October 23, 2012

'Middle Ground' Blog Tour: Review + Giveaway

I am so excited to be a part of the Middle Ground blog tour sponsored by The Readiacs for Katie Kacvinsky. 

Today I am hosting a review as well as a giveaway, so be sure to scroll down and enter for your chance to win awesome prizes. 

gorgeous cover!
Title and author: Middle Ground by Katie Kacvinsky 
Pages: 321 
Date: November 20, 2012 
ISBN: 9780547863368 
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin 
Source: Publisher

Summary (from book jacket):

For four weeks Maddie has been living in Los Angeles, trying to be good. But no matter how hard she tries, something inside her won’t be sated. She can’t live a life of half-truths and false pretenses. So one night, she says how she really feels.

That’s all it takes. One night, one bad decision, and Maddie is thrown into the place she fears the most: a detention center where she’s forced to undergo secretive treatment meant to quell her rebellious streak. The powers that be call it rehabilitation. Maddie calls it torture.

Alone, Maddie will not survive. But if she can find something to hold on to—an image of Justin, their love—maybe she can fight. And if she’s really lucky, maybe she’ll even win.

My Thoughts:

When I read Awaken last summer, I was in love with a world that is not unlike our own right now. The only difference is that society has not completely fled behind screens—but we are choosing self-isolation.

In this sequel Kacvinsky really brings it full circle. Readers will follow Maddie in her turmoil as she experiences what is really happening in the detention center, and how she fights for her survival. After all, no one who goes in comes out the same.

The one element of the novel I loved was the deeper evolution of Maddie’s character. In the first novel I felt as if she was not as developed as she could be, and I convinced myself that the author was holding back for a purpose—that purpose is revealed in this novel. In Awaken we are given a snapshot into Maddie’s home life, school life, and social life (or lack thereof). In this sequel we see her true transformation from a teen behind a screen to a teen fighting to stay a part of life and all it encompasses.

What struck me most about this novel is the pacing. The pacing for this one was a lot faster than the previous. In Awaken it took many chapters to finally get my heart beating and pages begging to be turned. For Middle Ground, it took no time at all. I wanted to know what would happen next in that detention center, but mostly I was craving Justin. His absence in this sequel was felt by me because as a reader, I am convinced that if Justin is on the page with Maddie, all will be well with her. His absence made me question it—much like Maddie—and made me see her true independence, the fact that she could and would survive on her own. But why should she when she has Justin? Because that is life—sometimes going it alone is the better option.

I will say this about the detention center: WOW! I mean really, truly, WOW! I was not prepared for all Maddie experienced. Many times during the novel I felt as if I was there with Maddie, trying to fight through the therapy, the nightmares, the depression. And that is all I am going to say about the detention center, because I am afraid I will ruin important plot points.

This sequel has it all: romantic love,  true friendship, absentee parents, tattle-tale brothers, detention centers...does it need anything more?

As far as sequels go, this one really worked. I will say this: re-read the final two chapters of Awaken before picking up Middle Ground just to refresh your memory of where Kacvinsky left us.

And now it is time for a giveaway—and who doesn’t love a good giveaway? 
a Rafflecopter giveaway 
All giveaway entries across the blog tour will be entered to win a grand prize: One (1) signed copy of Middle Ground and Maddie's Journal (US only) Seriously guys, this is awesome. I will contain my jealousy - GOOD LUCK TO ALL!

FYI: This is a continuation of the giveaway from the Oct. 19th post.

Happy Reading! 

October 19, 2012

Middle Ground Blog Tour: Interview with Mrs. Freeman + Giveaway

I am so excited to be a part of this blog tour for Middle Ground on behalf of The Readiacs and Katie Kacvinsky!  

For those that are not familiar with Kacvinsky's work, you need to be ASAP. 

Awaken was published last year, and next month its sequel, Middle Ground, will hit the shelves.

Middle Ground Summary (from Goodreads):

In this provocative cautionary tale for teens, the sequel to Awaken, seventeen-year-old Maddie’s rebellion against the digital-only life grows dangerous. Maddie is in Los Angeles, trying to stay out of trouble. But one night, a seemingly small act of defiance lands her in the place she fears the most: a detention center. Here, patients are reprogrammed to accept a digital existence. Maddie is now fighting for her mind, her soul, and her very life. Once again, Katie Kacvinsky paints a disturbing picture of our increasingly technology-based society.

On the blog today:

My interview with Maddie's mother, Mrs. Freeman. 

Welcome to Book 'Em! Mrs. Freeman. I know how busy you are and I appreciate your time.

1.  How did your school experience differ from that of Maddie’s experience with Digital School? 
Schools were becoming more dangerous when I was a teenager. They were overcrowded (about sixty or seventy kids in a classroom) and understaffed. I thought Digital School would be a good idea because there would be less distractions so kids could learn easier, and more resources available to them. 

2. How was Maddie as a child?

She was sweet and well behaved.  Her drama years didn’t hit until high school.

3. How was your own childhood different from Maddie’s?

It was drastically different. We didn’t have wallscreens in our rooms, and we played outside most of the time. We only went to school four days out of the week, so we had a lot of time to hang out with friends.

4. With the resistance, are you finding more and more difficult to support your husband in his efforts to hold on to Digital School?

I support my husband and I respect what he’s trying to do.

5.  What are your feelings on Maddie and Justin’s “relationship”?

*Sigh* I think it’s inevitable.  I doubt any mother wishes her daughter to date a rebel leader. I understand why Maddie cares about him, but if he could tone down his lifestyle a little bit, I’d be happy.

6.  Do you support your son’s decision to turn Maddie over to the LADC?

Joe is like his father.  He thinks logically.  He was trying to do what was right—he was trying to help Maddie. I don’t support what he did, but I also don’t blame him.

7.  How difficult do you find it to keep on a brave face knowing your daughter is in a DC?

I was worried sick every single day. My husband kept reminding me that the DC’s were safe, but I reminded him he had never actually visited one. I was the one that pushed him to go to the LADC.

8.  Do you support Maddie’s fight for humans need to step from behind the screen and have more human-to-human interaction?

I understand Maddie’s side.  I raised her to spend time off-line and socialize face-to-face.  I just didn’t expect her to take it to this extreme. 

The one thing that strikes me about Mrs. Freeman is that she seems to have a larger role behind the scenes, we just have not been exposed to it just yet. She is complacent in her home, but when it comes to Maddie, well...that's a bit of a different matter. Her answers above really give a feel for her - she wants to do what is right by both her husband and her daughter Maddie, but it seems as if there is no resolution. At least, not yet.

And now it is giveaway time - woot! Who doesn't love a giveaway?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

All giveaway entries across the blog tour will be entered to win a grand prize: One (1) signed copy of Middle Ground and Maddie's Journal (US only) Seriously guys, this is awesome. I will contain my jealousy - GOOD LUCK TO ALL!

And check back next week when I review Middle Ground. Can I include a "squee" in here because I loved it?!

Happy Reading!

October 14, 2012

Review: The Power of Poppy Pendle

I love the start of the fall - the smells, the sounds, the books. After all, it seems publishers hold on to witchy reads to release right at the season opens, making readers like me quite happy.

My first witchy read of the month is a children's novel that brings witchy to a new level - one that includes baking. Yes, you read that correctly. Baking

love this cover
Title & Author: The Power of Poppy Pendle by Natasha Lowe
Pages: 225 (266 if you include the awesome recipes)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781442446793

Summary (from book jacket):

Poppy Pendle was born on the floor of the Patisserie Marie Claire bakery in a little town of Potts Bottom. When, as an infant, Poppy unexpectedly performs her first bit of magic, her parents, Edith and Roger, know their dream has come true. Their daughter has inherited the family gift.

But as Poppy grows up she isn't as thrilled about her magic talents. Even though she was born into a long line of witches, has inherited the extraordinary gifts from famed Great-Grandmother Mable, and is enrolled at the exclusive Ruthersfield Academy, a school for witchcraft, she wants to be a great baker instead. Making yummy lemon cakes, buttery almond cookies, chocolate melt-aways, and caramel crunch cookies is Poppy's passion - and it makes her happy. Poppy Pendle has no choice but to take matters into her own hands. Whose life is it anyway? she asks.

Natasha Lowe's first novel is charming, effervescent, and wholly original. Let Poppy Pendle into your heart - you'll be glad you did!

Includes 10 kitchen-tested Poppy recipes and baking tips.

My thoughts:

I fell in love with Poppy the moment I started reading the novel. She was so endearing - and fastly became one of my favorite children's witch novels.

Poppy has her life planned out - she is going to open her own bakery. Baking is her life, her heart, her soul. While she was born with the extraordinary of witchcraft, it is not where her heart lies. But she is so good at it. Without truly trying she still succeeds at all she does at Ruthersfield Academy, except make friends. The other witches reject her because they do not understand why she loves baking so much, and why she does not love witchcraft.

Poppy does have one friend, Charlie, one who is not a witch and attends the local elementary school. But Poppy's parents do not approve of this friendship; after all, their daughter is a witch and should only play with other witches. How does Poppy make her parents understand that (1) she does not want to be a witch, (2) the other witches make fun of her, (3) baking is her passion, and (4) Charlie accepts her for who she is and what she loves? 

This is a tale of being true to one's self, and a cautionary tale to parents to allow their children to grow and follow their own passions, not that of the parents.

I really enjoyed the overall plot of the novel. I mean, witches and baking together? The author is really playing on the success other authors have had with baking novels (especially cupcake ones) as well as witchy reads and brings a nice spin on it. It's one of the reasons I really enjoyed the novel - it was different.

The character development was spot on, with the focus being on Poppy and allowing the minor characters to enhance the plot as well as her character. I thought her friend Charlie was a nice complement, and I found her parents a nice contrast to her as well. While I found her parents frustrating, I do not think this plot would have worked if the parents had been supportive of Poppy's love of baking. 

If you've read The Cupcake Diaries or It's Raining Cupcakes, you should definitely add this novel to your pile. Plus...it's October. You're reading pile should be full of witches, goblins, vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc. What a nice break from the traditional storytelling and enjoy a sweet, wonderful ten-year-old who rejects all she was born to do.

Have you read this novel? Do you have a favorite children's witchy read? Comment below and let me know.

Happy Reading!

October 13, 2012

Review: Zombies for Tweens?

Shopping at Barnes & Noble is a favorite past time for me. I get to browse shelves and discover books I might not otherwise find. These two tween zombies books fit that category.

First, let me say that if you have not read the Candy Apple books and/or the Bitten Apple books, you must do that. The Candy Apple books empower tween girls to always be themselves and trust in themselves. Bitten Apple books are age-appropriate paranormal novels, mostly dealing with vampires. The Bitten Apple books are a great way to properly introduce tweens into the paranormal category.

And now it looks like the Rotten Apple books are bringing zombies to tweenland, in an appropriate manner.

Title & Author: Mean Ghouls by Stacia Deutsch
Pages: 192
Publisher: Scholastic

Summary (from Goodreads):

 If Megan thought life at her new boarding school was going to be easy, she was dead wrong. All the students have the same mysterious virus--one that's slowly turning them all into zombies. The teachers at Zombie Academy are lifeless and the food stinks. Literally. And worst of all, the clique of popular mean girls who rule the school have already decided that Megan's dead to them.

All Megan wants is to get back to her old school and her old friends. But until a cure is found, she'll have to figure out how to survive middle school.

My thoughts:

The first tween zombie book I read, Mean Ghouls, opens with our heroine, Megan, having zombieitus and having to go to Zombie Academy, where so can be among her kind. Readers are treated to an undead world unlike their own, except in the realm of school. After all, the "mean girls" are everywhere, right? And if having zombieitus and having to deal with the "mean ghouls" isn't enough, now someone has stolen the cure.

Do you know what this novel reminded me of? Nancy Drew. Yep, you read that correctly. I felt the entire time as if I were in a Nancy Drew novel, sleuthing through the suspects and trying to figure out the crime. Except in this case we are dealing with zombies - and of course the symptoms that accompany being one. From the hilarity of dealing with the moaning to the rotten fruit/veggies the characters prefer to losing memory and having to constantly write everything down, readers are wrapped in a zombierific novel unlike any other.

Title & Author: Zombie Dog by Clare Hutton
Pages: 192
Publisher: Scholastic

Summary (from Goodreads):

Becky's family has moved right next door to the creepy, abandoned McNally house. Rumors fly around school about the ghosts and monsters that live there, and Becky isn't sure what to believe. Even her mischievous dog, Bear, stays away from it.

When Becky starts hearing mysterious howls coming from next door, paired with an awful smell, she starts to wonder if the rumors might be true. Snarls and glowing eyes confirm it--something is over there, and it's not happy. Worse, Becky's parents are blaming Bear for all the unexplained damage around their property. Can Becky stop this creature before it's too late?

My thoughts:

A super-cute zombie tale that is on the mild side. Inside of readers constantly being a part of the zombie world like Mean Ghouls, readers are a part of the living trying to solve a mystery: what is that smell and that noise? Could it possibly be a zombie?

Becky's neighborhood reminds me of my own - and of everyone's for that matter. After all, we all have that one house that everyone talks about but no one really knows the story behind.

Our main heroine is about to put all she knows and trusts to the test. She is slowly becoming estranged from her best friend because of the move, but she is also discovering new friends. This book deals with growing up just as much as it does zombies. Actually, zombies are a very small element of the story-telling. The author mostly builds the suspense with every creak, unknown howl, unknown smell. We are in the dark until the bitter end, and the author does a fantastic job wrapping up the story. Without revealing anything crucial, let me just say this: read this book. Get wrapped up in Becky's world and the mystery of the house next door.

I really enjoyed both of these novels. They were fun and easy to read. I am a bit of a scaredy cat, so for me to read a zombie book at night and feel secure is saying a lot. These are age-appropriate for tweens. There is nothing overly disgusting about them. And they are just a fun introduction into the world of zombies .

Have you read either of these two novels? Do you have a tween appropriate zombie tale to recommend? Comment below and let me know.

Happy Reading!

October 4, 2012

Bewitched October

For those who know me, you know there is nothing I love more than a good, witchy read. 

With it now being October, I think it's time I set aside my other reads and dedicate my time to my first love. 

My "Bewitched October" will be rife with great witchy mysteries, tween, and YA novels...as many as I can fit in. And I have two mascots to represent Team Witchy Read: witchy Hello Kitty and witchy Hello Kitty coffee mug. Because clearly I cannot have one without the other.  What are books without a steaming hot cup of coffee - or tea.

Watch for them to pop in here and there with the novels I am reading.

And do not be surprised if you see one of them make a guest appearance with giveaway novels. That's right - I am going to host a few giveaways of witchy reads this month, so stay tuned.

Happy Reading!

October 3, 2012

Celebrate the Freedom to Read

First, I want to say HAPPY BANNED BOOK WEEK to all! This is such an important week to readers because it is 100% about the freedom of choice – the choice to read. Most importantly, it is important that we continue to fight for this choice for all readers of all ages.

I am proud to work with Book Journey this week and host this novel as well as a giveaway.

When I read the tweet to help celebrate, I knew immediately what novel I wanted to recognize and host. At first I thought of Speak, but then I decided on this one because I am always being asked what books I recommend for male readers, especially reluctant ones, and I love this book that much and cannot believe it has been challenged.

Title and author: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Pages: 230
ISBN: 9780316013697
Source: Purchased

Summary (from book jacket):

Junior is a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation. Born with a variety of medical problems, he is picked on by everyone but his best friend. Determined to receive a good education, Junior leaves the rez to attend an all-white school in the neighboring farm town where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Despite being condemned as a traitor to his people and enduring great tragedies, Junior attacks life with wit and humor and discovers a strength inside of himself that he never knew existed.

Inspired by his own experiences growing up, award-winning author Sherman Alexie chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one unlucky boy trying to rise above the life everyone expects him to live.

My Thoughts:

Alexie knocks it out of the park with this novel. He introduces readers to Junior, a young boy who happens to be a walking miracle. He was born with water on his brain, too many teeth, huge feet, and awful eyesight. If that was not bad enough, he’s Native American too.

Throughout the novel, readers are brought into a world unlike any other in YA literature. Readers will experience Junior’s frustration at the lack of equality in education on the rez and will feel triumphant when he makes the decision to leave the rez for a better education, even if that means betraying the one he respects the most, his best friend.

Ultimately, this is a tale of survival. It’s hard to be a teenager, and when it seems that the world it out to “get you” in a variety of ways, it adds to the headache. 

But Junior keeps his head up, his hopes high, and his want for a better life center. From having a crush to fighting with a best friend to issues with teachers and family members, all readers will find themselves lost in the pages cheering for Junior.

Alexie's gift of storytelling is truly remarkable – he made me laugh and cry, many times simultaneously, and he warmed my heart. Throughout the novel I found myself rooting for Junior, no matter what it involved.

I want to share with you one of my favorite moments in the novel. It’s one I always share with my students when we study Alexie's essay, “Superman and Me.” To me, this captures not only the tone of Junior’s life but it also will always be relevant in society.

It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you’re poor because you’re stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian. And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor. It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor (13).

It is moments like these that make this worth your time. Alexie brings universal truths to the forefront, challenging “ideas” many are raised to believe. With absolute tender care, Alexie provides readers a look into what it truly is like to grow up not only poor in America but also Native American. Stereotypes are addressed as well as being a growing, teenage boy.

But more than anything, this is always a “go to” novel for me with students, especially male. I have not ever had a male student return the book and say he did not like it. Usually when I ask all that is said is, “Can you recommend another book I would like as well?”

Chris Crutcher enjoying BBW in Spokane
Guys, this is a sure-winner for your classroom library, with your students, with you. 

And if that doesn't convince you...check out the picture of fellow author Chris Crutcher reading from the novel. A big THANK YOU to Kelly Milner Halls, his personal assistant, for allowing me to share the love and post this picture of Crutcher.

I have read this novel and listened to it on audio – I recommend you do both. I recommend that you read the novel first. The cartoons that accompany are an important element, but once you’ve read it, it is worth a listen because Alexie is the reader.

Reasons given for banning this novel: 
  • offensive language
  • racism
  • religious viewpoint
  • sexually explicit
  • unsuited to age group
Want to learn more?

And now...it's GIVEAWAY time! Enter for your chance to win a copy of Sherman Alexie's YA novel below. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway