July 31, 2013

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

Description: In the beginning, there's a boy standing in the trees . . . .

Clara Gardner has recently learned that she's part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn't easy.

Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place—and out of place at the same time. Because there's another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara's less angelic side.

As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she'd have to make—between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?

Unearthly is a moving tale of love and fate, and the struggle between following the rules and following your heart.

My Review: I don't typically read a lot of books with angels as characters, but Unearthly was highly recommended by readers I trust, so I'm glad I finally gave it a shot during the Radical Read-along!

I really liked Clara. Even though she was an angel blood, she still acted like a normal teenager. She had a great sense of humor and still had her awkward moments even with all her amazing angel abilities. 

I'm not a huge fan of love triangles in books, and for a while I wasn't really favoring either Christian or Tucker. But later on in the book we got to know both characters much better and found out a secret one of them was hiding, and the love triangle became WAY more interesting. I'll be looking forward to seeing how everything goes romantically in the next book in the series. 

While the romance aspect was a big part of the book, it wasn't the entire focus of the story. It was interesting to watch Clara's relationship with her mom grow and change as she grew closer to discovering her purpose. (And can I just say that I loved that Clara was the hero of the story! Yay for strong female characters that don't need to be saved by a boy.) 

The main conflict was resolved, but there were still plenty of questions left unanswered at the end, so I'm looking forward to reading Hallowed. If you're hesitant about reading paranormal/angel stories, I urge you to give this one a try! It's a well written story with great characters, and it's a great start to a series. 

July 30, 2013

Radical Read-along: Day 5 Discussion

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My thoughts on Chapters 19-22 of Unearthly (spoilers!): 

Um, wow! Those last four chapters were jam-packed with action. The scene with the Black Wing was intense. I'm curious to learn more about how he was connected to Clara's mom. Maybe that will be revealed in future books. 

I was surprised that Christian turned out to be an angel blood (although I suppose his name should have been a big clue!). I wonder how Clara's relationship with Tucker will change now that she knows why she feels so connected to Christian. The love triangle just got a lot more interesting. 

I'll post my Unearthly review separately so I can take out any spoilers.

I haven't read any descriptions for Hallowed yet because I didn't want to be spoiled, but I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.

Dirty Little Secret by Jennifer Echols

I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley. 

Description: Bailey wasn't always a wild child and the black sheep of her family. She used to play fiddle and tour the music circuit with her sister, Julie, who sang and played guitar. That ended when country music execs swooped in and signed Julie to a solo deal. Never mind that Julie and Bailey were a duet, or that Bailey was their songwriter. The music scouts wanted only Julie, and their parents were content to sit by and let her fulfill her dreams while Bailey’s were hushed away. Bailey has tried to numb the pain and disappointment over what could have been. And as Julie’s debut album is set to hit the charts, her parents get fed up with Bailey’s antics and ship her off to granddad’s house in Nashville. Playing fiddle in washed-up tribute groups at the mall, Bailey meets Sam, a handsome and oh-so-persuasive guitarist with his own band. He knows Bailey’s fiddle playing is just the thing his band needs to break into the industry. But this life has broken Bailey’s heart once before. She isn't sure she’s ready to let Sam take her there again…

My Review: First of all, let me just say that I adored the Nashville setting. I'm always on the lookout for books set in the Midwest (especially Indianapolis, Chicago, Louisville, and Nashville). Echols does a great job of bringing the setting to life, and I really felt like I was there with Bailey as she played gigs in Nashville. The setting alone was the main reason I chose to read this book, and it did not disappoint. 

I identified with Bailey's love of song-writing and her weakness for country boys who sing and play guitar. :) Sam was very frustrating though, and this kind of sums up how I felt about him: 

The characters were authentic, and their dialogue felt real. I found myself wrapped up in the story and burning through the pages. I liked the way it ended, but I think everything was tied up a little too quickly and neatly and I wish the book was longer! I really would have liked to see more of Bailey and Julie's interactions, too. 

I recommend this book if you're looking for a countrified love story with a protagonist who struggles to balance the pursuit of her dream career with her complicated family relationships. This is my first Jennifer Echols novel, and I plan to read more in the future. 

July 29, 2013

Bout of Books 8.0 Sign Up

Bout of Books

It's almost time for another Bout of Books readathon! I really enjoyed the last one, so I'm planning to participate again. Here's information on how to join: 

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 19th and runs through Sunday, August 25th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 8.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

Radical Read-along: Day 4 Discussion

Music Plus Books

My thoughts on Chapters 14-18 of Unearthly (spoilers!): 

Ok, guys, I'm warming up to Tucker! In these chapters we finally got to know him and to see a different side of him through Clara's eyes. I still like Christian too, so I'm kind of torn as to which team I should be rooting for. I guess as long as Clara is happy, I'll be happy as a reader.

I love the little comments Clara makes about her mom living through Prohibition or the Depression to explain her mom's behavior. It always makes me smile.

I'm really curious how this all ends and how all the details will come together as Clara fulfills her purpose with Christian--good thing we only have a few chapters left! 

Favorite quotes: 

He makes me feel normal, not in a plain Jane, nondescript way, but like I'm enough, just being me, without all the angel stuff. I almost start to cry thinking I'm going to lose that. - page 216

"What are you doing with Tucker Avery?"
"Fishing." We've spent the afternoon turning in slow circles on the lake, kissing, splashing each other, eating grapes and pretzels and turkey sandwiches, kissing some more, snuggling, tickling, laughing, oh yeah, some kissing, but in there somewhere was definitely fishing. I distinctly remember a fishing pole in my hands at some point during the day." - page 224

July 28, 2013

Arc August Sign-Up

Lately I've received a TON of great ARCs, mostly eBooks through NetGalley and Edelweiss. Many of them came from the School Library Journal Summer Teen online event. 

I had already planned to spend the month of August reading several of these ARCs and writing reviews. Then I came across the Arc August challenge over at Read.Sleep.Repeat. and knew I had to join in! Besides the satisfaction of reducing your TBR pile, there's a chance to win $20 to a bookstore of your choice. 

I hope to get through at least 10 books, if not more. Here are my top choices:
  1. Just One Year by Gayle Forman
  2. Time After Time by Tamara Ireland Stone
  3. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  4. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
  5. Reality Boy by A.S. King
  6. Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
  7. Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas
  8. The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle
  9. Wild Cards by Simone Elkeles
  10. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Radical Read-along: Day 3 Discussion and Team Wars Challenge

Music Plus Books

My thoughts on Chapters 10-13 of Unearthly (spoilers!):

I'm glad that Clara and Wendy made up, but I'm wondering how long Clara can keep her angel life a secret from Wendy. Sooner or later Wendy is going to figure out that something is going on! 

I was so glad that Clara asked Christian to prom. I would never have had the guts to do that myself at that age. I think Christian was a pretty good date, even though he did leave to take Kay home. I don't think he still has romantic feelings for Kay--I think he was just trying to be a nice guy and he felt guilty because he was the reason she was upset. 

I loved the flying scene. My favorite passage: 

"I'm flying", I whisper. I suddenly feel so incredibly light, relieved that I'm not going to die, high on adrenalinee and the pure thrill of feeling the cold air holding me, lifting me. It's the best feeling of my life, bar none. "I'm flying!" 

Of course, I'm not flying so much as coasting over the treetops like a hang glider or a freakishly large flying squirel. I think the birds in the area are dying laughing watching me try not to crash. So I'm not a natural, not some beautiful angelic being winging my way heavenward. But I haven't died yet, which I consider a plus. - page 169

Team Wars Challenge:

Hmmmm...I'm not feeling strongly either way, but I am leaning slightly toward favoring Christian. I think he's genuinely a nice guy, and he treats Clara well. He wasn't trying to blow her off after the prom; he was just trying to be friendly to Kay and make sure she was alright. That doesn't mean he's not interested in Clara. 

Tucker is growing on me, but I am not a fan of the immature way that he flirts. If you like a girl, don't pick on her. It kind of bugs that he calls her Carrot. 

I don't feel like we've really been given a chance to get to know Christian or Tucker well, so maybe my feelings will change later on. 

July 27, 2013

Radical Read-along: Day 2 Discussion and Dream Cast Challenge

Music Plus Books

My thoughts on Chapters 5-9 of Unearthly (spoilers!):

I had to laugh at the chair lift scene. Even though Clara is an angel-blood and has amazing abilities, she still has those awkward teenager moments.

I'm glad that Clara and Angela are starting to hang out more because Clara can find out details about angels that her mom isn't willing to share. But what if Angela turns out to have less than honorable intentions? Her dad is a Black Wing after all...I don't know. Also, I wish Clara wouldn't blow off Wendy. She seems really nice and I trust her more than Angela.

I kind of wish I could go back to school and take British History with their teacher. I love how he makes it fun and interesting.

Dream Cast Challenge: 

I'm terrible at casting because I don't always see the characters in my head in the way that they are described in the book. Anyway, here's who I picked!

Skylar Day as Clara

Mae Whitman as Angela

Chloe Moretz as Wendy

Finn Harries as Christian
(Ok, so he's not an actor. He's on YouTube. But this is my dream cast, so I can pick anyone, right?)

Brant Daugherty as Tucker 

Cody Christian as Jeffrey 

July 26, 2013

Radical Read-along: Day 1 Discussion and Cover Remake Challenge

Music Plus Books

Yesterday was the kickoff to the Radical Read-along! 

My thoughts on Chapters 1-4 of Unearthly (possible spoilers!):

I don’t read a lot of angel books, but this one was highly recommended by fellow librarians and bloggers. So far, I’m really enjoying it!

I’m curious about Clara’s “purpose” and want to learn more about her mom’s back story, too.

I like Clara as a character. She seems like a normal teenager and has a good sense of humor.

I am not a big fan of love triangles, but it seems like we’re gearing up for one. Sigh. So far I think I’m developing a little bit of a character crush on Christian based on the way Clara describes him.

Favorite quotes:

I looked at my reflection in the bedroom mirror.
“Okay,” I said. “Show me...the wings!”
“Faster than a speeding bullet!” I announced to the reflection, striking my best Superman pose. Then my smile in the mirror faded and the girl on the other side stared back at me skeptically. 
(page 57)

He constantly lingers at the edges of my mind--except for those disorienting moments when  he moves blindingly to center stage. (page 15)

He smiles again. Hot is really not an adequate enough word for this guy. He is crazy beautiful. And it’s more than his looks--the intentionally messy waves of his dark hair; the strong eyebrows that make his expression a bit serious, even when he smiles; his eyes, which I notice can look emerald in one light and hazel in another; the sweetly sculpted angles of his face; the curve of his full lips. I’ve been seeing him from the front for all of ten minutes total and already I’m obsessing about his lips. (page 42)

Cover Remake Challenge: 

Remixed from a Creative Commons image.
Original photo by Flickr user JanetR3

July 24, 2013

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

Narrated by Allie Gallerani
Published by Penguin Audio (2013)
Length: 11 hours, 25 minutes (Unabridged)

I received a review copy from the publisher via Audiobook Jukebox.

Description: Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough. Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo's sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.

Emaline's mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he's convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby? Emaline wants the moon and more, but how can she balance where she comes from with where she's going?

Sarah Dessen's devoted fans will welcome this story of romance, yearning, and, finally, empowerment. It could only happen in the summer.

My Review:

It's been a rainy spring/summer here, so I was definitely excited to pick up a beach read and live vicariously through the characters. When I started reading, I was immediately transported back to Colby (a familiar setting that I loved in Along for the Ride), a small beach town in tourist season.

What I love most about Dessen's novels are her strong characters and her realistic depictions of family relationships and friendships. I identified with Emaline and her confusion about where to go  and what to do after high school. The summer before college is such an interesting time in a person's life, and I love reading stories about it. This one was no exception! 

I normally swoon over the love interests in Dessen's novels, but for some reason I just wasn't feeling either Luke or Theo. I'm glad the book wasn't entirely focused on the romance angle. It was interesting to see Emaline work through family issues and ultimately choose to take her own path for the future.

I tend to gravitate toward the audio versions of Dessen's stories. The narrator's always do a fabulous job, and Gallerani is no exception. She sounded believable as an older teen and made Emaline's character come alive. The sound and production quality were excellent, and it was a pleasant listening experience. I will continue to listen to Sarah Dessen books (and also put the hardcovers on my shelf because they are just so pretty!).

July 22, 2013

Radical Read-along Sign-Up

Music Plus Books

Unearthly has been on my TBR list for a couple years now. I bought it with a gift card and then never got around to reading it because I am terrible at actually reading the books I buy (even the ones I'm excited about...I know, it's weird). Library books and review books always have deadlines for reading, so I tend to prioritize those and then I neglect what's on my own shelf or eReader. This year I've been trying to get in the habit of actually reading the books I own. Of the 93 I've read so far, 23 were books I previously purchased, so I'm making some progress.

Unearthly received all 4 or 5 star reviews from my friends and favorite bloggers, so I'm not sure why I haven't motivated myself to read it yet. It's rare that everyone I follow loves a book and agrees that it's awesome. So now I'm finally picking it up! I'm joining the Radical Readalong and will do my best to keep up with the daily reading and posts/challenges. 

Visit Downright Dystopian, Music Plus Books, or Rather Be Reading YA to learn all the read-along details and join in!

July 18, 2013

Link: Things You Should Know About Young Adult Fiction!

I'm not sure where I first came across this link (someone probably shared it on Twitter?), but I bookmarked it so I could go back and read it again. This list had me laughing and fist pumping because he really hits the nail on the head with some good reminders for those who write YA. I think many of the points also apply to readers and reviewers as well. I'll warn you that there's some cursing, but it just shows the writer's passion about the subject. :) 

Check it out! 

28 Things You Should Know About Young Adult Fiction by Chuck Wendig

I should probably read  one of Wendig's novels...I enjoyed his appearance on the Book Riot podcast, and then I read this awesome blog post. I'm auto approved for Under the Empyrean Sky on NetGalley, so maybe I'll give it a shot!

July 16, 2013

The Summer Reading Flowchart: Young Adult Books!

As a librarian and former high school teacher, I'm always on the lookout for great resources that will help young readers connect with books that actually interest them. (Plus, the nerdy side of me loves a good flowchart/infographic.) 

Teach.com shared this resource with me, and I wanted to share it with my readers as well. They've put together a fabulous summer reading flowchart for students (but it's great for adults who love YA, too). It features titles from a wide variety of genres that are both high quality AND high interest. There's something for every type of reader. I love that it helps readers pick out books based on what type of reading experience they are in the mood for. (In my experience, students will read a lot more if they get to decide what appeals to them rather than being forced to read something assigned to them.) Also, the flowchart has a cover image and a short description of the book, which makes it easy to quickly decide if the book is something they want to read or not. 

Check it out!


July 15, 2013

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher via NetGalley.

Description: From an award-winning author comes a wise and tender coming-of-age story about a nine-year-old girl who runs away from her Mississippi home in 1963, befriends a lonely woman suffering loss and abuse, and embarks on a life-changing roadtrip.

The summer of 1963 begins like any other for nine-year-old Starla Claudelle. Born to teenage parents in Mississippi, Starla is being raised by a strict paternal grandmother, Mamie, whose worst fear is that Starla will turn out like her mother. Starla hasn’t seen her momma since she was three, but is convinced that her mother will keep her promise to take Starla and her daddy to Nashville, where her mother hopes to become a famous singer—and that one day her family will be whole and perfect.

When Starla is grounded on the Fourth of July, she sneaks out to see the parade. After getting caught, Starla’s fear that Mamie will make good on her threats and send her to reform school cause her to panic and run away from home. Once out in the country, Starla is offered a ride by a black woman, Eula, who is traveling with a white baby. She happily accepts a ride, with the ultimate goal of reaching her mother in Nashville.

As the two unlikely companions make their long and sometimes dangerous journey, Starla’s eyes are opened to the harsh realities of 1963 southern segregation. Through talks with Eula, reconnecting with her parents, and encountering a series of surprising misadventures, Starla learns to let go of long-held dreams and realizes family is forged from those who will sacrifice all for you, no matter if bound by blood or by the heart.

My Review: I was first drawn to this book by its gorgeous cover art, and then I noticed the author's name. Susan Crandall is a local author whose work I have enjoyed (Seeing Red was my first foray into romantic suspense, and I loved it!). Whistling Past the Graveyard appealed to me because I love coming of age stories set in the south, especially during the Civil Rights era. 

Starla's voice was strong and authentic, and the dialect fit well with the setting and time period. (I had to smile at all the humorous figures of speech as they reminded me of things my mom says: nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, madder than a hornet, etc.). I loved watching Starla grow as a character and learn difficult lessons about life, love, and family. And Eula's story was heartbreaking yet ultimately inspiring.

The plot was fast-moving, and full of suspenseful twists and turns. I wasn't quite sure how the characters were going to get themselves out of the messes they were in, but I thought the ending was perfect.

I recommend Whistling Past the Graveyard to fans of southern stories like The Secret Life of Bees, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, and The Help.

July 12, 2013

The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan

I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher via NetGalley. 

Description:Armed with a suitcase and an old laundry bag filled with clothes, Kasienka and her mother head for England. Life is lonely for Kasienka. At home her mother's heart is breaking and at school friends are scarce. But when someone special swims into her life, Kasienka learns that there might be more than one way for her to stay afloat.

The Weight of Water is a startlingly original piece of fiction; most simply a brilliant coming of age story, it also tackles the alienation experienced by many young immigrants. Moving, unsentimental and utterly page-turning, we meet and share the experiences of a remarkable girl who shows us how quiet courage prevails.

My Review: When I first requested this book, I didn’t realize was a novel in verse. I love novels in verse, so I was even more excited when I found out that this book is written in that format. Crossan told a moving story about an immigrant’s experience using  simple but powerful language. While this book only took about an hour to read, Kasienka’s story will stay with me for much longer. Her voice was strong, and I could really feel her loneliness and alienation as well as her courage and determination.The plot was engaging, and it explored issues with bullying and complicated family relationships. Despite some of the sad subject matter, I finished the book feeling hopeful and inspired. 

I know a lot of other readers are hesitant to pick up novels in verse, but don’t let the format deter you from picking up this beautifully written book! I can see why this debut novel ended up on the Carnegie Medal shortlist

July 9, 2013

Transcendence and Intuition by C.J. Omololu

Description: When a visit to the Tower of London triggers an overwhelmingly real vision of a beheading that occurred centuries before, Cole Ryan fears she is losing her mind. A mysterious boy, Griffon Hall, comes to her aid, but the intensity of their immediate connection seems to open the floodgate of memories even wider.

As their feelings grow, Griffon reveals their common bond as members of the Akhet—an elite group of people who can remember past lives and use their collected wisdom for the good of the world. But not all Akhet are altruistic, and a rogue is after Cole to avenge their shared past. Now in extreme danger, Cole must piece together clues from many lifetimes. What she finds could ruin her chance at a future with Griffon, but risking his love may be the only way to save them both.

Full of danger, romance, and intrigue, Transcendence breathes new life into a perpetually fascinating question: What would you do with another life to live?

My Review: This title first caught my eye at the library when I saw that awesome cover. Then I read the description, and I knew I had to read it! Lately I've been drawn to paranormal stories with a London setting. This story started out in London but quickly transitioned to San Francisco, which is another city I enjoy reading about. Other settings also came to life on the page as Cole regained memories of past lives in various places and times.

This story has interesting characters and a blend of mystery, action, and romance. Cole didn't know who to trust while she unravelled the secrets of her past lives and sensed connections with Griffon and Veronique. As she grew closer to learning the truth, she found herself in increasingly dangerous situations. Meanwhile, her relationship with Griffon grew more intense (and steamy!). 

In the end, the major conflict was resolved, but there are still questions that haven't been answered and mysterious characters who make you wonder what they're hiding. Transcendence was a great start to a paranormal YA series!

I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher via NetGalley.

"The best part about being Akhet is that you remember everything. The worst part is you forget nothing."  - from Intuition by C.J. Omololu

Description: As Cole begins to accept her new life as Akhet, someone who can remember flashes of her past lives, every new vision from her past lives helps explain who she is in this life. As her passion for Griffon grows, she learns to identify other Akhet around her, including Drew, the young self-made millionaire who reveals his startling connection to Cole-he was her husband in Elizabethan England and gave her the ankh necklace that has been returned to her after centuries in hiding. Drew's attentions are overwhelming as he insists that their connection in the past signals their future destiny together, but before she can decide who she truly loves, Cole must learn to harness her unique Akhet abilities if she is to ever understand her role in this strange new world.

My Review: I'm always nervous to read sequels because they often don't live up to the expectations I have after reading the first book. That was not the case with Intuition, however. It was another great paranormal story full of mystery, action, and romance. 

Intuition picked up right where the previous book left off. Cole needed to strengthen her unique ability to sense people's innermost emotions in order to further the Akhet mission.  This time it wasn't just Cole that found herself in danger--her best friend's life depended on her. 

Cole found herself drawn to Drew despite her feelings for Griffon. While I normally dislike love triangles in YA, I found this one really intriguing because of the past life connections Cole had with both Drew and Griffon. I really wasn't sure who Cole would choose, and I found myself drawn to both of the love interests in different ways. 

I'm not sure if there are any more books planned for this series, but I will read them if there are! I love these characters and this world that the author has created, and I'd definitely read more. 


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