Saturday, September 21, 2013

Banned Books Week Hop!

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop!

In honor of Banned Books Week, I'm participating in a book giveaway hop hosted by Bookhounds and I Am A Reader, Not A Writer.

This year's Banned Books Week is September 22-28th. There's a lot of controversy about certain books and whether they are appropriate/not appropriate to be taught in school or even borrowed from a library. A lot of debate centers around censorship and what should/shouldn't be allowed. For more information you can check out the Banned Books Website.

You can also follow Banned Books Week on Facebook. To see what were the most challenged books of 2012, check out this article.

For my part, I'm participating in this hop as a way to raise awareness for Banned Books Week and I'm giving away some ARCs I picked up at the 2013 ALA conference in Chicago! You can also see a list of the other participating blogs at the bottom of this hop!

You can choose ONE of the following ARCs! 

The first book you can win is...
Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas!

*Sequel to Throne of Glass.

An assassin’s loyalties are always in doubt.
But her heart never wavers.

After a year of hard labor in the Salt Mines of Endovier, eighteen-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien has won the king's contest to become the new royal assassin. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown – a secret she hides from even her most intimate confidantes.

Keeping up the deadly charade—while pretending to do the king's bidding—will test her in frightening new ways, especially when she's given a task that could jeopardize everything she's come to care for. And there are far more dangerous forces gathering on the horizon -- forces that threaten to destroy her entire world, and will surely force Celaena to make a choice. 

Where do the assassin’s loyalties lie, and who is she most willing to fight for?

*Summary provided by Goodreads.

The second book is...
The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson!

*Third book in the Fire and Thorns series.

The epic conclusion to Rae Carson's Fire and Thorns trilogy. The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she's never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most.

*Summary provided by Goodreads.
The third option is...
Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher!

Dear Mr. S. Harris,

Ignore the blob of red in the top left corner. It's jam, not blood, though I don't think I need to tell you the difference. It wasn't your wife's jam the police found on your shoe. . . .

Zoe has an unconventional pen pal-Mr. Stuart Harris, a Texas Death Row inmate and convicted murderer. But then again, Zoe has an unconventional story to tell. A story about how she fell for two boys, betrayed one of them, and killed the other.

Hidden away in her backyard shed in the middle of the night with a jam sandwich in one hand and a pen in the other, Zoe gives a voice to her heart and her fears after months of silence. Mr. Harris may never respond to Zoe's letters, but at least somebody will know her story-somebody who knows what it's like to kill a person you love. Only through her unusual confession can Zoe hope to atone for her mistakes that have torn lives apart, and work to put her own life back together again.

Rising literary star Annabel Pitcher pens a captivating second novel, rich with her distinctive balance between humor and heart. Annabel explores the themes of first love, guilt, and grief, introducing a character with a witty voice and true emotional resonance. 

And the fourth book is...
Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel!

A warning to all young ladies of delicate breeding who wish to embark upon lives of adventure: Don't.

Sixteen-year-old Peggy is a well-bred orphan who is coerced into posing as a lady in waiting at the palace of King George I. Life is grand, until Peggy starts to suspect that the girl she's impersonating might have been murdered. Unless Peggy can discover the truth, she might be doomed to the same terrible fate. But in a court of shadows and intrigue, anyone could be a spy—perhaps even the handsome young artist with whom Peggy is falling in love...

History and mystery spark in this effervescent series debut.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Rules for this hop: to enter you need to follow this blog and also enter using the Rafflecopter above. The giveaway is open until September 28th at midnight. You must live in the US to win. I will only use the info collected to contact the winner.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Review #1619 Skippyjon Jones Cirque de Ole by Judy Schachner

Review: #1619
Book: Skippyjon Jones Cirque de Ole
Author: Judy Schachner
Rating: three stars (out of four)
Release date: Oct. 16, 2012
Publisher: Dial
Pages: 32

One thing I especially love about the Skippyjon Jones books is the rhyme and alliteration throughout! Schachner nails it by creating whimsical stories with delightfully amusing sentences and antics. She does a good job of incorporating Spanish words and allowing the context to illustrate their meaning. This story was wacky, as usual, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the wild and colorful pictures. Definitely a must-read for people who’ve enjoyed past Skippyjon Jones books. And I'm sure Cirque de Ole will delight new readers with its zany tales about wildly imaginative kittens.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Gated by Amy Christine Parker Blog Tour!

Review: #1615
Book: Gated
Author: Amy Christine Parker
Rating: two stars (out of four)
Release date: Aug. 6, 2013
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley

We have a special book review for you today! I'm part of the Gated Blog Tour! To see the other spots on the tour, check out this link

She thought the evil lived outside the walls.

She was wrong.

In the Community, life seems perfect. The members of this isolated suburban development have thrived under Pioneer, the charismatic leader who saved them from their sad, damaged lives.

Lyla Hamilton and her parents moved here following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, looking to escape the evil in the world. Now seventeen, Lyla knows certain facts are not to be questioned:

Pioneer is her leader.
Will is her Intended.
The end of the world is near.

Like Noah before him, Pioneer has been told of the imminent destruction of humanity. He says his chosen must arm themselves and prepare to fight off the unchosen people, who will surely seek refuge in the compound's underground fortress--the Silo.

Lyla loves her family and friends, but given the choice, she prefers painting to target practice. And lately she'd rather think about a certain boy outside the development than plan for married life in the Silo with Will. But as the end of days draws near, she will have to pick up a gun, take a side, and let everyone know where she stands.

Review: From the start, Gated does a good job of creating an interesting narrator who believes in her society and upbringing. I wasn't sure how well that would work since readers know she's in a cult and that her beliefs will be tested. But I found the story believable and I related to Lyla and her questions. I was intrigued to see how the premise would hold up once the story started getting "sticky" and the pace picked up.

For the most part, I read with equal parts fascination and grim horror. Especially because of the way Pioneer was leading this community. It's one of those books where you know something bad is lurking around the corner and you're sitting there, shoulders tense, mind wandering, thinking all sorts of horrible possibilities, knowing you're not going to like what's happening next, but still unable to put down the book. I so wanted to know what would happen. I wanted to see if all the crazy scenarios I was imagining in my head would actually come true. And in some cases, my crazy guesses were way off, but others were even scarier and I was blown away by some of the plot twists.

I liked Lyla and I thought her progression throughout the novel was realistic. There was a good balance between her being deeply rooted in this way of life and being able to finally ask questions. I wasn't sure how I felt about Cody. He seemed a little too nice. (Or maybe at this point I was just super paranoid and was reading into EVERYTHING). I was also a little miffed at Will too. You know how much I enjoy love triangles (sarcasm, internet, sarcasm.)

Anyway, when the end of the world started looming closer and the stakes started getting higher, THAT'S when the story really picked up. All I wanted to do was sit on my couch and finish it. I was afraid of how things would turn out. I mean, this is a cult novel after all and these types of scenarios don't tend to have happy endings. But things definitely escalated near the end and it was pretty thrilling. I was worried about how things would end...and I don't want to say much more because I don't want to spoil it, but it was a pretty satisfying conclusion.

While I liked the premise and thought the author did a good job of showing the inside of a cult, there were still parts throughout the novel that felt a little off, particularly the romance and aspects of the plot. Overall I enjoyed the story and I'd probably recommend to people who are as interested in this type of subject or enjoy thrillers.

About the author:  Amy was born in Pennsylvania and spent most of her early years there. Many of her best memories are of hiding out in her room where she made up elaborate pretend play scenarios most often involving orphaned baby dolls and Barbies dressed in fashions made out of Kleenex. 
Amy was always attracted to writing, but she tried a lot of other jobs on for size first before settling into writing full time. At some point or another, she has been a collectible doll-maker, a fondue waitress, an inner city school teacher, and a stay at home mom. Currently she is writing full time and lives in a suburb of Tampa, Florida with her very supportive husband, their two creative and energetic daughters, one absurdly fat orange cat, and two escape artist mice.

*ARC generously provided through NetGalley by publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Review #1613 That is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems

Review: #1613
Book: That is Not a Good Idea!
Author: Mo Willems
Rating: three stars (out of four)
Release date: Apr. 23, 2013
Publisher: Blazer + Bray
Pages: 48
Source: own

I'm pretty sure I get excited whenever I see a new Mo Willems book set to hit the shelves. In this book, I especially loved how you could tell immediately what the central conflict would be just from looking at the cover and seeing the Goose and Fox. Clever, oh so clever, Mo.

The book's style was engaging and amusing - I especially liked how it was reminiscent of old-fashioned silent movies. It featured black and white captions every couple of pages to let you know what was going on, just like a silent film. The little chicks who kept popping up were so good as building up the tension because you could tell something was going to happen and you just KNEW the outcome might not be pretty.

But, if you're a long-time reader of Mo Willems, you know things are not always as they seem and he's quite fond of surprising endings. I'm typically amused by how he wraps things up in unexpected ways. I also love looking at every page to see where The Pigeon will show up. I love that he's included that easter egg in his picture books. I think this story is delightful. I can easily picture kids and adults enjoying the story together. Definitely check it out!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Review #1612 Reality Bites by Melissa J. Morgan

Review: #1612
Book: Reality Bites
Author: Melissa J. Morgan
Rating: one star (out of four)
Release date: May 10, 2007
Publisher: Grosset and Dunlap
Pages: 160
Source: Scholastic Warehouse Sale

I picked this book up while I was volunteering at the scholastic warehouse sale. It was an especially slow shift. I was looking for something I could finish in an hour or so and this looked half-way interesting. I didn't realize it was part of a series and I don't know if that knowledge would have made the book more enjoyable or not. As it was, I found the book fairly melodramatic and juvenile. I wasn't sure how old the kids were supposed to be until the very end of the book, but I found myself thinking they were much younger because of how they acted. These characters were annoying. They were whiney and I had a hard time relating to their problems and conflicts. The voices were also hard to distinguish from each other and I didn't feel like the kids were fleshed out. Overall it helped pass the time while I was working, but it's not something I really enjoyed. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review #1597 The Rose Throne by Mette Ivie Harrison

Review: #1597
Book: The Rose Throne
Author: Mette Ivie Harrison
Rating: one star (out of four)
Release date: May 14, 2013
Publisher: Egmont
Pages: 400
Source: NetGalley

This book had one of the most unsatisfying ending I've read in a LONG time. It was SO ambiguous. Each person just went off on their own. Not good closure. Also, so much was made of the prophecy and then nothing happened. It felt very weak. I didn't like the tension between Issa and Kellin...especially when their relationship took a completely different turn. There was also a lot of darkness and killing. So much poison?! The world building needed help and certain things weren't explained well. I didn't understand the culture or world until halfway into the book. It was kinda annoying. On the good side (because there were things I liked about this book) I did stay interested enough to finish the book and I did love the cover. But overall it was a disappointment.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review #1596 Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George

Review: #1596
Book: Wednesdays in the Tower
Author: Jessica Day George
Rating: two stars (out of four)
Release date: May 7, 2013
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's
Pages: 235
Source: NetGalley

This was a cute middle grade fantasy. I especially liked that it was all about griffins. We need more griffin novels! I love the castle's personality and the way it interacts with other people. One thing I was not expecting for this book: a cliffhanger ending! Haven’t read one of those in a while. And I think I didn't realize it was going to end so abruptly was because I was reading an electronic book...and assumed there were more pages and then I was done. But I still really enjoyed the story and thought it was a good follow up to Tuesdays at the Castle. Jessica Day George has interesting characters and sweet stories.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review #1595 The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle

Review: 1595
Book: The Lightning Dreamer
Author: Margarita Engle
Rating: two stars (out of four)
Release date: Mar. 19, 2013
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Pages: 182
Source: NetGalley

This book was a fast read. It featured a Cuban poet’s life portrayed through the eyes of a young girl. I liked the brief look into her fictionalized history and I enjoyed hearing her thoughts. Sometimes I thought the story was a little sparse with details, but that might have just been the poetic form it was written in. I still got a bit of the culture, though. The story itself wasn't something I ultimately fell in love with but I can see why it won an ALA award. It was good historical fiction novel and featured a topic I wasn't familiar with and illustrated it well.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Review #1594 Frogged by Vivian Vande Velde

Review: #1594
Book: Frogged
Author: Vivian Vande Velde
Rating: two stars (out of four)
Release date: Apr. 2, 2013
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Pages: 208
Source: NetGalley
This story was very short and fairly sweet, if not a little boring at times. I’m usually a fan of Vande Velde, but this book needed more “oomph” or something. It was very young, very middle grade book and while I normally like this age category, I wished the plot had been developed more. I only partially cared for the characters and felt they should have had more interaction in their scenes. Overall, not something I’d recommend.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Review #1593 The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaff

Review: #1593
Book: The Flame in the Mist
Author: Kit Grindstaff
Rating: two stars (out of four)
Release date: Apr. 9, 2013
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Pages: 464
Source: NetGalley
I fell in love with the cover - that’s what kind of drew me into the book. It’s one of the first high fantasy middle grade novels I’ve come across in a long time that deals with dark elements, but handles them in an age-appropriate way. Though there were still some parts that made me squirm because they were a little gruesome. But I did like the characters and the plight of the young girl. It was interesting to see how Grindstaff handled this intense setting without going overboard on the dark elements. The plot was a little predictable at times, but not enough to cause hinder my enjoyment, and there were a few things I did not see coming. Overall I enjoyed the story and setting, but it wasn’t an instant favorite.

*ARC generously provided through NetGalley by publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review #1590 Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Review: #1590
Book: Graceling
Author: Kristin Cashore
Rating: two stars (out of four)
Release date: Oct. 1, 2008
Publisher: Harcourt
Pages: 471
Source: Library

Graceling has been on my radar for YEARS. I saw all the hype when it came out, but for some reason it never made its way to my reading pile. Weird, huh? So I was excited we were going to read and discuss it for my Writing for Young Adults class taught by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. I do think the hype did Graceling a disserve though – I wasn’t disappointed with the novel per se, but I didn’t end up enjoying it as much as I would have anticipated. I liked the imaginative setting and plot, but there were still several aspects I thought were “off.”

I liked the terminology and the different uses of the word “grace” and “graces.” I also liked the world and its descriptions – Cashore managed to give you a detailed history without it feeling like an info dump. It gave hints of the setting and explained some aspects while leaving other things a mystery. That was handled well and I appreciated getting some of the information right away and being left in the dark about other parts. Another thing I thought Cashore did well was her use of plot; specifically her plot revelations.

Spoilers below. Highlight text to read.

I didn’t expect Po’s graceling to be different. She had even hinted at it several times earlier, but I hadn’t seen coming and it caught me by surprise. 

I wasn’t a huge fan of Po and Katsa’s relationship. I didn’t quite grasp Katsa’s reasoning why she couldn't get married. She kept going on and on about how she would feel restricted or “confined” or whatever, but that didn’t fly. It mostly made me feel sad for Po and I wished that Katsa would compromise. (Because guys, Po is just the sweetest.) Po was the one who was willing to do whatever Katsa wanted and he seemed to be the one who was giving the most in their relationship, while Katsa was being selfish. Fictionally, their relationship worked, but I felt like it wouldn’t have worked in the real world. Po would have tired of being the one to compromise all the time and left. I guess what irked me was that I really liked Po and felt like Katsa was being unfair and obnoxious. Maybe Cashore’s reasoning didn't work for me.

Another thing that bothered me was how fast the conflict was resolved. It was like MAJOR DRAMA and then OH LOOK IT’S OVER. It was so sudden, I almost didn’t believe it. Actually, I didn’t realize it was over, I had to go back and reread some pages because I thought it had been a DREAM or something. There needed to be a better transition or something! We’ve been waiting the whole book for this good stuff and then it’s gone before we can even blink. I wanted more! Cashore had been pretty good with the tension and conflict up until that point. While I didn’t thoroughly enjoy Graceling as much as I had wished, I can still see why it became popular. I might recommend it.

Review #1589 Middlemarch by George Eliot

Review: #1589
Book: Middlemarch
Author: George Eliot
Rating: three stars (out of four)
Release date: 1891
Pages: 904
Source: Library 

In my Fiction Novel grad class we were assigned a “long classic novel” to read. I choose Middlemarch. We analyzed the writing style and structure, particularly looking at how older novels are different from books published today. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this novel, but I knew George Eliot was a pseudonym for Mary Anne Evans.

It felt reminiscent of Jane Austen, but instead of having a somewhat “everything ends happily” type of wrap-up that JA tends to do, this book offered a more realistic/bleak outlook. Some characters lived happily ever after, some made do with what they had, and some definitely had to live with their poor decisions. I liked seeing the portrayal of characters from page 1 to page 800. With such a thick book, there was LOADS of room for character development and intrigue. By the time I finished Middlemarch, I felt like I knew each person and all of their quirks and mannerisms. It was great!

I spent much of Spring Break’s car trip steadily making progress. I enjoyed every chapter. There were times when I didn’t want to stop reading because it was so good - I was completely vested in the story. My favorite aspect of the novel though, was Eliot's tone – it was snarky and there were SEVERAL parts where I laughed out loud at the snappy dialogue or descriptive passages. The first sentence hinted at the type of humor that would be featured throughout. As soon as I read that line I chuckled to myself and settled into a comfortable position for a delightful read. And Middlemarch did not disappoint.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Review #1588 Anthem for Jackson Dawes by Celia Bryce

Review: #1588
Book: Anthem for Jackson Dawes
Author: Celia Bryce
Rating: one star (out of four)
Release date: Apr. 30, 2013
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 240
Source: NetGalley

It’s really hard to get excited for a book about cancer patients. Especially KID cancer patients. But I was intrigued by the premise on NetGalley and figured I needed another excuse to curl up at home and sob.

I’ve only read a few books that I would consider “good” (for lack of a better word, maybe, “poignant” or “heart-breakingly-bittersweet”?) cancer books. Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie and The Fault in Our Stars being the primary two. So it’s kind of hard to top those two books, (which, if you haven’t read them, you should. What are you doing reading the rest of this lackluster review? Grab some Kleenex and those two books!) but like I said, I was intrigued by the short description online.

I thought this story was hollow. I didn’t think the characters were well-rounded and I wanted more interaction from EVERYONE. I never felt like I was scratching the surface of their REAL emotions and struggles. Nobody felt real. I was annoyed with most of the conversations because they seemed like placeholders for real conversations that were taking place elsewhere. The story was predictable and I didn’t like the characters. It fell flat - there wasn’t a lot of depth behind motives or actions throughout the story and I kept waiting for the novel to actually do something.

I was mostly annoyed with the way the story was told. It seemed like it was trying to hit so many standard points and in doing so failed to tell the real story. It was trying so hard to be THAT life-affirming-cancer-book and it wasn’t even close. I was not impressed with the story, the characters, the relationships, or the ending. It was mainly “blah” and didn’t feel completed. I wouldn't recommend.

*ARC generously provided through NetGalley by publisher in exchange for my honest review.