Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review of Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Published: August 2009
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc

ISBN: 9780545123266
Available: Amazon

GoodReads Blurb:

Grace and Sam share a kinship so close they could be lovers or siblings. But they also share a problem. When the temperature slips towards freezing, Sam reverts to his wolf identity and must retreat into the woods to protect his pack. He worries that eventually his human side will fade away and he will left howling alone at the lonely moon. A stirring supernatural teen romance.


So, I have to start off by saying that the book blurb is absolutely horrible. Siblings? Really? And I'm supposed to find that attractive in a romance? Thank goodness there is no hint to that type of relationship between them in the actual book! 

There were some very strong points that had me loving the book so much that I was able to put aside the frustrating and over used YA scenarios. The first is Stiefvater's beautiful poetry. It's spread throughout the novel and truly captures the essence of what the characters are feeling and how their worlds are changing. The second is that, despite this riding the coat tails of Werewolf craze courtesy of the Twilight phenom, it was a unique take on werewolves. I didn't feel like I was having to read someone's version of Jacob's story. I was completely absorbed into Sam and Grace's lives. The final thing I loved (actually two things) is the cover and book trailer. Both are so beautiful. The cover isn't depressing, or try too hard, and the trailer gave me chills. although, it makes much more sense if you watch it after reading the book.

So what didn't I like? Well, here come the over used YA scenarios. Good girl meets bad boy, who really has a heart of gold and would die for her. Boy obsesses over girl that never notices him, until one day that randomly changes. Girl's parents are artsy and completely uninterested in her life, not even noticing that her boyfriend now lives with them. Girl and boy immediately (upon finally noticing the other) realize this is their soul mate. 

Like I said, lots of over used scenarios, but if you can get past that and simply enjoy the beautifully lyrical writing of Stiefvater this is a very enjoyable read. Make sure you go in with the knowledge that it is a trilogy and don't expect complete closure at the end of this one.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Review of Matched by Ally Condie

Matched by Ally Condie
Published: November 2010
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile

ISBN: 9780525423645
Available: Amazon 

Goodreads Blurb:

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

So, to start I loved this cover. It's what initially drew me to this book. Unlike so many of the books on the YA shelf, it's bright and has a clean feel to it. And the best part is that after reading the book, the cover makes even more sense.

There were parts of this book that I loved. The characters of Xander and Ky are perfect. They have distinct personalities and the world they live in really sets up when makes Xander desirable to Cassia, and why Ky is such a forbidden element in her world.

The world itself is interesting. Even though there were parts that seemed a bit too familiar to the dystopian genre, it managed to stand apart. There was a freshness to having the world not so dark, and depressing, while still maintaining a mysterious and ominous feel.

The one part that I didn't connect with was the character of Cassia. She's very wishy-washy and I just felt that she never truly took a stand in her love for Ky. She let Xander cover for her and Ky, all while letting him think she loved him. The only time I felt that she had any true strength was at the end, when she does make a choice.

I'm looking forward to the sequel, but am a bit worried that the strength that Cassia finally found near the end of the book will be lost for the sake of developing a love triangle. I don't mind triangles when they feel natural and are central to the development of the plot. Twilight is one of those examples where the love triangle is what keeps the reader interested (for the most part), not because you can't guess who Bella will end up with, but because her conflicted emotions seem genuine. Cassia's feelings for Xander just didn't develop enough for me to think that there could be a real love between them. But then again, maybe Ms. Condie will prove me wrong.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Interview with Jeanne Bannon, author of Invisible

I am so excited to have had the opportunity to interview Jeanne Bannon, author of the newly released YA paranormal novel Invisible.

Here's the book blurb for Invisible, followed by a Q&A with Jeanne:
Lola’s not pretty. Lola’s not popular. Lola wishes she could disappear … and then one day she does just that...

For seventeen-year-old Lola Savullo, life is a struggle. Born to funky parents who are more in than she could ever be, Lola’s dream of becoming a writer makes her an outsider even in her own home. Bullied and despised, Lola still has the support of her best pal Charlie and Grandma Rose.

Not only is she freakishly tall, Lola’s a big girl and when forced to wear a bathing suit at her summer job as a camp counselor, Lola’s only escape from deep embarrassment seems to be to literally vanish. Soon after, she discovers the roots of her new “ability”.

Slowly, with Charlie’s help, Lola learns to control the new super power. The possibilities are endless. Yet power can be abused, too…

Then, when tragedy strikes, Lola must summon her inner strength, both at home and at school. She has to stand up for herself, despite the temptations and possibilities of her newfound super power.

A coming-of-age story that will warm the heart.
Did you always want to be an author?

Yes, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write.

Tell us a bit about your novel

Invisible is about a 17-year-old girl named Lola. Lola is bullied at school and feels like she doesn’t fit in in her own family. She wishes she could disappear; blend into the wood work and one day, she does just that.

How did you come up with the idea for your novel?

In a small way, Lola’s story is my own. I was bullied in grades 7 and 8 after moving to a new neighbourhood and I know what it feels like to want to disappear. The story came to me out of the blue one day while I was at my daughter’s swimming lessons. I couldn’t wait to get home to write the outline. It only took four months to write!

If you got the chance to spend a day with any character from your books, who would it be and why?

It would be Grandma Rose, Lola’s beloved grandmother because I loved my grandmother very much and miss her like crazy. Besides, Grandma Rose is fun and artistic and very loving and kind.

What drew you to the YA paranormal genre?

The paranormal has been a part of my life for as far back as I can remember. I’ve seen ghosts and had several prophetic dreams. And I’m obsessed with the idea of where we go after our time here on the Earth is over. I think about this everyday. It’s as if I live with one foot already on the other side of this reality. So, writing about the paranormal comes naturally to me.

What do you hope readers will obtain from your book?

More than anything, I hope readers connect with my characters. The target audience is teenage girls, so I hope they learn that it doesn’t matter that high school is sometimes hard because kids can be mean. One day you’ll be done with it and you have to have plans and dreams for the future to keep you going.

Where do you like to do your writing?

I write in my bed on my laptop. It’s my favorite place to write and I love being in the sanctuary of my bedroom where the energy is calm and serene.

What are some of your favorite YA books or authors? Non-YA?

The only YA author I really like is Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games trilogy. I don’t really read a lot of YA and the funny thing is I don’t write in any of the genres of my favorite authors. My favorite authors are Betty Smith (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), John Irving and Stephen King.

Are there any books and stories that have influenced or stuck with you from your childhood or young-adulthood?

As a teen, I read a lot of Stephen King. I love all of his novels because he is a master of characterization. So, Mr. King was certainly an early influence.

Do you have any current projects? Can you tell us a bit about them? 

I’m trying to finish up Dark Angel, a paranormal thriller. It’s certainly not YA and I actually started it long before I began Invisible. I’m on the final edit and hope to be shopping it around shortly.

Where can we find you? 

Twitter: @JeanneBannon

Invisible is now available at Amazon!

More about Jeanne Bannon:

I’ve worked in the publishing industry for over twenty years. I started my career as a freelance journalist, then worked as an in-house editor for LexisNexis Canada and currently work as a freelance editor and writer.
I’ve had several short stories published and won first place in the Writes of Caledon Short Story Contest. My novels, The Barely Boy and Dark Angel were finalists in the 2010 and 2011 Strongest Start Contests. One of my short stories “Thom’s Journey” is part of an Anthology entitled A Visitor to Sandahl and is available at Amazon.com.

Invisible, my debut novel, is about a teenage girl who isn’t happy with herself and wishes she could disappear. And one day she does. Invisible is available on Amazon, Smashwords, and the Solstice Publishing website.

When not reading or writing, I enjoy being with my daughters, Nina and Sara and my husband, David. I’m also the proud mother of two fur babies, a sweet Miniature Schnauzer named Emily and Spencer, a rambunctious tabby, who can be a very bad boy.

Thank you so much Jeanne and I can't wait to start reading Invisible!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Zombie Review Week Coming in October!

I have often and freely admitted that I am a zombie addict. I will watch even the worst movies made if they have anything to do with zombies. So, it shouldn't be surprising that I am anxiously awaiting the return of The Walking Dead in October. I loved the graphic novels, but for me the show is even better, the characters more developed and the horror of what is happen more real.

My zombie reading though is sadly lacking. I've read Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth series and loved it. I've posted my review of the first book already, and am working on the other two. When I was offered the opportunity to review Super Zombie Juice Mega Bomb by MJA Ware I jumped at the chance (Look for it to coincide with the return of The Walking Dead). It seems like a completely different style and take on zombies than Ryan's work and I'm completely open to that.

The closer it gets to The Walking Dead return, the more I want zombies! So, I've decided to actually devote the entire week leading up to it with a review of YA zombie stories. If you know of a YA zombie book (or short story) that I should check out, drop a comment here, or if you're an author and would like me to review your YA zombie work email me! (My email is available through my profile page)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review of Not So Snow White by K. Sean Jennkrist

Not So Snow White by K. Sean Jennkrist
Publisher: Self-Published through CreateSpace
Published: August 2011

ISBN: 9781463551445
Available: Amazon

GoodReads Blurb:

Beware! This isn't your average fairytale ... Take one troubled teen, add some magic, a touch of romance, a few evil witches, and an elfin-sized sidekick named Duane, and you have NOT SO SNOW WHITE. "My name is Winter Snow and I have a secret." When her dad mysteriously disappeared, Winter couldn't help but be depressed, and she began to have strange experiences that caused many students to say she was a freak. Of course, with the voice of a tiny dwarflike creature she calls Duane and dream images of the future constantly invading her mind, who could blame them? Determined to bring her life back to normal, Winter decides finding her dad is the only solution. When a fairytale book on Snow White comes unexpectedly into her life, along with its owner, Lucinda Mayhem, events take a bizarre and witch-magical turn. Weird coincidences that tie the Mayhem and Snow families together somehow manage to bring Winter closer to finding her dad and to accepting her special gift in this teen modern-day fairytale. NOT SO SNOW WHITE is part of a series of modern fairytales that includes CINDERELLA GEEK.
*This review contains minor spoilers*

This could have been so much more than it was.

I purchased Not So Snow White because it sounded like it had an interesting twist on Snow White tale. Sadly, it was just okay. Typically I read a book straight through in one sitting, with this one I read it over a few nights and by the end I was nearly skimming the pages, which consisted of White being TOLD EVERYTHING all at once. I felt like there were so many questions that were brought up along the way with no answers until the last few pages when we get an info dump after a few paragraphs of action.

I liked the main character White, but I didn't entirely feel her. She just didn't seem to have any depth and her personality sort of flip flopped throughout the story. (view spoiler)What really got me was that at the end when she believes that she has forever lost the primary love interest she had the entire book, she is suddenly dating someone else. Almost as if the author realized that the teens picking up her book would want a happy ending. Uh, what was the point in even having a romantic element if it's going to be dropped like a hot potato without any emotional reaction? Fine, kill off the character but at least SHOW us a reaction.

There's a whole subplot line going on with the school bully. It seemed to be a lot of filler, and although it gave White an outlet for her magic, I just felt like it never went anywhere. I'm not sure if the point was to teach victims to fight back by getting even (which is what White does) or to teach them that a bully never stops (Since the bully doesn't stop). White's guardian elf seemed to be trying to teach White a lesson on not using her powers for revenge, but when you think she's learned her lesson, she does it again.

The drama teacher is also a mystery. As an educator (and yes, I'm stepping onto my soapbox), I wish that there were more accurate portrayals of teachers dealing with bullies. Here the teacher witnesses several instances of bullying, yet does nothing. Having students pick at each other or argue is one thing, but the blatant bullying that White and her friends are on the receiving end of is a lawsuit waiting to happen. It just made it frustrating for me, since I don't know a single teacher (I've worked with at least two hundred in my 11 years teaching) that would not respond to that type of bullying.

For me, I think this book didn't try hard enough to not be middle of the road. On one hand, it's not dark enough to make it suspenseful and on the other it's not light enough to make it a fun romp.

I love the concept of the modern fairytale with a twist, and had looked forward to buying her other book in this series, but now I'd definitely have to think hard on spending my money.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Review of Fallen by Lauren Kate

Fallen by Lauren Kate
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Published: December 2009

ISBN: 9780385738934
Available: Amazon, B&N

GoodReads Blurb:  

There’s something achingly familiar about Daniel Grigori.

Mysterious and aloof, he captures Luce Price’s attention from the moment she sees him on her first day at the Sword & Cross boarding school in sultry Savannah, Georgia. He’s the one bright spot in a place where cell phones are forbidden, the other students are all screw-ups, and security cameras watch every move.

Even though Daniel wants nothing to do with Luce–and goes out of his way to make that very clear–she can’t let it go. Drawn to him like a moth to a flame, she has to find out what Daniel is so desperate to keep secret . . . even if it kills her.

* This review may contain minor spoilers.

First, I have to say that I love the premise of this book. A fallen angel in love with a human. A human that just happens to burst into flames and die every time they kiss. What I really loved is that Luce is pretty much completely unaware of her past lives, even though there is something different this time around. Ms. Kate does a great job of making Luce normal, while unusual at the same time. I didn't feel like I was reading about Belle Swan with a different hair cut, even if Daniel was a bit too Edward for me. 

The love triangle was interesting, even though it's apparent that she will end up with Daniel, well not for her happily ever after yet, that will come possibly in the third or fourth book in the series. Cam (the other love interest), is a much more complex character than Daniel. While it becomes pretty obviously quickly that Daniel's motivated by the need to protect Luce at all cost, Cam's motives are much more hidden and even at the end of the book it's not clear what exactly he wants and why.

What really drew me to this book was the cover. And yes, I did judge the book by the cover, simply because this was a beautiful one. It spoke of a Gothic setting and a distraught, long haired heroine. Gothic, check. Distraught, check. Long hair...wait, long hair? What? Luce's hair is under discussion a number of times, her need to cut it after she was injured in a fire (prior to the book starting), and eventually coloring it blond. So what's up with the girl with long black hair? I have no idea, but I suppose it did its job.  

Overall, Fallen was a good read and I'll definitely read the next books in the series. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Review of Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Published: 2000

ISBN: 9780439488402
Available: Amazon

GoodReads blurb:

Stargirl. From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, the hallways hum with the murmur of “Stargirl, Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’s heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first.

Then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, panicked and desperate with love, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal. In this celebration of nonconformity, Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the perils of popularity and the thrill and inspiration of first love


The designation of this book as Young Adult or Middle Grade is a difficult one to define. It seems as if it should be YA simply due to the age of the characters and the high school setting, but the story itself is what to me makes it seem more middle grade. 

Stargirl is one of those people that many of us wish we could be. Completely free of inhibitions, unconcerned with the social hierarchy that is well established with schools. She simply didn't care that people thought she was strange. She was happy and did everything she could to make the people around her happy as well, and to make them feel special and loved.There were points where it was annoying. That she was simply too perfect an example of how being yourself will make people like you, as well as how it can make them revile you as well. 

Leo is a more believable character, although he's not especially likable throughout the much of the book, and considering it's told from his point of view, that's difficult. But I think it's intention that we don't really like Leo entirely, because Spinelli's intention is to show us ourselves. And sometimes that's not a pretty picture.

The black and whiteness of the story is what makes me see this as a book for a much younger audience. Teens that have experienced the true mundaneness of  high school may simply find it preachy, and unrealistic.  There's no way this girl would have been accepted by the popular group. And the non-popular characters are portrayed as craving that status. From my memories of high school, I could have cared less about anyone other than my own circle of friends.

I did enjoy the book and ultimately there is a good moral lesson, that I think would be better suited to pre-high school teens.