paul Tracey, the young son of a hard-partying and hard-throwing Mets pitcher. On the day that Warren Tracey finally faced Calico Joe, Paul was in the stands, rooting for his idol but also for his Dad. Then Warren threw a fastball that would change their lives forever…

    In John Grisham’s new novel the baseball is thrilling, but it’s what happens off the field that makes CALICO JOE a classic.

    To Enter:  Fill Out the Form Below
    Giveaway runs from today through April 30, 2012

    About the Book
  • Hardcover: 208 pages 
  • Publisher: Doubleday (April 10, 2012) 
  • Language: English 
  • ISBN-10: 0385536070 
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385536073
  • Can't Wait?  Pre-order the book today!

    Shop Indie Bookstores

    Wednesday, April 4, 2012

    Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

    Punch my ticket for the DIVERGENT band-wagon, I want ON!

    In mid-2011, I saw Veronica Roth's DIVERGENT blanketed across the blogosphere, which, as usual, caught my attention, but did not send me running to read the book.  I know there are YA-dedicated book blogs out there, and they had it covered.  Even when it started appearing on "Best Of 2011" lists I had my doubts. Still, curiosity got the better of me when I caught wind of the Faction leaders like The Story Siren (my go-to gal for all things YA), popping up as the ARCs of INSURGENT (the 2nd book in the series) were being delivered.

    It was time I read DIVERGENT.  

    Holy.  Cow.  This is a great book!

    Here is the premise:  Imagine a dystopian Chicago where society is broken up into five factions.  Each faction is known by its members' dominant traits - honesty, intelligence, peacefulness, courage, and selflessness.  Regardless of the faction in which a child is born, when they turn 16, they are given an aptitude test to determine which faction they will live.  Usually, through nature or nurture, children don't usually test out of their own factions, but it's ultimately up to them to decide where they want to go.  It is up to them to choose to leave their families and everything they know for another faction to which they are more suited.  Sometimes, in a rare case, there is a 16 year old that has traits in more than one faction - these people are considered DIVERGENT - and dangerous.

    Even though Beatrice (Tris) was born in Abegnation (selfless), and she wants to be a Dauntless (courage), her aptitude test might tell her something very different. 

    Her relationships with her fellow initiates, her trainer, and her family are the heart of this book, but my favorite part was that for a skinny little girl who was raised to be meek and blend in, Tris finds her inner strength and turns into one of my favorite kick-ass girls in all of YA Lit! 

    If you're wondering what to read after The Hunger Games, pick up DIVERGENT.  Seriously.  Go now.

    In the meantime, I'm going to try and get my hands on an early copy of INSURGENT (due May 1, 2012)

    Book Extras:
    Veronica Roth webpage, blog, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, HarperTeen
    Divergent Series on Facebook

    About the Book:
    (also available in paperback!)
  • Reading level: Ages 14 and up
  • Hardcover: 496 pages 
  • Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (May 3, 2011) 
  • Language: English 
  • ISBN-10: 0062024027 
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062024022

  • About the Author: (from the pubisher)
    Veronica Roth is a twenty-two-year-old debut author and a recent graduate of Northwestern University's creative writing program. While a student, she often chose to work on the story that would become Divergent instead of doing her homework. Now a full-time writer, she lives near Chicago

    *Disclosure:  I borrowed a copy of this book from my local library.

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    Monday, April 2, 2012

    Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

    If you love a great vampire love story, but could do without the teen angst, you'll love DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, the first book in the All Souls Trilogy!

    Witches, vampires and daemons...oh MY!  Historian Dr. Diana Bishop is determined to live her life as an ordinary human and not as one of the famous Bishop witches, descended from Bridget Bishop, the first witch burned at the stake during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.  Unfortunately, magic seems to find her anyway while at Oxford's Bodleian Library. 

    Diana opens a manuscript which was believed to be lost, since its last sighting was over one hundred years ago.  She feels magic in the manuscript, but ignores it and sends it back, thinking that she is sending away the magic that lurks within the pages. 

    "Even at a safe distance, this manuscript was challenging me - threatening the walls I'd erected to separate my career as a scholar from my birthright as the last of the Bishop witches."

    Only, it's too late.  She has attracted the attention of all the creatures in Oxford, and beyond, including the attention of Matthew Clairmont, who happens to be a geneticist and a vampire.  Matthew is a very old vampire with a long history and a small, interesting family. Enter the vampire, his family, their history, and a love of wines.

    Let me talk about Diana a bit.  She is a historian, which is highly convenient considering how old Matthew Clairmont is.  Even though she has her weaknesses, and has blocked out her powers her whole life, she's tough, and I like that.  One of the wonderful things about Diana's profession is her love of libraries and books, which Harkness puts into words for her readers:

    "The smell of the library always lifted my spirits - that peculiar combination of old stone, dust, woodworm, and paper made properly from rags."

    This was only one sentence among a hundred describing the sights, sounds, and smells of the various libraries that Diana visits throughout the book.  I don't want to ruin any of the plot by telling you any more.

    In fact, soon after the first 100 pages, I stopped taking notes on people, place, or favorite passages.  The first hundred or so pages were interesting, but it wasn't until I hit a certain point that the book sucked me in.  The investment of those first chapters paid off.

    Vampire love story?  Really?  Yes, really.  Deborah Harkness creeps very close to the line where style and substance meets cheesy cliche, but she does not cross it.  There is one particular conversation toward the end of the book that made me groan aloud, as it reminded me of another, ridiculous, storyline I had read a few years ago.  Luckily for us, the author saves us from the nausea and keeps A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES from turning into a gooey mess.

    This book has been described as the "grown up's" Twilight.  Let me be clear about one thing - there is nothing profane about it..  Instead, there are complex discussions of historical people and places, strategy and logic, as well as genetics and biochemistry.  Somehow, it is not at all boring, I promise.  Not once did I find myself wanting to skim over the science.  Instead, I was drawn further into the story, as it made me think.

    If you're a fan of the paranormal love story, but could do without the teenage angst, you will not be disappointed by A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES.

    Now, I can't wait to read the sequel SHADOW OF NIGHT coming in July 2012!

    Book Extras:
    Deborah Harkness website, Facebook, Twitter,
    Read an excerpt
    Warner Bros. bought the screen rights.

    About the Book: (also available in paperback!)
    A Discovery of Witches (Book 1, The All Souls Trilogy) by Deborah Harkness
  • Reading level: Ages 18 and up
  • Hardcover: 592 pages 
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (February 8, 2011) 
  • Language: English 
  • ISBN-10: 0670022411 
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670022410

  • About the Author:
    (Once I read the author's biography, I got a better sense of why this book was so intelligently written and conceived.)
    Full Bio at her website
    Deborah Harkness is a professor of history at the University of Southern California. She has received Fullbright, Guggenheim, and National Humanities Center fellowships, and her most recent scholarly work is The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution. She also writes an award-winning wine blog.

    *Disclosure:  I purchased a copy of this book for my personal library.

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