January 29, 2012

Love & Leftovers, a Love Story

Any book with a cover with Converse is going to be worthy of me grabbing, period. Add in a blurb by Lauren Myracle on the cover, and I am sold! 

No really, those are the real reasons I bought this novel. That and the fact that I want to add more lyrical writing to my reading list this year, but I do not regret a single moment spent reading this book.

Summary (from book jacket):
My wish is to fall cranium over Converse in dizzy daydream-worthy love. (If only it were that easy.)

Marcie has been dragged away from home for the summer--from Idaho to a family summerhouse in New Hampshire. She's left behind her friends, a group of freaks and geeks called the Leftovers, including her emo-rocker boyfriend, and her father.

By the time Labor Day rolls around, Marcie suspects this "summer vacation" has become permanent. She has to start a new school, and there she leaves behind her Leftover status when when a cute boy brings her breakfast and a new romance heats up. But understanding love, especially when you've watched your parents' affections end, is elusive. What does it feel like, really? Can you even know it until you've lost it?

Love & Leftovers is a beautifully written story of one girl's journey navigating family, friends, and love, and a compelling and sexy read that teens will gobble up whole.

My thoughts: 

There is nothing worse in high school than leaving behind those you love, people you have known your entire life - especially when you do not have a chance to say a proper good-bye. 

This is what happens to Marcie. She acts out, trying to find herself, trying to understand what just became of her life. After all, when it comes to divorce parents do not ask for the child's input, nor, does it seem, do they discuss the overall effect it will have on said child (or in this case, Marcie).

I loved every single page of this novel. I could not put it down. Marcie is a heroine to be reckoned with. Okay, that may be a bit hyperbolic, but so is her character. She is wild, she is normal, she is lonely, she is seeking approval. Most of all, she wants to be loved.

Tregay drew me in from the first page, and I wanted to keep turning those pages, rooting for Marcie to find love as well as a happy relationship with her mom. Readers will find themselves caught in the web of these pages, but they will not struggle to free themselves. Instead, they will allow the web to hold them, devour them, until the very last page. 

I enjoyed the plot, the writing style, and the characters. While Marcie is this novel's focus, it is the guys in the novel that bring it up to spice-worthy. Linus, the boyfriend left behind, will have readers' hearts beating for more as he brings a bit of "rock 'n roll" into Marcie's world. And then there is J.D., the one that will have readers' hearts beating for more as he helps Marcie discover that she likes (and needs) kisses that she feels on more than just her lips. But do not be deceived; this is not a novel about lust and sex. As a matter of fact, there is no sex in the novel, but there is a lot of kissing.

Marcie's struggle with the two boys in her life is one that reflects the real struggles of growing up. They add a "coming of age" element to the plot, helping Marcie find herself.

On a final note, this novel reminds me of another one that I recently read and enjoyed, Anna and the French Kiss. I think this lyrical work will appeal to the same type of reader, so be sure to add it to your list. It is worth every single word. 

Double - a mystery that will keep readers guessing

Title and author: Double by Jenny Valentine
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Pages: 256
Date: February 21, 2012
ISBN: 9781423147145
Source: NetGalley

Summary (from Goodreads):
When the sixteen-year-old runaway Chap is mistaken for a missing boy named Cassiel, his life changes dramatically. Chap takes on Cassiel’s identity, gaining the family and friends he’s always dreamed of having. But becoming someone else isn’t as easy as he hoped—and Chap isn’t the only one hiding a secret. As he teeters on the brink of discovery and begins to unravel the mystery behind Cassiel’s disappearance, Chap realizes that he’s in much deeper danger than he could have imagined. 

After all, you can’t just steal a life and expect to get away with it.

Award-winning author Jenny Valentine delivers an explosive mystery where dark secrets, betrayal, and loss pave the way for one teen’s chance at redemption.

My thoughts:

“Funny, the distant little roots of big and life-changing things, their humble beginnings. The phone call that causes a car crash, the delayed train that kicks off an affair, the whiskey shortage that turned me into nobody.”

What happened to Cassiel that his face is now on a missing flyer? Who is Chap, and why does he look a lot like Cassiel? This is the mystery that unfolds in Valentine’s new novel, Double.

First, let me say that as a whole, I enjoyed this novel. I did not love it, but I did enjoy it. The problem with reviewing a book like this is it is difficult to fully evaluate without ruining plot points, but I am going to try my best.

This novel seems to have a conflicted identity, much like our main character. It struggles between being plot-driven and character-driven. There are moments in the novel where the plot drives the action, and then it seems within pages Valentine switches and begins to have the characters drive the novel instead. For this reason, I struggled with reading it. Not because it was bad writing but because the book itself lacked its own identity. I believe this could have been solved with a third-person narration. For me, first person narration just did not work. It weakened the novel as a whole.

With that said, I want to start with the plot itself. It is an interesting idea – Chap, taking on Cassiel’s identity without really knowing who he really is. Many teens themselves struggle with the same thing – trying to figure out who they are in a society that wants them to be one thing while they strive to be someone else. For this reason I felt the author was clever because she creates this effect through the first-person narration, even if I did not prefer it.

The mystery of the novel is what kept me turning the page. I love a great mystery. I guess I am a closet mystery reader because I don’t really blog about it, but I love when an author keeps me guessing until the final page. That is what Valentine did with this novel. Though there were elements of the mystery that I felt were easily identifiable, there were a couple of pieces of the puzzle that I did not see coming.

For me the strength of the novel lies with the story of family: Chap and his grandfather as well as Cassiel and his family (mother Helen, sister Edie, brother Frank). I enjoyed how Valentine reminds readers of a very important fact: we all need one another, and many of us are willing to believe anything in order to survive. That is what I believe is the author’s underlying meaning, and that is why I enjoyed this novel.

January 15, 2012

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer - An Amazing Debut

I picked up this novel because of the cover. The contrast of it just drew me in. Once I read the description and saw that Cassandra Clare, Rachel Hawkins, Veronica Roth, and Beth Revis all had blurbs of support, I knew I was going to have to read this novel ASAP. 

I am glad I did - this novel grabbed me and did not let go. As a matter of fact, it still has a hold of me...a week later.

Summary (from jacket):
Mara Dyer doesn't think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there. It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can't remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed. There is.

She doesn't believe that after everything she's been through, she can fall in love. She's wrong.

My thoughts:

First let me say this book had me so creeped out that it took me a little longer to read it – and that’s a good thing. I did not want it to end – so I prolonged the story to allow my mind moments to absorb all that was happening, and it is a lot.

This is one of my favorite debut novels ever. Hodkin grabs a hold of the reader and does not let go. While the reader will try to unravel what is happening to Mara, it will not be worth the time. Just sit back and allow the plot to unfold. Just when I thought I knew what was happening, a curve ball was thrown my way. I love a book that keeps my guessing, until the very final word.

The plot of the novel is intriguing. Mara cannot remember what happened the night of the accident, and the reader discovers the truth as she does, giving readers a sense of ownership. This is not Mara’s story – this is our story because we are taking this journey with her, experiencing what she experiences, questioning what she questions. The pacing of this novel is what kept me turning the page (well, the plot and Noah, but I will get to him). The author is spot-on in her plot development, creating a sense of “truth” in the novel – even when we as readers cannot believe anything that is happening. After all, Mara is not the most trustworthy character. To have the story told from her point of view just increases the suspense, and it takes me to a quote from The Hunger Games: “Real, or not real?”

While this novel is plot driven, the characters enhance the overall effect. Mara is our main focus, but it is Noah that I love. Noah. Noah. Noah. As a reader I am still not 100% sold on whether or not he is trustworthy, which makes him so perfect for Mara. I found myself literally laughing aloud when Noah was on the page. The author gives him the best dialogue, and it is needed to help break the tension readers will experience with the plot. I am definitely curious to see where the author takes his character, and I hope it deals with a lot of make out scenes.

With that said, there are other important characters that are sprinkled throughout. Mara’s older, responsible brother Daniel seems to take on more than necessary when it comes to Mara. He is her rock, her key into keeping her ever-worrying parents at bay. I found his character refreshing. While he constantly worried about his sister, he was not overly annoying. He was tender and concerned, but he was Mara’s cheerleader. Then there is Joseph, Mara’s younger brother. He plays quite an important role in the novel that I did not see coming, and I cannot write anything more without ruining plot points. And then there are Mara’s parents. While in a lot of YA the parents are absent (which I usually prefer because they usually just get in the way), they are quite present in this novel. They are an integral element of Mara’s life, and not because she is a teenager in need of guidance. Again, I cannot write too much more without spoiling something important.

Are you still not sold on reading this novel? Well, there is an exclusive private school in Miami; a new best friend; unexplained sightings of dead people; a fight with an alligator; kidnappings; underhandedness; unexplained death; memory loss; hunt for the truth; love; romance; and that is just a small taste of what is waiting for you within the pages. This is going to be one of those novels that stick with me for a very long time. Definitely add this to your “I must read this today” pile if you are a reader of YA.

In My Mailbox (19)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme sponsored by The Story Siren.  This is a great way for bloggers to network and share what books they are reviewing, borrowing, and/or buying.

This week's mailbox is a small one, but I am excited nevertheless. Both books have received quite a bit of buzz on blogs and on Twitter, so I hope they live up to it.

Purchased from B&N:

Fracture by Megan Miranda - the book trailer alone gave me chills, so I am looking forward to adding to to my "mound" of reads 

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi - the cover alone drew me in, but I've read several blog posts and tweets of excitement, so I am going to add this to the top of my "mound"

So, that's it for this week. What was in your mailbox? Have you read either of these? Do you have a reading suggestion for me? Comment below.

Happy Reading!

January 8, 2012

In My Mailbox (18)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme sponsored by The Story Siren.  This is a great way for bloggers to network and share what books they are reviewing, borrowing, and/or buying.

This is my first post of the new year, and I realize it has been a while since I've done one. Oh life, why do you have to get in my way? 

Purchased from B&N:

Cupcakes Diaries: Emma on thin icing (book 3)
Cupcake Diaries: Alexis and the perfect icing (book 4)
Cupcake Diaries: Katie, batter up! (book 5)
This series is by Coco Simon. If you've not read them yet, you really should. They are all about friendship and staying true to oneself while growing up. They are perfect for your ten-year-old nervous about middle school

The Zombie Chasers: Sludgment Day by John Kloepfer
If you have not yet discovered this series, you should! It is perfect for that reluctant fourth grader in your life. The plot points are adorable and the illustrations are fun. Solidifies my position as TEAM ZOMBIE!

Love & Leftovers by Sarah Tregay
When I saw Lauren Myracle had a blurb on the cover, I knew I had to read it. If it's good enough for Myracle, it will be good enough for me! Plus, it is written in lyrical form, which I love.

Witch & Wizard: The Gift by James Patterson
I'm not a big fan of Patterson's writing, but I have read the first book. Now that this is in paperback, I decided to add it to my mound of reads. I just hope it's better than the first one, which was an okay read.
The Always War by Margaret Peterson Haddix 
This seems like it will be an interesting read. I hope this lives up to my expectation.

Those are the new reads I've added to my mound in the last week. What's in your mound? Have you read any of the above? Do you have other suggestions for me?
Happy Reading!

January 5, 2012

Noah Zarc, sci-fi for reluctant readers

Title and author: Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble by D. Robert Pease
Date: August 13, 2011
Publisher: Walking Stick Books
ISBN: 9780615524993
Source: Author

Summary (from Goodreads):

Noah lives for piloting spaceships through time, dodging killer robots and saving Earth’s animals from extinction. Life couldn’t be better. However, the twelve-year-old time traveler soon learns it could be a whole lot worse. His mom is abducted and taken to thirty-first century Mars; his dad becomes stranded in the Ice Age; and Noah is attacked at every turn by a foe bent on destroying a newly habitable, post-apocalyptic Earth.

Traveling through time in the family’s immense spaceship, Noah, a paraplegic from birth, must somehow care for the thousands of animals on board, while finding a way to rescue his parents. Along the way, he discovers his mother and father aren’t who he thought they were, and there is strength inside him he didn’t know he had.

My thoughts:

The plot of this novel is nicely developed with a pacing that will appeal to its core audience – tween boys. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, told from the perspective of twelve-year-old Noah. With the help of his brother Hamilton and sister Sam, Noah will take embark on a vital mission: to rescue their parents. Young readers will find themselves glued to the pages as Noah and his siblings begin the journey to save their father from the Ice Age and to rescue their kidnapped mother.

The strength of this novel lies with its main character, Noah. He is a paraplegic who never lets this hold him back. Readers will fall in love with his spirit, and many will find elements of themselves in him. As a matter of fact, young readers can learn a lot from his strength and determination. And what would a great story be without a trusty sidekick – his dog Obadiah.

While I am not a huge fan of sci-fi novels, I did enjoy this one. The author makes a strong showing, especially choosing to tell the story from Noah’s point of view. There are many messages presented in this novel – messages from not allowing disability to hold one back to our responsibility for protecting, not destroying, our planet to showing respect to all living things (in this case, animals). This modern re-telling of Noah’s Ark serves as a cautionary tale in a mild way.

I do have one suggestion – create a starting chapter that lures readers into the world of Noah instead of thrusting us into a world we know nothing about. This was the greatest weakness; there were too many things to try to figure out in that one chapter. But for many young readers, an opening like this might be more appealing.

January 2, 2012

Wither Did Not Wilt

Summary (from book jacket):

Thanks to modern science, every newborn has become a ticking time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden’s genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden’s eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant she is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.

My Thoughts:

Wither was not what I was expecting, it was better.

The author thrusts readers into the future, a world where life ends at such a ripe age. Because of this new world, drastic measures have been taken – girls are kidnapped and placed into marriage in order to keep up the population until an antidote can be found. While it is a glimpse into the future, the ways of this novel’s world clearly reflect the world’s past. It is this world that will keep readers engaged, turning the page to see where the author will lead us next.

The character focus in this novel is on Rhine and her want, her need, for escape from her husband, from this life that has been forced on her. Readers enter the world with her, from the moment she is taken to the moment she is prepared to walk down the aisle to…well, I will not spoil it for you.

What is fascinating about Rhine’s character is that she is a plotter, not a girl of action. She waits, she watches, she plots for escape. She wins over the favor of her new husband and her sister wives, and while Rhine is forced into marriage with Linden, it is his character that I carried the most sympathy for. I cannot say more without revealing plot points, but let me just say that the author was really tugging at my heart strings with him. He and Rhine have more in common than Rhine wants to admit, and I hope to see his character in the sequel.

While the focus is on Rhine, the heart of the novel is her relationship with her sister wives – Jenna and Cecily. This bond of “sister wiveshood” is unique. Upon Rhine’s arrival the last thing on her mind is these two other brides, but by novel’s end we see a change. It is in these relationships that readers will learn who Rhine really is and what motivates her. It is this bond that will develop Rhine’s character deeper, offering readers an understanding as to what true sacrifice looks like, at least in Rhine’s world.

I found the plot was nicely paced, especially for a debut. Sometimes debut novels are a bit slow to the start and make a mad dash to the finish, but Wither is not like that. This book thrusts readers right in from page one and holds on tight until the finish.

There were many questions I had while reading this novel and the author did answer quite a few. There are others that remain unanswered, so I am anxious to know if those questions are answered. I read a few reviews where unanswered questions bothered the reader, but let me say this: not questions can be answered. I learned this from reading what JK Rowling had to say about unanswered questions with her series. Sometimes those questions are not answered because they are not truly important to the plot. Readers feel those questions are important while the writer does not. I will be curious to see if the author satisfies those readers with her sequel, or if those questions will still be unresolved. Either way, I really enjoyed the novel, and I highly recommend it to lovers of YA and lovers of dystopia.