Thursday, January 31, 2013

Review: Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to al-Qaeda

Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to al-Qaeda
Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to al-Qaeda by Robert Wallace

My rating: 0 of 5 stars

You would think that a book that details super-secret spy stuff would be exciting! And thrilling! And nail-biting!

Yeah. No.

I tried really hard to like this book, but it was so dry that I found myself falling asleep.

View all my reviews

Review: The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

My rating: 0 of 5 stars

I selected this book for a book club challenge (read a Man Booker Prize winner or nominee) because I loved the cover and the description. Sadly, I did not love the story. At 1/4 of the way through, I found that I wasn't paying attention and decided to flounce.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Picoult

Barnes & Noble

New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult is widely acclaimed for her keen insights into the hearts and minds of real people. Now she tells the emotionally riveting story of a family torn apart by conflicting needs and a passionate love that triumphs over human weakness. 

Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate—a life and a role that she has never challenged...until now. 

Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister—and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves.
My Sister’s Keeper examines what it means to be a good parent, a good sister, a good person. Is it morally correct to do whatever it takes to save a child’s life, even if that means infringing upon the rights of another? Is it worth trying to discover who you really are, if that quest makes you like yourself less? Should you follow your own heart, or let others lead you? Once again, in My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult tackles a controversial real-life subject with grace, wisdom, and sensitivity.

That is so NOT how I expected this story to end; I am absolutely heartbroken and I can't stop crying.

Jodi Picoult is really knows how to weave a story and draw you in to her characters' lives.

I am going to be a blubbering mess for the rest of the evening.

Purple Heart, by Patricia McCormick

Barnes & Noble

When Private Matt Duffy wakes up in an army hospital in Iraq, he's honored with a Purple Heart. But he doesn't feel like a hero.

There's a memory that haunts him: an image of a young Iraqi boy as a bullet hits his chest. Matt can't shake the feeling that he was somehow involved in his death. But because of a head injury he sustained just moments after the boy was shot, Matt can't quite put all the pieces together.

Eventually Matt is sent back into combat with his squad—Justin, Wolf, and Charlene—the soldiers who have become his family during his time in Iraq. He just wants to go back to being the soldier he once was. 

But he sees potential threats everywhere and lives in fear of not being able to pull the trigger when the time comes. In combat there is no black-and-white, and Matt soon discovers that the notion of who is guilty is very complicated indeed.

National Book Award Finalist Patricia McCormick has written a visceral and compelling portrait of life in a war zone, where loyalty is valued above all, and death is terrifyingly commonplace.

Can you feel that, Private?

Patricia McCormick's book starts off with a boom.

Or rather, the after-effects of a boom.

I don't read a lot of war-inspired novels, mostly because I'm a pacifist, but also because it makes me heartsick: children are killed in war-ravaged countries every day.

And not just citizens. But the men and women who risk their own lives defending their own countries; those who just happen to be deployed in a war zone.

This book is a heart-wrenching look at how a soldier tries to remember--and come to terms with--a bombing that nearly cost him his life. 

The Dead and Buried, by Kim Harrington

Barnes & Noble

A haunted house, a buried mystery, and a very angry ghost make this one unforgettable thriller.

Jade loves the house she's just moved into with her family. She doesn't even mind being the new girl at the high school: It's a fresh start, and there's that one guy with the dreamy blue eyes. . . . But then things begin happening. Strange, otherworldly things. Jade's little brother claims to see a glimmering girl in his room. Jade's jewelry gets moved around, as if by an invisible hand. Kids at school whisper behind her back like they know something she doesn't.

Soon, Jade must face an impossible fact: that her perfect house is haunted. Haunted by a ghost who's seeking not just vengeance, but the truth. The ghost of a girl who ruled Jade's school — until her untimely death last year. It's up to Jade to put the pieces together before her own life is at stake. As Jade investigates the mystery, she discovers that her new friends in town have more than a few deep, dark secrets. But is one of them a murderer?

The Dead and Buried started out as a four-star book, but I ultimately had to give it two stars.

I should know better than to read ghost stories.  I have an over-active imagination and freak myself out over the smallest things.  :: shudder ::

This is not, however, a book that will scare me and keep me up at night.  It's a quick read à la R.L. Stine or Christopher Pike: enjoyable, but without a whole lot of depth.  This book is marketed to the Young Adult crowd, but I would recommend it for the middle grades.  It has a much younger feel to it than what I usually read in YA.

There are a few things that jumped out at me when reading this book:

1. I'm tempted to take away another star for these comments alone:
I felt guilty for my snap judgement earlier about his behavior in the office.  He wasn't a jerk.  He was just . . .broken.
He was broken.  Maybe beyond repair.  I had to accept it and move on.

I am SO.TIRED. of the "broken" generalization.  It's over-used and seems like such a "crutch" description in the YA genre.  Don't know how to portray a character?  Call him broken and get your point across without having to do any work!  This rant isn't necessarily directed at The Dead and Buried (it's the whole genre, really), but the moment I came across this phrase, I groaned aloud.

2. Do five-year-olds play with Star Wars figurines and watch the movies?  I can't imagine letting my son watch something that violent.  Not a criticism, just something I wondered about while reading.

3. Incorrect usage of number vs. amount.  A person does not have an amount of shirts.  A person has a number of shirts.  It really bugs me when editors miss such glaring grammatical errors.

If I hadn't received this as a review copy, I would have given up.  Thankfully, it didn't take too much time to read.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Erebos, by Ursula Poznanski

Barnes & Noble

An intelligent computer game with a disturbing agenda.

When 16-year-old Nick receives a package containing the mysterious computer game Erebos, he wonders if it will explain the behavior of his classmates, who have been secretive lately. Players of the game must obey strict rules: always play alone, never talk about the game, and never tell anyone your nickname.

Curious, Nick joins the game and quickly becomes addicted. But Erebos knows a lot about the players and begins to manipulate their lives. When it sends Nick on a deadly assignment, he refuses and is banished from the game.

Now unable to play, Nick turns to a friend for help in finding out who controls the game. The two set off on a dangerous mission in which the border between reality and the virtual world begins to blur.

This utterly convincing and suspenseful thriller originated in Germany, where it has become a runaway bestseller.

What happens when the coolest, most secretive, most desired role-playing video game turns out to be something else?

I love the world that Poznanski created -- both the "real" world and the virtual. Gamers will recognize the importance of selecting a on-line self's characteristics. Those of us who aren't all that interested in video games, however, might not think it's terribly interesting.

This is an excellent book for pre-teen and young teen gamers. My husband would have loved this when he was a kid; he may even love it now. One thing's for sure: I can't wait to buy it for my nearly-13-year-old godson.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Review: The Book of Blood and Shadow

The Book of Blood and Shadow
The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

My rating: 0 of 5 stars

I couldn't even get through a fifth of this book. It was such a slow-moving story. I love the premise, so I'm just going to read the spoilers to find out what happened.

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Just One Day, by Gayle Forman

Barnes & Noble

A breathtaking journey toward self-discovery and true love, from the author of If I Stay. 

When sheltered American good girl Allyson "LuLu" Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.

4.5 stars.

The teenager in me--the one who traveled around Europe and spent a year studying in Paris--is thrilled at Allyson's spontaneous decision to take the train to France.  Yes!  Go visit the City of Lights for a day and marvel at All Things French!  The mother in me--the one who doesn't even WANT to think about her daughter participating in some of the activities that she did--is horrified.  Don't you dare get on that train, young lady!  What on earth are you thinking?

At one point during Allyson's and Willem's day in Paris, I was reminded of how much the French like a good story.  If you tell them a sob story, or a tall tale, or speak of a whirlwind romance, they are putty in your hands!  Always--ALWAYS--have a juicy story in your back pocket when you are in France.  You never know when you'll need one!

Neither Allyson nor Willem is perfect, which makes them all the more real; Allyson is rather naïve and Willem's kind of a dick.

Oh, teenage depression, I know you well.  I really connected with Allyson.  I know how hard it is to go away to college suffering from depression; everything just gets worse.  I love how she grew up and found herself over the following year. 

I can't wait until Just One Year--Willem's story--comes out later this year!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Monster, by Walter Dean Myers

Barnes & Noble

FADE IN: INTERIOR COURT. A guard sits at a desk behind STEVE. KATHY O’BRIEN, STEVE’s lawyer, is all business as she talks to STEVE.
Let me make sure you understand what’s going on. Both you and this King character are on trial for felony murder. Felony murder is as serious as it gets….When you’re in court, you sit there and pay attention. You let the jury know that you think the case is as serious as they do….
You think we’re going to win?
O’BRIEN (seriously)
It probably depends on what you mean by “win.”

I was left terribly unsatisfied by this novel. It's won a handful of awards, so I was expecting to be wowed.

But I felt very lukewarm toward the storyline throughout the entire book. I just didn't care about any of it.

I was intrigued by the story being told in the form of a movie, but I ended up not liking it.

Not something I'd recommend to anyone.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares, by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Barnes & Noble

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the
New York Times bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

This was such a cute book!

An emo boy named Dash finds a red moleskin notebook tucked in between copies of his favorite book at his favorite bookstore. He is sent on a treasure hunt within the store with final instructions to return the moleskin to the information desk. And thus starts the written interaction between Dash and Lily.

As they trade details about their lives and send each other on trips across NYC, they learn about themselves as much as they learn about each other. And some lessons are hard to learn. I cringed when Lily made a bad choice one evening, and my heart sank when Dash made one, too.

But since this is a light, fluffy read, you don't have to worry! Our two protagonists have grown up enough and have completed enough dares that they can work things out.

The ending is sweet and I was sad when it was over.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Barnes & Noble

January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

I am a fool. A complete and utter idiot.

I wasn't sure I wanted to read this book because it had such a silly title.

Yeah, I know. I'm kicking myself. I mean, this is possibly the MOST perfect book I have ever read.

I want to go to Guernsey. Right now. I want to play with Kit, walk with Dawsey, and wreak havoc with Isola. I want to know more about Elizabeth. And thumb my nose at Adelaide. And, of course, become BFFs with Juliet and Sydney.

The letters. Ohmygosh. I love how this novel was written: the reader learns everything through a series of letters from one character to another.

I was barely through the first few pages when I came across some new favorite quotes:

I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.
That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive - all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.
Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books
I am to cover the philosophical side of the debate and so far my only thought is that reading keeps you from going gaga

Total swoonage, people!

I don't know how I'm going to read or listen to another book right now.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Beautiful Bastard (Beautiful Bastard #1), by Christina Lauren

Barnes & Noble

An ambitious intern. A perfectionist executive. And a whole lot of name calling. Discover the story that garnered more than two million reads online.

Whip-smart, hardworking, and on her way to an MBA, Chloe Mills has only one problem: her boss, Bennett Ryan. He’s exacting, blunt, inconsiderate—and completely irresistible. A Beautiful Bastard.

Bennett has returned to Chicago from France to take a vital role in his family’s massive media business. He never expected that the assistant who’d been helping him from abroad was the gorgeous, innocently provocative—completely infuriating—creature he now has to see every day. Despite the rumors, he’s never been one for a workplace hookup. But Chloe’s so tempting he’s willing to bend the rules—or outright smash them—if it means he can have her. All over the office.

As their appetites for one another increase to a breaking point, Bennett and Chloe must decide exactly what they’re willing to lose in order to win each other. Originally only available online as
The Office by tby789—and garnering over two million reads on fan fiction sites—Beautiful Bastard has been extensively updated for re-release.

The Office is one of my favorite Twilight fanfics. And I'm a total hypocrite for reading it in its published form when I've been decrying FSoG.

Beautiful Bastard is well-written, but it still reads like fanfic. I imagined the characters as Edward, Bella, and the others, since I didn't see the type of character development that I usually read in original fiction.

The sex scenes were hot (whew!) and plentiful: most chapters have at least one sexcapade. A little over the top with simultaneous orgasms each and every time they bump uglies, but it is fiction. While the book isn't completely porn-without-plot, it's pretty clear that the sex is the focal point. If you're looking for a deep, meaningful novel, look elsewhere. But if you want to read some smutty goodness, this book fits the bill.

The ending was pretty abrupt: the first 3/4 of the book cover a period of one month; the last quarter spans three months. Some sort of transition would have been helpful. At the very least, the events should have been spread out into several chapters.

Would I have paid to read this? No, I wouldn't have. Not when I could go find a copy of the original fic online. The authors may have reworked the story--and thanked Stephenie Meyer and the fandom at the start of the book--but it's still very much a Twilight derivative.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Being Henry David, by Cal Armistead

Barnes & Noble

Seventeen-year-old "Hank" has found himself at Penn Station in New York City with no memory of anything --who he is, where he came from, why he's running away. His only possession is a worn copy of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. And so he becomes Henry David-or "Hank" and takes first to the streets, and then to the only destination he can think of--Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts.

Cal Armistead's remarkable debut novel is about a teen in search of himself. Hank begins to piece together recollections from his past. The only way Hank can discover his present is to face up to the realities of his grievous memories. He must come to terms with the tragedy of his past, to stop running, and to find his way home.

I can easily say that this is one of the best books I've read in the past few months. I really, really liked it!

Poor Hank -- he wakes up in a train station and has no idea who he is or how he got there. The only thing he has with him is an old book. As we begin our journey to find out just who he is, we meet homeless men, runaway kids, and a scary-ass drug dealer and his "associates."

Realizing that the book -- Walden, by Henry David Thoreau -- might be the only clue to his past, he catches a train to Concord, Massachusetts to learn more about transcendentalist author. I haven't read much about Thoreau or his works, so this was a great introduction.

Hank stays in Concord and makes friends, meets a very sweet girl, and -- finally -- figures out who he is and why he lost his memory. I really enjoyed trying to piece together what happened via Hank's flashbacks. It made the story that much more personal.

A beautifully-written, non-traditional coming-of-age novel.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

A Song for Bijou, by Josh Farrar

Barnes & Noble

Life for Alex Schrader has never involved girls. He goes to an all-boys prep school and spends most of his time goofing around with his friends. But all that changes the first time he meets Bijou Doucet, a Haitian girl recently relocated to Brooklyn after the earthquake-and he is determined to win her heart. For Bijou, change is the only constant, and she's surprised every day by how different life is in America, especially when a boy asks her out. Alex quickly learns that there are rules when it comes to girls-both in Haitian culture and with his own friends. And Bijou soon learns that she doesn't have to let go of her roots to find joy in her new life.

Told in alternating viewpoints against the vibrant backdrop of Haitian-American culture, Alex and Bijou take their first tender steps toward love in this heartwarming story.

Based on events post-Haitian earthquake, this book brings together Alex -- born and raised in Brooklyn, and Bijou -- recent émigrée who has come to live with her aunt and uncle in NYC.  Alex falls head-over-heels in love with Bijou the moment he sees her buying snacks at a convenience store.  Happily, he has an "in", since she attends the sister school of his own school.  And he just happens to be friends with her friends!  Their backgrounds and personal histories make it difficult for them to get to know each other, but they work to overcome the odds.

This was a really cute middle grade novel.  Alex is hilarious and I love how he swooned over girls in general and Bijou in particular.  He reminds me of my 13-year-old neighbor: sweet, funny, charming, and studious.

Bijou, on the other hand, didn't excite me much and I couldn't figure out why Alex was so enamored with her.  She was described as beautiful, which explains the initial attraction, but she wasn't given enough of a personality to make me swoon over their interactions.  I much preferred reading about Jou Jou, Bijou's older brother.  He was so lively and fun; someone I'd like to hang out with.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

The Girl in the Wall, by Daphne Benedis-Grab

Barnes & Noble

Ariel's birthday weekend looks to be the event of the season, with a private concert by rock star Hudson Winters on the grounds of her family's east coast estate, and all of Ariel's elite prep school friends in attendance. The only person who's dreading the party is Sera, Ariel's former best friend, whose father is forcing her to go. Sera has been the school pariah since she betrayed Ariel, and she now avoids Ariel and their former friends. Thrown together, Ariel and Sera can agree on one thing: this could be one very long night.

They have no idea just how right they are.

Only moments after the concert begins and the lights go down, thugs open fire on parents and schoolmates alike, in a plot against Ariel's father that quickly spins out of control. As the entire party is taken hostage, the girls are forced apart. Ariel escapes into the hidden tunnels in the family mansion, where she and Sera played as children. Only Sera, who forges an unlikely alliance with Hudson Winters, knows where her friend could be. As the industrial terrorist plot unravels and the death toll climbs, Ariel and Sera must recall the sisterhood that once sustained them as they try to save themselves and each other on the longest night of their lives.

When I first saw this book on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to read it.  I mean, look at that cover!  And what an awesome premise!

But that's where the awesomeness ended for me.

The action felt very forced.  As did the drama between the main characters and the "love" interest. 

Definitely disappointing.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Train in Winter: A Story of Resistance, Friendship, and Survival, by Caroline Moorehead

Barnes & Noble

They were the courageous women of the French Resistance. Their actions put them in the gravest danger. Their friendship would keep them strong. On an icy morning in Paris in January 1943, 230 French women resisters were rounded up from the Gestapo detention camps and sent on a train to Auschwitz--the only train, in the four years of German occupation, to take women of the resistance to a death camp. The youngest was a schoolgirl of 15, the eldest a farmer's wife of 68; among them were teachers, biochemists, sales girls, secretaries, housewives and university lecturers.

Caroline Moorehead's remarkable new book is the story of who these women were, how and why they joined the resistance, how they were captured and treated by the French police and the Gestapo, their journey to Auschwitz and their daily life in the death camps--and about what it was like for the 49 survivors when they returned to France. Six of the women were still alive in 2010 and able to tell their stories of the great affection and camaraderie that took hold among the group. They became friends, and it was precisely this friendship that kept so many of them alive.

Drawing on interviews with survivors and their families, on German, French and Polish archives, and on documents held by WW2 resistance organisations, A Train in Winter covers a harrowing part of history but is, ultimately, a portrait of ordinary people, of bravery and endurance, and of the particular qualities of female friendship.

I like to think of myself as the kind of person who would always do the right thing and fight for what I believe in. But after listening to A Train in Winter, I'm no longer as sure.

Am I willing to give up my life? The lives of my family? I don't know. But the women of the French Resistance did just that. They fought against the WWII Nazi occupation of Paris. They helped French Jews escape to the free Vichy government in the south. They were warned to stop their subversive activities, were arrested, and went right back to fighting. When they could have fled, they chose instead to stay. Only to be arrested again and eventually sent to labor and concentration camps.

Everyone knows the stories of what happened in those camps, so I won't go into them here. It was hard enough listening to the narrator describe the atrocities; I have no desire to write about them.

Suffice it to say, I don't think I would have been strong enough to survive. And not all of them did. Most of the women died of hunger or cold, or were killed by the Nazis. Those that were liberated at the end of the war were home, but were never free of their nightmares.

My only dislike? The first 35% of the book was full of names, which made it hard to figure out who was who, what they were doing, and how they related back to one another.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Confession #1

I had to unfriend someone today after she said that Fifty Shades is the best book she's ever read.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Oh, Dear. Boy Child is My Mini-Me.

DH and I are readers.  We are both introverted nerds and happily spend our evenings reading.  It's a rare night when we go to bed before midnight because we're too wrapped up in our respective novels.

When I was a kid, I frequently did the whole flashlight-under-the-covers thing so I could keep reading long after my parents said goodnight.

Super sneaky.

The other night, I caught my almost-five-year-old Boy Child with his bedroom light on, sitting in the middle of his room, reading.

At 10:00pm.

Two hours past his bedtime.

I have a lot to teach him about being stealthy.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Sneak (Swipe #2), by Evan Angler

Barnes & Noble

When Logan Langly backed out of getting the Mark and went on the run, no one thought he could survive on his own. Without the Mark, you can't buy food, go to the doctor, or use a tablet--you aren't even a citizen.  

But when he discovers that his sister is being held in a mysterious hidden prison named Acheron, Logan risks everything to travel through an underground network of the Markless to rescue her.  

Logan arrives only to find that Acheron holds more secrets than anyone could have guessed and that all his careful planning is worthless against a government that will do anything to gain absolute control.

It seems there is only one place to turn.  But can a banned book with whisper-thin pages and warnings about the real meaning of the Mark really hold the Answer?

There are two things I didn't realize about this book when I requested it from NetGalley:

1. It is the second book in a trilogy
2. It's Christian Fiction

The first problem was easy to solve: I simply read reviews of and spoilers about Swipe, the preceding book.

The second problem was a bit harder to deal with. Because I? Am an Atheist. How on earth was I going to be able to read and fairly review a book that I disagreed with on the most basic level? If it weren't for the fact that it's a galley, I wouldn't have given it a chance. I also have a personal challenge to read books that are outside of my comfort zone. And it's hard to get much more uncomfortable than this.

So imagine my surprise when I ended up really liking Sneak! Some of the references to Christianity irked me, but that wasn't exactly a shocker. I was actually more annoyed about all of these thirteen-year-old kids acting like adults. I read a lot of YA fiction, and some of the situations in this book just didn't ring true.

I would highly recommend this book to young Christian teens. Especially boys. It's a great plot with minimal violence, à la Percy Jackson. Just with a religious, rather than a mythological, spin.

Oh, and the way that Angler created Hell? Awesome.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta

Barnes & Noble

Francesca is stuck at St. Sebastians, a boys' school that's pretends it's coed by giving the girls their own bathroom.  Her only female companions are an ultra-feminist, a rumored slut, and an an impossibly dorky accordion player.

The boys are no better, from Thomas who specializes in musical burping to Will, the perpetually frowning, smug moron that Francesca can't seem to stop thinking about.

Then there's Francesca's mother, who always thinks she knows what's best for Francesca—until she is suddenly stricken with acute depression, leaving Francesca lost, alone, and without an inkling as to who she really is.

Simultaneously humorous, poignant, and impossible to put down, this is the story of a girl who must summon the strength to save her family, her social life and—hardest of all—herself.

Wow. I am totally in love with this book. I listened to the audiobook, and I feel like I could listen to the narrator talk forever. She has the most wonderful voice. And I do love Australian accents!

The story hit home for me, as my family has a long history with depression. So I know *exactly* what Francesca was going through at home: the fear and uncertainty; anger toward her parents; and the loneliness of not having anyone to talk to.

I laughed at so many points in the book. Of course, I can't remember any of them now, but it's really quite a humorous story for such a serious topic.

I didn't want the book to end! I wanted to hear more about Francesca and her friends.

Review: Up Dog

Up Dog
Up Dog by H.J. Hutchins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh, what fun naughty little puppies can have! Digging in the yard, making a mess, and getting all muddy! My 2-year-old loves this companion piece to [b:Up Cat|13449305|Up Cat|H.J. Hutchins||18970277].

Recommended for the two-and-under crowd.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

View all my reviews

Review: Up Cat

Up Cat
Up Cat by H.J. Hutchins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a very cute book about what a little cat gets "up" to all day. He jumps and plays and makes a mess! And finally lays down in the sun for a nap. My two-year-old liked this; my five-year-old wasn't interested.

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Muddled-Up Farm, by Mike Dumbleton

Muddled-Up Farm


My kids LOVE this book!

What happens when you get a cow that says meow and a cat that eats hay? Hilarity!  Those "silly aminals" are doing all the wrong things!

But wait! The farm inspector is coming and he'll fix everything. Or will he?

I have read this book countless times over the past week. It's a bit difficult to read on the iPad -- "No honey, don't touch the screen" -- so I will definitely be purchasing the published version when it's released.

 I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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Two and Twenty Dark Tales: Dark Retellings of Mother Goose Rhymes, by Nina Berry

In this anthology, 20 authors explore the dark and hidden meanings behind some of the most beloved Mother Goose nursery rhymes through short story retellings. The dark twists on classic tales range from exploring whether Jack truly fell or if Jill pushed him instead to why Humpty Dumpty, fragile and alone, sat atop so high of a wall.

It's hard to review compilations of short stories as the tales vary widely, both in content and tone.

There were a few excellent narratives, most notably Sing a Song of Sixpence, Clockwork, The Lion and the Unicorn: Part the First, and The Wish. Since The Lion and the Unicorn: Part the Second isn't included in the galley, I'm definitely going to read the final published version.

One thing in particular bothered me about most of the stories: a complete lack of subtlety. As a reader, I already know that these are nursery rhyme rewrites; it's part of the title and the rhymes are written at the start of each narrative (which is a very nice touch). So reading, for example, the words ring, Rosie, pocket, posies, and ashes in a re-telling of that verse seems like a cop-out. There were too many pieces written in such a way and they came across as very amateurish.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, by Kristin Levine

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had


Harry “Dit” Sims and Emma Walker are the unlikeliest of friends. Emma, the educated twelve-year-old daughter of Moundville’s new postmaster, is all wrong as far as Dit’s concerned. Dit was told the new postmaster would have a boy his same age, not a girl. But the rest of the town is more surprised by the Walker family’s color than whether Emma’s a boy or a girl. But that makes no difference to Dit’s mother. Her rule is to be nice to everyone, and before long, Dit’s glad about Mama’s rule. Emma’s not like anyone he’s ever known. Emma is the first person to ever listen to Dit.

Emma also makes Dit think, and about things he’s never given much thought to before, like why the colored kids and the white kids can’t go to school together. Soon Dit’s thinking about a lot more when Doc, who is black and the town barber, is accused of a terrible crime. Dit and Emma know he doesn’t deserve to be punished, and together they come up with a daring plan to save Doc from the unthinkable.

Set in 1917 in Moundville, Alabama, and inspired by the author’s family history, this is the poignant story of a brave friendship and the perils of small-town justice.

It took me quite some time to really get interested in this book. It's probably my fault, though: I was under the impression that the book centers around the "terrible crime" of which Doc is accused, but I was wrong. So I kept wondering when the big reveal was going to happen, and I was getting antsy.

There is no big reveal, my friends. It's a slow build-up to the enlightenment of Harry "Dit" Simms, a 12-year-old white boy living in South in the 1910s. I love the relationship between Dit and Emma Walker, the black daughter of the town's new Postmaster. I had to blink back tears a few times, especially toward the end, when I realized how special their friendship was.

I would recommend this to younger teens, especially as they study racism and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Lulu, by Corinne Demas


A young girl and her lovable dog, Lulu, are the best of friends. They play games together, explore their neighborhood, and even cuddle up to read bedtime stories each night.

Lulu is the best dog a girl could ever hope for, but when she grows older and gradually becomes weak, the little girl must face the sad possibility of losing her dear friend, and inevitably, cope with the death of her canine companion.

Though she is deeply saddened by Lulu's passing and misses her very much, over time the little girl discovers that the sweet memory of her beloved Lulu will live on forever... in her heart.

This book really helped my husband and me to explain the death of our dog to our two young kids. We were at a complete loss as to how to explain the concept of death without scaring (or scarring!) them.

It's a sad book, so don't be surprised if you end up crying. I sobbed big ugly tears.

My only problem with the book is when they get a new dog a few months later. Not because it's a bad decision, but because my kids have been hounding (no pun intended) us for a new dog ever since.