June 28, 2011

Princess Substitute as a possible career? Count me IN!

I first discovered Leavitt on the shelves of B&N with Princess for Hire, and she is quickly becoming one of my favorite children authors with this series. Her sequel, The Royal Treatment was an absolute delight to read.

Desi Bascomb is back as a princess substitute, advancing to Level Two at Facade. She is working on BEST (Betterment of Elite Sub Training) for her Level Two jobs; she is starring as Titania in the school's production of Midsummer Night's Dream; she is dealing with her crush for Karl; she is dealing with her mother coaching and helping her enemy, Celeste; and that's just the start. There is still Reed to consider. Reed, who is hands off because he is her best friend's crush. Reed, who is starring as Bottom alongside Desi. Reed, who seems to have a lot of acting experience and is full of advice. This novel turns into a mystery when Desi is on the hunt for how magic makes Facade work, and what should she do when the one she is substituting for has no plans to return?

The character of Desi has a lot of growth in this novel, as do the other characters. We learn a bit more about the workings of Facade and of Meredith, who oversees Desi's training and jobs. With a few surprise twists (okay, I saw one of them coming) sprinkled with allusions to Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe and topped with clever dialogue, The Princess for Hire series is one of my favorites. 

 A few of my favorite moments

"Who made up that expression anyway?" Kylee said. "Why is rolling in your grave bad?Maybe it means you're a zombie or something. If your acting creates a  Shakespeare zombie, I'd be all for that. Like, he could come on the stage during all his plays and be like...'Iambic pentameter...bad. Brains...good.'"

I picked up a bottle of Some Like It Hot nail polish. "This is great! It's like the perfect red."
"I prefer Swan Princess Pink."
 "You like Grace Kelly?"
"High Society is my favorite old movie." Meredith sighed. "Witty banter, a love triangle, snappy music. Plus, Frank Sinatra is an absolute dreamboat."
Kelly and Sinatra

She shook her head. "I don't know if I can. He's, like, a good-looking guy Medusa: I just 
freeze up when I see him."

Final thoughts

With a strong plot, strong characters, and strong writing, this is a must-read series for tweens, period. Tween girls will delight in the prospect that one day, while taking a bubble bath, they too might be invited to be a part of Facade and work as a princess substitute; otherwise, it's just a great, fun read.

Leavitt hits it out of the park for me with this novel, and I predict we will see a lot of great reads from her in the future. Right now, I'm looking forward to the final book in this series. If you have not read her YA novel, Sean Griswold's Head, you should. I review it here.

June 26, 2011

In My Mailbox (2)

The weekly In My Mailbox post is hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren. This is only my second week to participate, but I've enjoyed visiting other blogs and seeing what others are buying/receiving/checking out to read. 

This week's haul is quite small compared to the usual. As many of you know, I am a book-a-holic, so visiting the library and B&N are my favorite activities. With everything going on, however, this was quite a slow week.

Cupcake Diaries: Mia in the Mix - the first one was so cute that I had to give the second novel a shot

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - this one is generating a lot of buzz; people have told me they believe it to be the best YA book EVER; that is a tall order. I will have to read it to see if I agree.

That's it for me - what did you get this week? Anything you're really excited to read?

June 25, 2011

Time travel + strong characters = solid debut

Myra McEntire has a loyal following on Twitter, myself included. So I ticked down the days for her debut novel's publication, anxious to see how she tackles time travel in teen literature. I will say that the wait was worth it!

Book jacket summary
For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn't there: swooning Southern belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting Jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents' death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She's tried everything, but the visions keep coming back.

So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson's willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not change only her future, it may also change her past.

Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does it feel like an electric current runs through the room whenever he's around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should have happened?

My thoughts
Okay, first let me say this: I cannot believe this is a debut novel. There, I said it. Those were the first words I said to my husband when I finished this book. He was anxious to hear what I had to say because I would not move until I finished it. Now that I've got that off my chest, I would like to say "WOW!" I loved every page of this novel, I devoured them as fast as I could.

Here's why I loved this novel: (1) strong characters; (2) character chemistry; (3) well-developed plot; (4)  several plot twists at the end.

First, I want to address the characters. Emerson and Michael are great. Both of them have a vulnerability that solidifies their willingness to trust one another. I found that to be an endearing part of the novel. These two strangers have an unexplainable chemistry that sends shock waves through them (literally). Then there are Thomas and Dru, Emerson's brother and sister-in-law. I found myself really rooting for these two. They have a huge responsibility on their shoulders in taking care of Emerson, but they do so with love and tenderness. They are the types of guardians we all can want for our own children if something were to happen to us. And then McEntire sprinkles the novel with a lot of great supporting characters: Lily, Cat, Kaleb, Ava, Dune, Nate, and Liam (squee! My son's name is Liam). I'm leaving one out for a reason ;-)

This brings me to character chemistry throughout. I know that sounds odd for a book review, but it is true. As I was reading this novel, it played like a movie in my mind. There wasn't one character that just did not fit. They all were necessary to the plot, and they all meshed together well. The word-play off one another, the interaction between them, everything. These characters solidified the plot for me; they are what makes this book worth your time. Sometimes I read novels where it seems that something is out of place in relation to characters, but not here. 

Then there is the plot itself. I won't recap the plot again. I will just say that I loved it. I wasn't too sure how McEntire was going to deal with time travel, but it is clever. I enjoyed the way time travel happens in this novel. But do not be fooled; the book itself is not about time travel. Time travel is just a catalyst for the characters, enhancing the plot. It sets into motion the initial meeting between Emerson and Michael; it brings the other characters into the fold. The time travel is essential for the purpose of the characters, but it is not the heart. It is not what makes this novel a page turner. It is the entire package of the four elements I listed above.

I cannot comment on the several plot twists at the end of the novel. I will just say that I saw one of them coming but not the others. I love it when an author is able to surprise me in this way; surprises that I never would have guessed. 

I expect great things from McEntire in the future. She is going to make a huge impact on the writing world. If I am this enamored with her debut novel, what will happen when the next one comes out? I might have to start a McEntire fan club.

June 24, 2011

TGIF, hosted by GReads

GRead's question for this week's first TGIF: Where is your ideal place to take a summer vacation and get lost in a book?
I have so many places, but I will share two of my favorites. Answer #1: Salem, MA. I visited Salem ten July's ago and loved every moment of it. I went back this past October and fell in love all over again. This is one of my favorite places to visit and to get lost in a good book. 
100% yumminess
I find the atmosphere so relaxing and reader friendly. There are benches along the boardwalk, perfect spots to become mesmerized by the water while getting lost in a book.  And where else can you get chocolate chip pancakes that size?!?! 

Salem is surrounded by beautiful views - of the water, of historical sites, of parks. This is a great place to sit back, relax, vacation, and read. Take the ferry in to Boston to add almost two more hours of reading pleasure (an hour to and fro).
Many will pick a perfect spot on the beach as a vacation spot to read. But for me, I prefer to throw down a blanket in the middle of a historical city, lay back, and just enjoy the stories that unfold before me.
Answer #2: Washington, D.C. The reason for this answer is the same as the one for Salem. I love being surrounded by history, by parks, by culture. And where else to find all three of those things than in D.C.? 
A great, shady spot for reading
When you've visited all the museums your feet will allow, you can take a breather right there on the Mall. Find a shady tree, have a seat, and just relax with a great book. There are activities all around you, there are food vendors all around you, basically, everything is all around you. Plan an extra day to just lay in the park, soak up some rays, take in your surroundings, and dive into your book(s). Caution: do not bring just one book with you. You will have plenty of opportunity to read.    

June 21, 2011

Godmother - not the one you grew up with...

While browsing the YA section at B&N, I noticed that they've started a YA book club. Since I (1) love reading YA, (2) have started a YA book club for teachers, and (3) love talking with others about YA, I figured I should give this club a shot. This led me to the club's newest selection, Godmother.

This is not a novel I would usually read on my own. As a matter of fact, I have passed it up several times because the cover did not appeal to me. I know, I know, but I'm a cover shopper, what can I say. I am glad that I was "forced" into reading this novel because it was an interesting spin on Cinderella's tale.

Lil spends her days working in a used bookstore. She harbors a very important secret: she is really THE fairy godmother who was responsible for getting Cinderella to the ball; however, something goes terribly wrong, and Lil is punished - banished, thrown to Earth to live among the humans.

Lil spends the novel atoning for her mistake, one she is desperate to fix. Can Lil fix the mistake and get the princess-to-be to the ball before it is too late?

Turgeon takes on a classic tale and gives it a surprising ending. I like the narration style - back and forth between present time and that of when she was a fairy - but was not as pleased with the ending. I felt it needed just one more page to seal the deal for me. While this may seem a bit petty, you have to read the book to truly understand what I mean. I have a few unanswered questions, questions I feel could be answered by providing just one more page of text. 

With that said, I am interested in seeing what Turgeon does with Mermaids. She has a lot of potential as a force within YA fantasy tales.

June 20, 2011

Spotlight on: City of Bones

This novel was recommended to me by a male student, who donated three of the books to my classroom library. Since it is a hot teen read and I want to be a teen librarian, I decided that I better read the series. I absolutely love the world Cassandra Clare has created, and so I've decided to make it this week's Spotlight.

Clare's fantasy novel brings to readers a new world, a world full of demons, vampires, werewolves, and Shadowhunters. A Shadowhunter's job is simple - to kill demons.

We are introduced to Clary Fray, a typical fifteen-year-old, and her best friend Simon. Clary and Simon head out for a night of fun...but that quickly changes when Clary witnesses the impending death of a demon, something she should not be able to see as a mundane.

Clare's novel is fast-paced and action-packed. The reader will be surprised with where she chooses to take her characters, characters the reader will fall in love with and root for, making  City of Bones worth a re-visit.

June 19, 2011

In My Mailbox (1)

The weekly In My Mailbox post is hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren. This is my first week to participate, so I am curious to see how it goes. I've enjoyed visiting other blogs and seeing what others are buying/receiving/checking out to read. 
Here are nine books I've added to my In My Mound pile. A few are new releases and others are new to paperback and one is an e-book. Enjoy!

Godmother by Carolyn Turgeon - "The true story of Cinderella's fairy godmother." Love fractured tales. Reading this for the B&N YA book club on Tuesday, June 28th...come on down!

week of June 19, 2011
Tangled by Carolyn Mackler - "The good girl, the jock, the beautiful one, and the geek. Tangle them together, and the unexpected happens." - I'm thinking Breakfast Clubish, yeah. I love Mackler's writing style.

The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove by Lauren Kate - "deception, shame, and scandal with a few hints of Macbeth?" I'm in! 

Happyface by Stephen Emond - "Sometimes you've got to fake it to make it." Looked like something I could recommend to male students.   

Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter - "Katarina Bishop is making up her own rules." Cannot wait to read this sequel! 

Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky - "Maddie lives in a world where everything is done on the computer." Sound familiar? Cannot wait to read the many parallels to modern life and where we are headed.

Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari - "The world has ended...what comes next?" I love dystopia. Don wasn't blown away by this novel, but I want to give it a shot.

Hourglass by Myra McEntire - "One hour to rewrite the past..." Need I say more? A lot of buzz for this first-time author with a solid following on Twitter (myself included). 

Abandon by Meg Cabot - purchased this on my Nook because I loved Avalon High so much. Who am I kidding; I love ALL of her books!

Passion - for sure!

The one trend I see in YA publishing right now is series novels. Writers love writing them, publishers love publishing them, and teens love reading them. I too have found that I love series novels. I L-O-V-E them! 

Part of what is hot right now is paranormal romance, and Lauren Kate is a hot ticket writer for this genre. As a matter of fact, the only reason I read her novel was because I loved Becca Fitzpatrick's Hush, Hush so much (it was my introduction into paranormal romance). When I read Kate's Fallen, I wasn't too sure what I was going to get myself into, but what I found was an addiction to the story of Luce and Daniel and what brought these two "star-crossed lovers" together and what tears them apart (her death).

Kate's latest installment in this romance is Passion. In the third installment of this tale we find Luce going into the past to learn what makes her fall in love with Daniel and what makes her die. It is a clever undertaking as readers find themselves reading important parts of history. Kate even takes us to the day when the Angels fell from Heaven. The different settings in the past help pace the novel nicely with a strong plot development. As with her other novels, this too is a page turner. I mostly wanted to see where Luce would find herself after stepping out of her Announcer (her means of traveling through time) and how quickly Daniel could get to her, if he ever could.

Throughout the novel what we get is a growing of Luce's character - she is trying to understand who she is, who Daniel is, who they are together. With a predictable twist, which I still enjoyed, and a cliff-hanger ending, Kate has nicely set up her fourth and final installment in this love story: Rapture, coming in spring 2012. I think the title will speak for itself of what we should expect.

While I originally found the title a little misleading (I was expecting a bit more passion) with the story's conclusion it is clear to see that this title is fitting. What readers will realize throughout the pages of this book is that the love between Luce and Daniel is a "passionate" one, one that is deep within the soul, one that will be somewhat explained in this novel. For those who are wondering what revelations happen, you might be surprised. Kate gives us just enough to satisfy us until the next book, but there are still unanswered questions, questions I was hoping to get an answer to through Luce's travels. For those who have enjoyed her previous two novels, you will enjoy this one as well. If you have yet to read Fallen or Torment, you might want to before diving into this one, but it is worth it! You can read my review on her two previous novels.

Here is a great trailer that I found on YouTube for Passion - enjoy!

 video from RandomHouseAustralia

June 15, 2011

Okay for Now...or is he really?

I was hesitant to read this novel. I don't know why. I loved The Wednesday Wars, but there was something about this novel that turned me off. It could have been because B&N was pushing it hard in their stores, and they do not do that for all their books (hey, I'm a teacher; I like fairness). So, while spending time at the library I saw it and thought, "Why not?"

What a great coming of age novel rife with anger, angst, family, and friendship. Doug is a middle schooler who just wants to fit in and be normal. But Doug's life is anything but normal - his father is abusive, his oldest brother is returning from 'Nam, and his middle brother is being accused of thievery. To make matters worse, the principal is no fan of his; the PE teacher is no fan of his; actually, it seems none of the teachers are a fan of his (except one). These cause more than one headache in Doug's life in a new town. After all, it's hard to make friends and develop trust when everyone thinks your brother is a thief and that you are a skinny thug; however, Schmidt does not leave his audience without hope: he offers us a librarian, a playwright, and a girl who will open doors and change Doug's life forever, whether he likes it or not.

But through it all, Doug is able to gain trust and form friendships with just about everyone in town: Lil, classmates, teachers, and librarians. As a matter of fact, it is at the library that Doug really finds out who he is...someone worth it. This book exemplifies the adage that "it takes a village to raise a child."

This book would appeal to both girls and boys. It would be a great recommendation to all students, and it would be a great realistic historical novel to add to the reading curriculum. 

Now let me say this - when I first started reading the novel, I did not enjoy Doug as a character. I really thought he was too much of a "punk" for me to want to pull for...but then there is an incident in the novel that changed that for me. That's all I will say because I don't want to ruin any part of the storyline. BUT, if you start to read it and have the same feeling I did, hang in there. It is worth it.

June 6, 2011

These aren't your mama's Beauty Queens

The fifty contestant in the Miss Teen Dream Pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes to compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eye liner.

What's a beauty contestant to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program--or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan--or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Your tour guide? None other than Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again.

My Thoughts
There is a certain stigma attached to beauty queens. We all know it, and shows like Toddlers and Tiaras feed this stigma. When I heard Libba Bray had a new coming out I was excited; after all, I worship her Gemma Doyle trilogy.  When I heard the title, I thought, "Interesting topic for her to tackle." I was really curious to see where she was planning to take readers, and I was not at all prepared for the awesomeness that is this book. 

First, imagine a plane of fifty contestants for the Miss Teen Dream Pageant crashing on an island. The number quickly dwindles to just fourteen survivors. Now let your imagination take over. I'm sure it will still not take you where Bray does. Like it says above - there aren't your mama's beauty queens. These girls are thoughtful, resourceful; they have hopes and dreams like the average teen, but these girls can kick butt! If I have to be stranded on an island, I want these girls with me.

Do not be fooled; this book is not an attack on beauty queens. It is an attack on objectification and consumerism. This book is feminism on steroids (in a good way). The genius of this book comes through the dialogue; it is strong, witty, and original, playing on every stereotype of beauty queens to just shred them.  

A few of my favorite lines:

“Do you want to pray?” Mary Lou whispered.
“I’m Jewish. Not big on the Jesus.”
“Oh. I didn’t know they had any Jewish people in New Hampshire. You should make that one of your Fun Facts About Me!”

“I hate this place,” Tiara whimpered. “It’s super creepy. Like a haunted Chuck E. Cheese’s where the games all want to kill you and you never get your pizza.”

“Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can who they really are.”

“Isn’t it exciting?” Tiara said, grinning. “TV pirates!”
Brittani pouted, “I was still hoping for a vampire rescue.”

Adina appealed to the sky. “We asked for rescue and you sent us incompetent rock-star pirates with a broken shop and perfect abs?”

By far my favorite character was Taylor, AKA Miss Texas. At first she was unlikable for me, but Bray took her in a direction that I just loved. Of course, I enjoyed all of the characters. I thought they were all well-written, but Taylor just clicked for me.

There are quite a few messages in this book – presented in a not-so-subtle way – which made it even more enjoyable for me as a reader. I feel this book is more suited for higher-level thinking readers because of the satirical nature of the novel. I recommend it to adults who love YA and mature-thinking teens.

June 3, 2011

Saving humanity, one baked good at a time

I love a great story, especially one that involves cupcakes. When I saw this cover, I knew I had to buy this book. After all, how bad can a book about a girl who bakes be bad, right? So when I finished Divergent, I needed something a little more light-hearted. I thought this was the perfect choice. I was wrong. This story deals with raw realities, but in a light-hearted way, and it was worth every page.
Bauer creates a coming-of-age tale through twelve-year-old Foster McFee, a young girl coping with two things: the loss of her father and the fact that she cannot read. These two elements add to the charm of Foster's character, and Bauer handles them with honesty.
The book opens with Foster and her mother being chased out of Memphis by none other than Elvis. Okay, he's really an Elvis impersonator who drives a yellow Cadillac and whose horn plays "Jailhouse Rock." And so Bauer's tale begins, and the reader is brought into the world of Foster, her hopes, her dreams, her baking. As a matter of fact, baking cupcakes literally saves her from an escaped convict.
This book is a great reminder that we all have a talent and a path in life, not just one that involves academics. In Foster's case, her talent involves baking. She uses it to forge relationships with everyone she meets.

This book deals with several raw realities: illiteracy, domestic violence, loss of a parent, a town going under, an escaped convict (but only for a coupe of pages). But this book is not a downer, no way. It also deals with family, friendship, hopes, dreams, perseverance, renewal of spirit.

When your heart is ready to break, that's the perfect time to bake.

This would be a great book for all tweens, but be warned: reading this book could end with never-ending baking. All I can think about right now is baking and eating the perfect cupcake. 

I would also recommend this book to all teachers because Foster's character reminds us that issues such as reading are not the fault of the child; it is our job to help them learn how to cope with the anxieties of reading and to help foster the importance of reading as a skill, not a subject. 

June 2, 2011

Anyone who loves reading YA knows that right now dystopian novels are hot. Like the YA vampire novels, they will continue to grow and add to the genre for the next couple of years, and then we will start to see it tapering off. Until then, I am loving it! For me, there is nothing like a great dystopian novel.

Divergent is going to make a strong showing in the world of YA dystopian lit. Roth's debut novel really packs a punch, pun intended, and offers readers a typical dystopian novel; however, her strength lies in the pacing of the novel. I've read other reviews that complain that Roth spends too much of her plot on the training of initiates, but I disagree. I felt it was necessary to serve her purpose: set up the second book. 

A few things I love about this novel: female heroine; H-O-T male counterpart; fight scenes; trials of the mind, body, spirit; engaging plot. 

The overall plot is simple: stop "the man" from corrupting the utopian way of life that was developed to end corruption in the first place; however, there is more to the story than just that. The story itself is told from the viewpoint of a sixteen-year-old girl, Beatrice. Since she is at the ripe old age, she must decide which faction she will devote her life. Her choice sends shockwaves through the crowd, and through her. She soon discovers that there is more to her than she realized, leading to a nice coming-of-age development in the plot. 

But male readers, do not be fooled by the perspective of this sixteen-year-old girl. There is plenty there for you as well: blood, guts, and glory. Sometimes in that order and sometimes not. But overall, this is a novel that will appeal to readers of all ages and all sexes. That is the beauty of the book. As a matter of fact, I had my husband read it while I was reading another book. When I finished this one, we had a nice discussion about the many statements that Roth is making with this novel and where we think she will take it next. See, it becomes a conversational piece, quickly.

This is the type of book that I, as a teacher, would recommend to my students, especially reluctant readers. I think it engages the reader and keeps them wanting to turn the page for more. 

Now, if you love dystopian novels, here are a few others that I recommend as well:
      The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
      Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (really like this one)
     The Giver by Lois Lowery
     Matched by Ally Condie
     Wither by Lauren DeStefano
     Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld
     The Maze Runner by James Dashner
     Feed by M.T. Anderson
     Delirium by Lauren Oliver
     Candor by Pam Bachorz

Do you have a suggestion for a dystopian novel? List is below!