April 22, 2012

In My Mailbox (22)

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.

Wow! I have not done an IMM post since February 12th! I know I have purchased a lot of books since then, but since I stopped keeping up, I will just start anew now.

This week my mailbox includes not only tween and YA reads but also two adult reads that I am anxious to dig into since I love both writers.

Arrived from Amazon:

Alice the Brave , Alice in Lace, Outrageously Alice 

I love the Alice books, and while I read reviews that say by this stage her character has grown stagnant, I think tween readers will eat her up. My goal is to read all of them before the end of this year. Maybe I should make a ALICE CHALLENGE badge for myself. Either way, I'm almost through Alice the Brave and again, I just love her!

Downloaded from Audible

LOVE a great audiobook. I usually get them from the library and listen in the car, but Audible allows me to have them on my iPhone as well, so I listen while I walk/run/walk the dogs.

Purchased from B&N or Costco:

While I enjoy abusing my husband's discount at B&N, I've discovered that Costco has even better deals on their novels. You know what's even better? They've begun to have quite a few awesome YA titles as well.

Renegade Magic (S. Burgis) - looking forward to this sequel

Take a Bow (E. Eulberg) - absolutely love Eulberg's style, and I've already read this; can't wait to write the review

The Dovekeepers (A. Hoffman) - one of my favorite adult contemporary writers

The House of Velvet and Glass (K. Howe)  - cannot wait to dive into this; enjoyed her debut novel

Well, that's it! My first IMM post since February. I will try to be more diligent, especially since the school year is finally winding down, so I will have more time to dig into my mound of reads.

Happy reading to all!

April 21, 2012

Bring back Picnik!

Okay, I know this is not a reality, but still - I miss Picnik!

It had to be the easiest photo editing program I have ever used - and now I am searching for a replacement. Well guess what? None of them even compare to the ease that was Picnik.

I downloaded Adobe Photoshop today and have spent the last few hours playing with it, but I cannot figure it out. Nothing is labeled and the user manual takes forever to download.

Does anyone out there have a replacement for Picnik - PLEASE?!?!?

I can find websites that will allow me to frame a single picture, but I am struggling with finding one that makes a collage, a collage that I usually make for my IMM posts. This is where the true frustration lies. I've discovered just how challenged I truly am in the world of technology.

If you have a suggestion, I would love to hear it.


A Frustrated Technologically-Challeged in the World of Picture Editing Blogger

April 12, 2012

Review: How to Rock Braces and Glasses

The title of this novel really caught my attention - I mean, we all had that awkward growing period, right? No...just me?! Well let me tell you, when I was a tween, I did NOT rock glasses. I was fortunate enough not to have braces, but the glasses were enough torture. I'm not talking the cute ones you see today. I'm talking Sally Jesse Raphael glasses. And YES, I had a pair **shudders at the memory**. 
For those who have no clue of what I type, here is a reminder ------------------------------------------------->

Now you get me - imagine being a tween with THOSE glasses! Just sayin'.

But I digress...

Summary (from book jacket):

Super-stylish and uber-harsh, Kacey Simon is the social dictator of Marquette Middle School. She's BFFs with the prettiest girls, and she even hosts her own TV segment dispensing advice and the cold, hard truth to her classmates - whether they want to hear it or not.

But then an eye infection and a visit to the dentist leaves her with coke-bottle glasses, a mouth full of metal, and...a litthp. Dismissed by her popular friends, she falls so far down the social ladder she can barely see the top, even with her magnifying specs.

With nowhere to turn, Kacey has to hang with her nerdy neighbor and a boy who walks to the beat of his own drum - or rather, to the beat of the drummer in his band. Zander wants Kacey to be their singer, but she's determined to reclaim her throne. Will she climb back to the top? Or will she discover that hitting rock bottom kind of...rocks?

In her hilarious debut novel, Meg Haston tells the story of a mean girl who gets more than a new prescription for glasses - she gets a new perspective on life.

My thoughts:

An absolutely adorable novel.

Readers are introduced to Kacey Simon, the IT girl of her middle school. She is famous for her Simon Says segments, and while it seems to give her fame amongst her crowd, is it the way to help people?

Kacey is popular, she is beautiful, and she is talented. She also has a problem - can you guess what it is?

If you guessed braces and glasses, you get the prize. This combination leads to her social suicide, so to speak, and it turns out that friendship can be fickle.

While Kacey struggles with her new "self" and the blatant ousting from her own circle, she also discovers there is more to life than being Kacey Simon...like being in a band...but that does not mean she does not crave her old "scene" and will stop at nothing to re-claim her spot at the top of the middle school fame game.

Throughout the novel readers will fall in love with Kacey while she discovers her true self and what it really means to be a true friend.

With a cast of minor characters to sweeten the deal, re-living the braces and glasses era has never been so fun. Although, I was fortunate enough not to have braces - but glasses, oh yes I did. And they were not pretty, they were not cool, and thank goodness I did not have to have braces too.

Discover Kacey and her friends, and re-discover why you are so grateful to be done with that awkward tween age. OR...if you are a tween yourself, hop into the pages of the novel to discover that (1) you are not alone and (2) sometimes you trade in one thing and find several others.

April 8, 2012

Review: Born Wicked

I picked up this book because of the cover - it is gorgeous! I bought it after reading the summary and first chapter while standing at the table. I couldn't put it down.

This was worth the purchase!

Summary (from book jacket):

Everybody knows Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they’re witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship—or an early grave.

Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with only six months left to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word... especially after she finds her mother’s diary, uncovering a secret that could spell her family’s destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra.

If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren’t safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood—not even from each other.

My Thoughts:

First off – WOW! I loved every single page of this novel. There have been so many witchy series written that it is hard to impress me, but Spotswood did just that.

I applaud the author for making me feel involved in every element of this novel. This is neither a plot-driven novel nor a character-driven novel, it is reader driven (if that makes sense).

The plot of this novel is quite engaging. The world the author has created is a perfect storm brewing. Tensions are high as the reader anxiously waits to see who will be accused of witchery next – after all, there is a lot at stake for the Brotherhood. They are fighting to hold on to the power they currently have, and if the prophecy is true, it will tumble down. This is the reason the Cahill sisters are in danger at every moment, the reason they must keep their secret. They must be careful; they must trust no one but themselves. But how can they live life this way? This is what Spotswood explores in the novel – how to live a life without trust.

Readers will find themselves swept away in sisterhood, brotherhood, friendship, love, lust, and the list keeps going. There are elements of the plot that will engage readers more than others, but as a whole work, bravo!  

The characters themselves are well-developed. Readers will be left with questions, but those answers must wait. The author gives us just enough to feel satisfied at the end but anxiously awaiting more. By the novel’s end I could not believe it was the end.

Cate was my favorite character, and seeing as she is the heroine, this is not a surprise. But lately with series novels I’ve been finding myself enjoying the minor characters more than the heroine. I am pleased that this is not the case with this novel. I invested in her the most because I trusted her to keep my own secret, not just the secret of her sisters. I’m not sure what my secret is, but if I had one that could cost me my life, I would trust Cate to keep it.

The dynamic between Cate and her two sisters, Maura and Tess, is one of protection. The two youngers want to practice their magic, and they’re not as careful as they should be. It is Cate’s job to protect them, to remind them that they are in danger at every moment, but especially if anyone were to catch them practicing their magic. At no time is Cate bitter about assuming this role, but her middle sister, Maura is. Of the three, she is the one who does not want to live in the necessary constraints. She is the one is seems to be the most likely responsible for their downfall. But will this be the case? Sometimes the most obvious is not the answer.

The minor characters in the novel add just enough “flavor” to enhance Cate’s character. They are front and center, but with Cate on the page that take a back seat. They do not steal the spotlight from her – they make it glow brighter. While Finn is her true love interest, I did not find myself rooting for him. I was rooting for her childhood friend, Paul. They seemed to have more on-page chemistry for me, so I will be curious to see where Spotswood takes us with that particular path.

I loved every element of this novel. I do not have a single complaint, except that I have to wait for the second novel.

If you love a good witchy read, if you love series novels, you should add this to your list. If you have not ever delved into the world of witchy reads, let Born Wicked be your first.

April 2, 2012

Review: The Name of the Star

I follow Maureen Johnson on Twitter because her tweets are so clever. When I saw this on the B&N shelf, I picked it up because it's Maureen Johnson, which means it must be awesome, right? RIGHT!

Summary (from book jacket):

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it's the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city - gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific work of Jack the Ripper in the autumn of 1888.

Soon "Rippermania" takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was with her at the time, didn't notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, what is he planning to do about her?

In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

My Thoughts:

[Insert standing ovation] No, seriously. The last sentence above does not lie - I was on the edge of my seat for most of this novel. The level of suspense she creates had my heart pounding louder than Rory's after she discovered who the mysterious man really was.

The plot of this novel was clever and worth every word. Readers are thrust into modern London, and modern communication. The sensational coverage of "Rippermania" speaks the truth of the vulturistic nature of modern media and modern society. After all, this is about the re-creation of the Jack the Ripper murders, and many are having parties while awaiting news of the next victim. 

Johnson takes care with the pacing of the plot as well, building the suspense chapter by chapter, page by page, word by word. She reveals just enough to keep the reader wanting to turn the page without ruining what is to come. While I found elements of the plot predictable - I picked out the killer pretty quickly - I found that it helped ease the tension that she was building throughout. After all, I am a bit of a fraidy cat, so I need writers like Johnson to "take it easy" on me while reading, and she does just that without sacrificing the level of creepiness that needs to be present. This speaks volumes of her writing craft.

As far as characters, I loved all of them! The development of each one suited his/her level of involvement with the plot itself. There was not a single character that I felt should have been developed a bit more thoroughly. I loved our heroine, Rory, and her down-to-earth appeal, but for me it was the minor characters that stole the show. This book would not be what it is without them. It's rare that the minor characters play such an important role in a novel, but in this one they do. Maybe I shouldn't call them minor characters for this reason, but I will because they aren't the star. They just steal the limelight.

Of all the characters, I have to say the killer is my favorite. There was just something about this character that I really connected with - not because I'm homicidal and plan to re-create the vicious murders of people - but because Johnson allows readers to understand the motive. Sometimes when I read mystery novels, authors forget that readers are not only invested in the heroines of the novel but also the villains, and I am left hanging without understanding a true motive. I was invested in this villain for sure, and I appreciate that he/she is given a chance to come full circle before the novel's conclusion...or is he/she?

Overall, I recommend this novel to everyone who (1) likes a good mystery, (2) likes a good story, and (3) wants to be creeped out as he/she is exiting the gym in the dark after reading said novel (not that that happened to me).

Kudos to Maureen Johnson for not only enticing me into a well-done mystery but also for giving me a novel to discuss with my students while reading "Why We Crave Horror Movies" by Stephen King. He alludes to Jack the Ripper in the piece, and it's great to be able to grab onto a YA novel and say, "Now in this novel..." Anything that gets my kids to read for fun, on purpose, and like it makes me smile, and I am always looking for YA novels that connect with pieces I teach in order to prove to students that what I teach is important and relevant, not matter how hard they want to fight it.