Friday, January 30, 2015

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, 2014

  
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Click to view on Goodreads
Introducing an extraordinary new voice---a magical debut that will make your skin tingle, your eyes glisten . . .and your heart sing.
Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.
But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck's about to change. A "word collector," Felicity sees words everywhere---shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog's floppy ears---but Midnight Gulch is the first place she's ever seen the word "home." And then there's Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity's never seen before, words that make Felicity's heart beat a little faster.

Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she'll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that's been cast over the town . . . and her mother's broken heart. 
(311 pages)

It's funny, I really liked this book while I was reading it, but I'm having a terrible time reviewing it. Well, not really a "terrible" time, because that implies I've actually made a serious attempt at writing a review at all. In reality, I've thumped down a sentence or two and then quit and worked on other projects. On another note, guess who just joined Blogging For Books?


Okay, focus. Time to write a review. I think the thing that's so hard about this book is that it's really cool and creative and fun, but at the same time it's . . . not. It reminded me of so many other "zany," "unique" books I've read, that I couldn't really pin down why exactly I liked this one. I mean, I had a lot of fun bing sucked into the story. But  I spent a lot of time wondering in the back of my head "when will this blow my mind? When will it wow me?" 

And it never really wowed me. It's sad, because this was not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it was a really good book! It just felt like a remix of some of my favorite quirky reads: Remarkable, Savvy, and Drizzle. If I'd read Snicker before reading those books, I would have fallen in love. But because I'd already read and adored them, I was a bit tougher to impress with this read. I needed more.

The characters are good, fairy well-rounded, and hold your attention. Felicity's mother has a case of wanderlust stronger than anything I've ever seen, and I felt bad that she couldn't even see what she was putting her kids through by constantly moving. Felicity was sweet, and cute, and I loved the way she collected words throughout the book. It made for a great descriptive device, giving the reader glimpses into other people's minds without straying from a first person narrative. That was probably my favorite aspect of the story, and I kind of wish Lloyd had explored it further.

I really did enjoy reading this, though I doubt I'll go out of my way to reread it any time soon. It's especially impressive as a debut, and I am definitely keeping an eye out for Lloyd's next book. If it sounds interesting to you, then by all means read it! Just because I didn't adore it to pieces doesn't mean you won't. It's well-written and engaging, with a meaningful story. If you do decide to read it, I'd love to hear your opinion of Snicker!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays (Jan 27)


Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is A Snicker of Magic by debut author Natalie Lloyd.

Synopsis (click the cover to go to the Goodreads page):
Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.
But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck's about to change. A "word collector," Felicity sees words everywhere---shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog's floppy ears---but Midnight Gulch is the first place she's ever seen the word "home." And then there's Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity's never seen before, words that make Felicity's heart beat a little faster.
Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she'll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that's been cast over the town . . . and her mother's broken heart.
Introducing an extraordinary new voice---a magical debut that will make your skin tingle, your eyes glisten . . .and your heart sing.

Here's this week's teaser, from page 79:

"I see a sky full of words." I scribbled furiously in my blue book:
Becoming
Halcyon
Ravel
Serendipity
Summer

Let me know what you think of the book, and check back this Friday for my review!

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Simple Christmas Wish by Melody Carlson, 2013

Rachel Milligan is caring for her seven-year-old niece, Holly, at her home in Chicago when she receives devastating news: Holly's parents have been killed in a plane crash. Because Rachel is Holly's only known relative, she assumes that she will be her beloved niece's guardian. However, custody is awarded to Lydia, a distant aunt who happens to be Amish. Just a week before Christmas, Rachel takes Holly to the Amish community in the hopes of persuading Aunt Lydia to relinquish custody. Instead, Lydia sets out to teach Holly to live according to the Amish way. As family secrets emerge and old wounds are healed, Rachel realizes that she will do whatever it takes to ensure that Holly has the loving family she needs. 
Combining an Amish family saga with the anticipation of Christmas cheer and the promise of a budding romance, this newest Christmas story from beloved author Melody Carlson is sure to please.

I realize I probably should have written this review before Christmas, considering it's a Christmas book and all, but I was pretty swamped with other reviews to write, not to mention all the presents to buy. I haven't forgotten it, though, and it still sits on my dresser waiting to be reviewed so I can move it to my "done" pile on the floor. So let's do this!

This was a fun little read that took me about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. I was sick when I read it, and it was the perfect sick read: interesting enough to hold my attention, but not long enough to lose me in the middle. Carlson portrays Rachel and Holly's grieving very realistically, showing the transition from grief to exhaustion to beginning to move on very realistically.

I also really liked the way she depicted the Amish in this book: most Amish books I read are really bad (which is why I don't read very many) and leave me with the feeling that if an Amish person read them he or she would be ashamed. This book, however, shows the Amish as real people who happen to live a different way. They grieve, they get annoyed, they love each other - first and foremost they are human, not Amish.

I had never read the author before, but I have a friend who's a huge fan of hers. I don't know that I'm going to run out buy all of Carlson's other books, but if I see another one at the library I'll probably check it out.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, 2003


Many hundreds of years ago, the city of Ember was created by the Builders to contain everything needed for human survival. It worked…but now the storerooms are almost out of food, crops are blighted, corruption is spreading through the city and worst of all—the lights are failing. Soon Ember could be engulfed by darkness….
But when two children, Lina and Doon, discover fragments of an ancient parchment, they begin to wonder if there could be a way out of Ember. Can they decipher the words from long ago and find a new future for everyone? Will the people of Ember listen to them?

(270 pages)

Forget The Hunger Games or Divergent, The City of Ember is my favorite dystopian!

I'm not joking. I don't even like either of those series, but I love The City of Ember. It's a unique story set in a city underground - a city running out of power as the generator that runs everything is slowly breaking down. Lina discovers a piece of paper left by the Builders (the mysterious people who built Ember) to be handed down through the years. It has been forgotten in a messy closet in Lina's house, and Lina's sister Poppy chews the paper up before Lina gets a chance to look at it. Lina enlists the help of her friend Doon to help her decipher what she believes is their key to saving the city - and before they know it, they're in far over their heads.

I normally talk about characters before I mention setting (if I even have room for it at all), but this time I have to focus on the setting first: it is phenomenal. The grungy streets, the way Lina cherishes a couple of colored pencils and a can of pineapples, the shortage of light bulbs, the total fear when the city lights flicker and the city plunges into blackness . . . all blend together perfectly to create this atmosphere of decrepitude. The city is failing. The people of Ember are running out of everything. People know that someday the generator might stop and never turn back on again, leaving the city in complete darkness forever.

Lina is an imaginative, good-natured girl who doesn't even like thinking about the blackouts. Her parents are dead and she lives with her increasingly dotty grandmother and her sweet but troublesome baby sister Poppy whose major contribution to the story is her almost complete destruction of the valuable paper via chewing. Lina is essentially the adult figure in her home, which makes her quite independent.

Where Lina is sweet and has her head in the clouds (well, in what would have been the clouds if she actually lived above the earth), Doon is a realist. He knows something is wrong with the city, and from the first he is determined to do something about it. Throughout the book he struggles to master both his temper and his pride, making him a realistic and relatable character.

If this interests you at all, then read it! I guarantee your library will have it. If you know any kids who are desperate to jump on the dystopian bandwagon but aren't allowed to read the popular dystopians, then send this their way. There's even a movie adaptation to go with it!

Note: If you've already ready The City of Ember, click here to check out my review of the second book in the series, The People of Sparks.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Plague of Unicorns by Jane Yolen, 2014

Click to view
 on Goodreads
From bestselling and award-winning author Jane Yolen, this new middle-grade fiction reminds us that heroes come in all sizes.
Young James, an earl's son, is a bit bothersome and always asking the oddest questions. When the last of his tutors quits, his mother sends him away to be educated at Cranford Abbey. But Cranford Abbey has its own problems.The Abbey is falling apart. Abbot Aelian believes he can save the abbey with his secret weapon: a recipe for golden apple cider passed down through his family for generations. One obstacle stands in his way-unicorns! Unicorns  with very sharp horns that happen to feast specifically on the golden apples.In this new middle-grade fiction by bestselling author Jane Yolen, young readers will learn about life in a medieval monastery and be reminded that heroes come in all sizes.
(192 pages)


I saw this on Booklook Bloggers and snapped it up, because it looked cute and fun and just my little sister's speed. I read it in one sitting, which took about a hour and a half, and thought it was largely just that: cute and fun and the kind of book my sister will like. It's got some great historical info mixed in with the usual fantasy fun. You can tell Yolen did her research on the time period before departing from actual history. My favorite nod to the past is the poem James and his sister come up with to remember the queens of England:
Tilda, Jane, Mary, Lizzy,
They all make me very dizzy.
I'm not exactly sure who "Tilda" is, but Jane is the often-overlooked three day queen who "ruled" before Bloody Mary (the "Mary" in the poem), and "Lizzy" is, of course, Mary's sister Queen Elizabeth I. I'm a bit of a history geek, so I thought it was fun seeing the book's references to actual history.

That said, this book has some major pacing issues. Literally the first half of the book focuses on world-building and backstory and character introductions. Those are all wonderful, necessary things to have in any engaging book - but this was the focus of the first half of the book. And that left only half of the (rather short) book to tell the actual events of the story.

And here we run into the next problem. Too many things happen in too few pages. We've got James' relationships with his sister, his mother, his uncle, and his absent father. We've got James' insecurities about being the next duke. We've got a rather (too) long bit where James is traveling to the Abbey. We've got the lukewarm welcome James receives from the boys living in the Abbey. We've got Brother Luke's lessons on caligraphy, with a bit of Latin thrown in. Then, of course, we've got the unicorns themselves and the long string of "heroes" who come to drive them away and inevitably fail. Which are important? Which are not? Who knows? There are too many characters and too many plotlines for a book this size.

Reallly, that's the issue. The book should have been longer. You could tell Yolen had a longer story to tell than she had pages to tell it with, and so she wound up spending the whole book setting up this wonderful premise and showing off her research of the era, then jumbling on a quick-finish ending last-minute when she realized she didn't have room to bring everything to fruition. I would have loved this book so much if she had made it longer and taken the time to flesh everything out. I would have called it a great kids book if she had snipped a bunch of the side plots, and evened up the pacing. As it is, all I can say is that it's a cute book with a great premise which will probably make kids blind to the pacing issues. Older readers will have a harder time ignoring all the "could have been"s.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The 13th Gift by Joanne Huist Smith, 2014

Click to view
on Goodreads
After the unexpected death of her husband, Joanne Huist Smith had no idea how she would keep herself together and be strong for her three children--especially with the holiday season approaching. But 12 days before Christmas, presents begin appearing on her doorstep with notes from their "True Friends." As the Smiths came together to solve the mystery of who the gifts were from, they began to thaw out from their grief and come together again as a family. This true story about the power of random acts of kindness will warm the heart, a beautiful reminder of the miracles of Christmas and the gift of family during the holiday season.
(224 pages)

I am so jealous of the Smiths.

No, wait, that came out wrong. The Smiths had a horrible, terrible thing happen to them when Mr. Smith died. Joanne is heartbroken and limp, unsure if she is even capable of continuing on without her husband. I don't envy that! But what I do envy is the joyous mystery of the Twelve Days of Christmas gifts. How exciting it would be to have a different kind gift show up on your doorstep the twelve days before Christmas! What a wonderful way to get into the holiday spirit!

And, of course, that's what the gifts were for. They were given because the Smiths were in mourning, and they needed some holiday cheer. And while Joanne may have begun the twelve days of Christmas covering her ears at the hint of a Christmas carol, she certainly ended them in much better shape.

This book reads like fiction, and well-written fiction at that. Joanne is a reporter and you can definitely tell that she's got a way with words. She wrote this book almost fifteen years after the events it describes took place, so she had time to step back and analyze her own condition and the conditions of her three kids at the time, and portray them brutally honestly.

That brings me to the children. I feel so bad for those kids! The youngest girl, Megan, was only ten when her father died. How horrible. She is actually the one who deals with it the best, though, as she gets wrapped up in the excitement of Christmas and acts as peacemaker between her mother and her oldest brother Ben. Ben was seventeen when his father died, and you can see how hard it was for him to lose his male authority figure at such a difficult time. He struggles to deal with his emotions, and (especially early in the book) winds up hurting his mother with his rebellious behavior more than he means to. Nick, the middle child, was so cute! He spent most of the book rotating between being a kid who just lost his father, and a kid who wants a new computer, a new bed, a new room, and a new video game console for Christmas. All three kids are drawn realistically with the eye for detail only a mother can furnish.

A word of warning to those who want to read it for the heartwarming Christmas book that it is: there are, like, three instances of bad language in the book, all toward the beginning. I think there are two or so uses of the word "damn" and in one instance someone in the parking lot yells "a-hole" at a rude driver. I really wish she hadn't put these words in, because the book could have flowed just as well without them, and it makes me leery to wholeheartedly recommend the book to many people who would otherwise love it.

Besides that, though, it's a beautiful story and a heartwarming read that I am very glad I was able to spend a few hours enjoying. If you don't mind the minor amount of language, then you should find nothing at all wrong with this story of love, loss, family, and Christmas.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays (Jan 20)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau.

Synopsis (click the cover to go to the Goodreads page):
Many hundreds of years ago, the city of Ember was created by the Builders to contain everything needed for human survival. It worked…but now the storerooms are almost out of food, crops are blighted, corruption is spreading through the city and worst of all—the lights are failing. Soon Ember could be engulfed by darkness….
But when two children, Lina and Doon, discover fragments of an ancient parchment, they begin to wonder if there could be a way out of Ember. Can they decipher the words from long ago and find a new future for everyone? Will the people of Ember listen to them?
(270 pages)

Here's this week's teaser, from page 93:

It was the printing that sparked Lina's curiosity. It was not handwriting, or if it was, it was the neatest, most regular handwriting she had ever seen.

Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Last Present by Wendy Mass

Click to view on Goodreads
Amanda and Leo have a history with birthdays. Now their friend's little sister, Grace, has fallen into a strange frozen state on her birthday, and Amanda and Leo must travel in time in order to fix whatever's wrong. As they journey back to each of Grace's birthdays, they start seeing all sorts of patterns . . . which raise all sorts of questions.
Amanda and Leo are going to have to unravel the threads of the past and present - and travel much further than they ever imagined - if they're going to save Grace. Luckily, a little birthday magic always helps in the charming and funny Willow Falls series by Wendy Mass, where everything is possible and there are no coincidences.
(256 pages)


This is the fourth book in the Willow Falls series by Wendy Mass. I am reviewing all of them, so click the links if you haven't read my reviews of the first, second, and third books. Also, read ahead at your own risk: there are some unavoidable spoilers from the previous books in the series.

This is a fun book because it circles back to Amanda and Leo! We get to see inside Amanda's head for the first time in three books, and it's kinda awesome. In The Last Present, David's best friend Connor's little sister Grace (whew, that's a mouthful) goes into a sudden coma. Leo  and Amanda are given an assignment from Angelina: they have to go back in time to each of Grace's birthdays and make sure Angelina's protection over Grace is established. Something has been preventing Angelina from placing the usual blessing on Grace for the last ten years, and Amanda and Leo have a second chance to fix it.

I have to say, I was a bit disappointed that time didn't repeat itself the same way it did in the first book, where the same events happened over and over again. Granted, that would have made the book a little too similar to 11 Birthdays, and it would have shut out virtually any character developement/storylines involving the other main characters we've come to love, and all-in-all would have been a bad way to do this. But still, it does seem a bit out-of-sync with what we already knew about the Ellerby-Fitzpatrick curse.

Anyway, complaints about plot decisions aside I really like this book. It's basically everything readers were waiting for, wrapped up in one big package that literally had a bow on the front. In fact, if I had to make one (more) complaint about the book it would be that it's so happy it's cloying. I suppose that's what happens when you have a series focusing on three different characters, all of which have some sort of love interest at the end of the so-called series closer (due to popular demand, Mass is now writing a fifth book entitled Graceful that might be really good, or might . . . not be).

Honestly, this is a wonderful series closer. It reminds me of the last Septimus Heap book, Fyre - not because of plot similarities (because there are, like, none) but because both books wrap up the series with a bang, tying off all the threads I care about and even throwing in some extra plot points to make it extra special.

If you haven't read the other books in the series, don't read this one! Please, I beg of you, don't read this one. If you've read the other books, then I beg of you: read this book. But, of course, if you've read the other books I don't need to beg you to read this one. If you've made it this far, wild horses probably couldn't keep you away from this one. I know they couldn't have kept me away.

This concludes my four-week review of the Willow Falls series! Thank you so much for reading these. Now I'd appreciate a little bit of feedback: have my reviews made you more likely to read the series? Did you like the way I reviewed the entire series, or would you prefer that I stick to reviewing unrelated books?

Friday, January 16, 2015

How Not To Run For President by Catherine Clark, 2012

When the middle school band is called to play for a presidential campaign rally, Aidan is right there with his clarinet, just in time to save the candidate’s life. Interviewed by the media, he speaks up in favor of the need to save jobs—like his mom’s, for instance.  Even though he’s in the middle of Little League season, for pete’s sake, the candidate convinces him to join her tour of the midwest. 
Problem 1: The candidate’s daughter HATES Aidan. Problem 2: What do you do when your whole life has been turned upside down and you can’t get away from the media? Problem 3: What’s a red-blooded American boy to do when he’s asked to play the clarinet on national TV and the local bully back home is giving interviews saying Aidan’s the nerd of the century?

I saw this at the library while searching for books for our winter break roadtrip. It immediately reminded me of Dan Gutman's The Kid Who Ran For President, so I snapped it up for my middle-school-aged brother. I figured hey, he'll lug it around on the trip and I'll steal it from him when I want to read it. That didn't really work out, because I still wound up wrenching it into my backpack by the end of the trip - my brother read it in the first three hours of the trip, then completely abandoned it into my care. He didn't even touch it for the rest of the trip. I managed to get a shrug-nod out of him when I asked if he liked it; he's hard to read. I'm interpreting that as "I liked it, but it wasn't amazing, I liked the Dan Gutman series better."

As for me, I enjoyed the book. It's not going on my top-ten favorites list, but it was interesting and funny. It's appropriate for anyone old enough to read it, and teaches quite a bit about the campaign trail. That was actually one of my favorite things about the book: it taught me about politics without ever getting overbearing. The book focuses on everything from hot button issues (both defining the term and discussing actual issues that fall under that category), to the constant popularity contest of the political campaign, to what it would really be like to be the first daughter (hint: no freedom). I've seen political campaigns from the point of view of the "consumer" (albeit a non-voting consumer) but I'd never really thought about what it would be like to be involved in one.

The characters were well done, if not exactly original. They're pretty standard stock for this type of book. I've read a ridiculously large amount of books involving a rebellious politician's kid, a tough PR guy or agent (or both), and a clueless accidental hero/heroine somehow swept up in the political scene. Aidan's popularity with voters is mainly due to the fact that he is an all-American kid. This is exactly what he is, from his clarinet playing to his ignorance of anything to do with politics, but even though he's a stock character I still liked him: he seems like a really nice kid, and I was definitely rooting for him throughout the book.

Is this a good book? Yes. Is this an amazing, groundbreaking book that you need to run out and buy right now? No. If you're older and looking for a nice, short read about politics and the political campaign, then check this out from the library. If you know a middle schooler or advanced elementary schooler who is interested in anything to do with political campaigns, then by all means buy this book and give it to them for their birthday. If they're looking to learn something, they'll be happy. If they're just looking to read a fun story, then they'll still be happy – and they'll still be learning something!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sisterhood Of the World Bloggers Award


The other day my friend and fellow blogger Lakshmi nominated me to participate in this award. It's not really an award in the sense that someone picks a winner, it's really just more of a tag. But it looked fun, so I thought I'd do it. Here we go, my first tag!


The Rules For This Award Tag:
1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their website.
2. Put the award logo on your blog to show that you are now part of the sisterhood.
3. Answer the ten questions from the blogger who nominated you.
4. Nominate ten bloggers.
5. Write ten questions for your nominees to answer.

1. I already mentioned Lakshmi, but I'll do it again: Lakshmi, thanks so much for thinking of me with this award! If people want to read Lakshmi's awesome award post, click here.

2. I just added it. Not sure how long I'm supposed to leave it on, though. A month? A year? Forever? I guess I'll leave it on for a while, until I take it off (or more likely I'll forget to take it off, and it really will stay on forever).

3. Okay, here we go:

Which book were you most influenced by in your life?
Hmm, that's a hard one. I suppose it's the Harry Potter books, cliché as that sounds. I've been watching the movies since I was in diapers, and reading the books since I was in pigtails. The books (and movies) taught me to get excited about release dates, because there is something so magical about being one of the first to read/watch something. They also taught me what friendship really meant, and how bravery manifests itself in so many different ways. They showed me that love trumps all, and that sacrifice is the ultimate expression of love. 

What was your most memorable moment of 2014?
2014 at was a pretty good year for me. My most memorable moment is really my most memorable week and a half: my dad took me on a trip to Scotland and England this summer, and we went everywhere from Edinburgh Castle to Stonehenge to Harry Potter Studios. I really can't pick just one moment out of all the fantastic moments from that trip, but going along with the Harry Potter theme I guess I'll choose the moment I first saw Hogwarts castle. Out of all of the props I saw at Harry Potter Studios, it was the castle that truly took my breath away. Really, it felt less like a prop and more like an actual piece of the wizarding world. That is the closest I will ever get to really attending Hogwarts in real life!


Do you think right and wrong are subjective or universal?

Oof, that's heavy! I suppose it depends on what kind of right and wrong you're talking about. I believe that most guidelines for what's right and what's wrong are in the Bible (Christian here, in case you didn't know), but I think that everyone has a slightly different take on right or wrong for certain issues. For example, I don't have a problem with reading books or watching movies that feature magic, but I think it's unhealthy to read about excessively violent stories. That doesn't mean that I judge anyone who likes The Hunger Games (let's face it, if I did I'd be out of friends!). I also don't let people from my faith look down their noses at me because I read Harry Potter. But on the big issues, yeah, I think they're universal.

Which book character do you think you are most like (personality-wise)?
I want to say Hermione from Harry Potter, but I've mentioned Harry Potter in every single question so far so I'll try to be a little more creative. Let's see . . . 
I think I have to go with Miri from Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. I'm not quite so worried about romance as she was (to be fair, though, I'm not participating in a competition to marry someone I've never met), but I do love to study, and want to do the best I possibly can in order to make my family happy. I'm also short like her - I mean, I'm not tiny, but I'm 5'3" which is about three inches than my younger brother. And boy does he never let me forget it.

If you could/would publish a book, what would it be about?
I've got tons of story ideas, two of which are actually first drafted, but I've never had the time/energy to polish them and try to get them published. A lot of my stories focus on female heroines, many of whom have lost loved ones, learning to deal with whatever struggles come their way (there's usually a male best friend involved, too - I like the sweet romance that's more friendship than romance).

Have you ever pranked anyone and if so, what was the prank about?
My pranks are usually really lame. I think my best one was the time I e-mailed my mom's e-mail account pretending to be the manager of a tennis program my brother had recently been accepted into. I explained that "X has been dropped from the program because of his unsuitable conduct toward his teammates." I got Mom to show him the e-mail, and he believed it for about thirty seconds. It was hilarious to watch his face.

If you could live in any fictional world, which one would it be and why?
Hogwarts, duh!
Wait, I'm trying to be more creative with my answers. Okay, fine, I guess it would be Carthya, which is where Sage from The False Prince lives. It's got that old-timey feel to it that would be really fun, but there's still necessities like hot-water baths. Also, there's Sage. I could just hang out with him at BLEEP (sorry, spoilers!) all the time.

Would you either choose to be Rich, but extremely stupid or Smart, but immensely poor? Why?
Smart, but immensely poor. I couldn't stand being stupid. Though I guess I wouldn't know I was stupid, would I? . . . Anyway, if I was really that stupid I'd squander all my money away and be miserable! If I was smart but poor I could work my way up in the world.

If you could have any superpowers, which one would you want?
Easy, flight. I've always wanted to be able to fly.

Which one would you want to be, a Vampire or a Werewolf (the traditional ones)? 
Ick to both! But I would rather be a werewolf, because vampires are, like, undead and blood-sucking and stuff. At least werewolves get to be normal some of the time. Plus, I've got a soft spot for werewolves because of *forcibly stops* never mind. I wasn't going to mention a Harry Potter character. No, sirree!

4. I'm going to leave this one open-ended. Think this looks fun but haven't been nominated? Well, now you have! Just be sure to leave the link to your post in the comments below so I can check it out. Don't have a blog but still think it looks fun? Then just answer the questions in the comments section!

5. 
What is your favorite place to read, and why is it your favorite?
What is/was your favorite school subject?
What is your favorite thing about blogging?
What is your least favorite thing about bloging?
Do you follow the crowd with your reading (i.e. do you love The Hunger Games, TFIOS, Divergent, etc)?
The big debate: ebooks or physical books?
Would you rather get books as gifts, or gift cards?
How do you discover your favorite books?
If you were marooned on a deserted island (but didn't have to worry about survival basics like food and water), what one book character would you want to be marooned with?
We all know you're supposed to read the book before you see the movie. But do you think movie adaptations are worth seeing at all?

I had a lot of fun participating in this award. Be sure to link back here if you answer my questions, so I can see what you put!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays (Jan 13)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is How Not to Run For President by Catherine Clark (link goes to Goodreads).


Synopsis (from Goodreads):
When the middle school band is called to play for a presidential campaign rally, Aidan is right there with his clarinet, just in time to save the candidate’s life. Interviewed by the media, he speaks up in favor of the need to save jobs—like his mom’s, for instance.  Even though he’s in the middle of Little League season, for pete’s sake, the candidate convinces him to join her tour of the midwest.
Problem 1: The candidate’s daughter HATES Aidan. Problem 2: What do you do when your whole life has been turned upside down and you can’t get away from the media? Problem 3: What’s a red-blooded American boy to do when he’s asked to play the clarinet on national TV and the local bully back home is giving interviews saying Aidan’s the nerd of the century?

Here's this week's teaser, from page 92:

So this was what happened when you had a real campaign in a big city. This was why people got so keyed up over politics. It was like one big party - except for the signs and the weird, gigantic buttons pinned to people's shirts.

Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, January 12, 2015

13 Gifts by Wendy Mass, 2011

When Tara, a self-proclaimed shrinking violet, steals the school mascot, a goat, in order to make some friends with the popular crowd and gets caught, she gets herself in a heap of trouble. In addition, her parents decide that instead of taking her on their summer trip to Madagascar to study the courtship rituals of the Bamboo Lemur, she must go stay with her aunt, uncle, and bratty cousin Emily St. Claire in Willow Falls. Tara thinks it's a good time to start over; she'll be turning 13 after all, so she might as well make the best of it and perhaps even attempt to break out of her shell (in a non-criminal manner). What Tara doesn't know is that this charmed town has something big in store for her on her 13th birthday. It's not a typical birthday. But then again, nothing is Willow Falls is exactly typical!

My copy of this book is very special to me: it was the first arc I ever received. A kind librarian gave it to me a short while before its release date, and I was in awe at this strange and magical idea that you could read a book before it came out. I had no idea how to get an arc on my own power and figured that I wasn't important enough to get one - but I cherished my copy of 13 Gifts and have taken care of it for years.

All right, let's get going! This is the third book in the Willow Falls series. Click here to read my review of 11 Birthdays, and here for my review of Finally. This is one of my favorite series; a comfort read I fell back on when I felt miserable after surgery. I decided to review the entire series so others could discover it.

This is the first book in the series that really leans on the ones before it, making it much more enjoyable if you've read the earlier books. Tara, our latest heroine, comes to stay with her cousin Emily (from Finally) and becomes friends with characters from the other books. I'm sure you could make it through this one without having read the others, but it would spoil the first books and would be a lot less fun. One of my favorite things about this book is that it is full of nods and references to the first two books. Inside jokes, old friends, and past mishaps all make appearances throughout the book - and poor Tara is completely befuddled by them!

For many years I cherished this book because of the way it felt like a culmination of the others. Tara is actually the least relatable of the main characters, because I would never steal a comic book from my uncle, no matter how much I needed the money. It's not that I don't like her, and in most of the book she's great. I just don't find her particular predicament relateble. The story is fun, though, and I've reread it numerous times. This is the book that really solidified my love for the series, because while a first book doesn't affect the books that come after it, and the second book that's also a standalone can be an anomaly, by the time you get to the third book in the series and you love that one you know that without a doubt you love the entire series. After reading this one, I hunkered down and started counting the days until the next one came out.

Have you read this series? How do you like it? And if you haven't, do you think it looks interesting? Next week is my review of the fourth and last (published) book in the series.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

You Can't Sit With Us by Nancy Rue, 2014


Synopsis (from Goodreads):
According to the Ambassadors 4 Kids Club, one out of every four students is bullied-and 85% of these situations never receive intervention. Parents, students, and teachers alike have amped up discussions on how to solve the bullying problem for a networked generation of kids.
Written by bestselling author, Nancy Rue, each book in the Mean Girl Makeover trilogy focuses on a different character's point of view: the bully, the victim, and the bystander. The books, based on Scripture, show solid biblical solutions to the bullying problem set in a story for tween girls.
You Can't Sit With Us tells the story of Ginger Hollingberry, a new sixth grader at Gold Country Middle School. Ginger has been the brunt of teasing and taunting from the queen bee of GCMS. Kylie Steppe, and her so-called Wolf Pack. Kylie and the Pack favor a new and especially hurtful medium of taunting: social networking. What follows is a candid look into the growing world of cruel cyberbullying, showing kids that bullying doesn't always end at school-it can now follow you even into your home and torture 24 hours a day.
(224 pages)

I'm still buzzing from this. I joined the BookLook Bloggers program over the winter holiday, and requested this from the available titles. They sent it in the mail and it came the other day. I can't describe the feelings rushing through my mind as I pulled my new book out of its box. I got a real, actual book (for free!) in real life, just because of my blog. It was like a reward for all the work I've put into this blog, and that was amazing.

Okay, now for the book itself. Apart from being a symbol of my moving up in the blogging world, what did I think of You Can't Sit Here? Well, it was okay. The options were kind of mediocre when I picked it, so I just went with this one on the basis of its pretty cover (blue is my favorite color!) and its message about bullying. I figured that even if it was really bad, at least it was aiming to be good! 

The thing about this book is that it is, above all else, an anti-bullying book. The plot, the characters, the dialogue - everything revolves around bullying. Learning to cope when you're being bullied, self-esteem exercises to do when the bully puts you down, ways to discourage the bully from focusing on you. If I were being bullied at school, I would love this book with all its messages about self-worth and practical tips for coping and turning to adult help. As it is, I'm the biggest bully on the playground - otherwise known as the oldest kid in a homeschool family.

Apart from its important message, the book is pretty mediocre. The characters are practically caricatures (the shy, insecure girl being bullied by the pure evil bully and her personality-less wannabes, the clueless parent, the empathetic anti-bullying counselor, etc.), and the basic plot concepts pretty unrealistic. Ginger is terrified that the rumors about her mother's fatal car accident will reach home, where her father will then curl into a miserable ball at the thought of her mother's death and forget to take care of her, and her grandmother will take custody of Ginger and her brother. There is also a school Code that was established in the first book of the series (It's called So Not Okay, and I haven't read it). The teachers are so incredibly sensitive to bullying that if someone even snaps at a classmate, they have to go to anti-bullying counseling during lunch. I get the idea of this, and it's really nice to see teachers so worried about stopping bullying. But seriously? There's such a thing as too sensitive!

Ginger alternates between being "smarter than people think" and make really stupid assumptions, like her belief that her grandmother will take custody away from her father if he so much as hears the nasty rumors going around about her mother's death. I alternately loved her (especially when she was working on her Lord of the Rings project with her new friend Colin), and hated her (mainly when she was acting so idiotically). She's an okay character for this sort of message-driven book, but if she were in a character-driven novel I'd be pretty unimpressed.

I don't think I'd ever have picked this up unless it was in the BookLook program. I enjoyed reading it, and I definitely enjoyed receiving it, but I don't think it's anything special. If you're hunting for a good, biblically-based book about dealing with bullies, then this should be right up your alley. Otherwise, you're probably fine skipping this one.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. Nielsen, 2015


When Nic, a slave in the mines outside of Rome, is forced to enter a sealed cavern containing the lost treasures of Julius Caesar, he finds much more than gold and gemstones: He discovers an ancient bulla, an amulet that belonged to the great Caesar and is filled with a magic once reserved for the Gods -- magic some Romans would kill for. Now, with the deadly power of the bulla pulsing through his veins, Nic is determined to become free. But instead, he finds himself at the center of a ruthless conspiracy to overthrow the emperor and spark the Praetor War, a battle to destroy Rome from within. Traitors and spies lurk at every turn, each more desperate than the next to use Nic's newfound powers for their own dark purposes.
In a quest to stop the rebellion, save Rome, and secure his own freedom, Nic must harness the magic within himself and defeat the empire's most powerful and savage leaders. 
(352 pages)

I have been reading/loving Nielsen's Ascendance Trilogy books for a couple of years now (click here to read my review of the first book in that series, The False Prince). When the last book, The Shadow Throne, was coming out I participated desperately in every giveaway the author offered but didn't win. Not one to let failure stop me, I ordered it from Amazon instead and read it within twenty-four hours of its release.

This is why I find it particularly cool that I won a giveaway of Mark of the Thief, the first book in a new series by Nielsen. Not only do I now have her autograph (squeal!), I got to read her new book two months before its release date.

And let me just say, how amazing it was to be able to read this wonderful book early! I went into it with a large amount of hope for the new series but not a little fear as well - what if it wasn't any good? What if it was just a cliche rehash of other books I've read? I was worried, because The False Prince borrowed a lot in terms of plot from other books/series. While Nielsen totally pulled it off then, and I adore the book to pieces, I was worried she would wind up pulling from the same bag of tricks for this series. And in the first few chapters, I thought my fears were confirmed: Nic seemed like a rehash of the cocky-but-brilliant Sage  (but where Sage was witty and fantastic, Nic seemed to just have an inflated ego for a slave). I sensed some sort of family secret a long way off, and the insta-hate between Nic and Aurelia just screamed "romance."

However, as I was sucked farther and farther into the complicated world of deceit, treason, and mixed motives that was Ancient Rome, the more I realized what a different story Nielsen had created. While Nic may have shared similarities with Sage on the surface, once the book gets going it's clear to see that he has a different personality than Sage. This is most clear when you compare the ways Sage was always planning three steps ahead and laying out elaborate plots to get people to do what he wanted. Nic is not a plotter and a planner like Sage was; his brainpower is used attempt to figure out who is on his side and how he can manage not to be killed.

As for the family secret and the insta-hate with Aurelia (by the way, love the name!), at the risk of spoilers all I can say is that the "family secret" aspect plays a rather minimal role in the book and isn't really that huge of a shock (especially when compared with The False Prince). It has potential to make the next book pretty interesting, though. And the insta-hate/inevitable-romance thread actually straightens itself out very nicely. Aurelia is probably already more fleshed out than Amarinda ever was, and I'm looking forward to watching what she does next - both with Nic, and on her own. She's a complex, interesting character instead of the cliche "two-dimensional warrior girl with some sort of grudge against the main character" that I thought she was the first time I saw her. I can't wait to see her in the next book!


The setting is phenomenal, the plot complicated (Who are the bad guys here? Who wants Nic dead?) but never convoluted or confusing, and the characterization solid with lots of room for additions later. While I still love The False Prince better (let's be honest, I don't think anything can surpass that book on my favorites list!), I still spent several enjoyable hours reading this book and look forward to reading it again. If you think it looks at all interesting, or are a fan of the author because of the Ascendance trilogy, then by all means read this book! For those of you who are interested in getting it from the library or buying it, it comes out February 24. And if you do read it, please post below to tell me what you think!

Disclaimer: I won a copy of this book through a giveaway offered by the author. She did not ask me to review it, and the opinions expressed in the above review are entirely my own.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays (Jan. 6)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. Nielsen, author of the Ascendance trilogy. It's an ARC: the book comes out February 24.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
When Nic, a slave in the mines outside of Rome, is forced to enter a sealed cavern containing the lost treasures of Julius Caesar, he finds much more than gold and gemstones: He discovers an ancient bulla, an amulet that belonged to the great Caesar and is filled with a magic once reserved for the Gods -- magic some Romans would kill for.
Now, with the deadly power of the bulla pulsing through his veins, Nic is determined to become free. But instead, he finds himself at the center of a ruthless conspiracy to overthrow the emperor and spark the Praetor War, a battle to destroy Rome from within. Traitors and spies lurk at every turn, each more desperate than the next to use Nic's newfound powers for their own dark purposes.
In a quest to stop the rebellion, save Rome, and secure his own freedom, Nic must harness the magic within himself and defeat the empire's most powerful and savage leaders.

This week I couldn't pick just one favorite quote, and I wasn't sure if I was even allowed to post one from a part of the book that isn't available to the public. I settled on the opening lines, because they're awesome and are available in the free preview on Amazon:

In Rome, nothing mattered more than the gods, and nothing mattered less than its slaves. Only a fool of a slave would ever challenge the gods' power.I was beginning to look like that fool.

Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Finally by Wendy Mass, 2010

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
A humorous look at what it means to FINALLY turn twelve years old.
You can pierce your ears when you're twelve. You can go to the mall with your friends when you're twelve. You can babysit little Timmy next door when you're twelve. You can get a cell phone when you're twelve. Hey, you can even ride in the front passenger-side seat when you're twelve.When you're twelve, when you're twelve, when you're twelve . . .
My name is Rory Swenson, and I've been waiting to turn twelve my whole life. In exactly 18 hours, 36 minutes, and 52 seconds, it will finally happen.
My life will officially begin.
(304 pages)

Hopefully you will have read my review of 11 Birthdays, the first book in the Willow Falls series, before reading this review. I am reviewing all four of the books in the series because I started rereading all of them when I was recovering from wrist surgery (side note: physical therapy is going well!). While I love the first book, I haven't actually purchased it yet. I don't really know why, but I've always just thought that if I wanted to read it I could get it from the library. I do, however, own this one. I bought it with a gift card almost 2 years ago, and have reread it countless times. It is arguably better than the first book, and was the book that truly cemented my love for the series.


The book follows Rory as she ticks off a birthday bucket list of sorts: she has been waiting her whole life to turn 12, which is when her parents will finally let her do "grown-up" things like drinking coffee and going to boy-girl parties and staying home alone. The first time I read this book, I had done practically nothing on Rory's list. Several years later, I have done most of the things on her list (still waiting for the coffee, though!). Rereading it now is like a step back in time to my first experiences with things like getting my ears pierced, babysitting, and getting contact lenses. Rory's experiences as a sheltered girl trying out grown up activities for the first time mirrors my life in more than one way, and out of all the characters I believe I share the most in common (both in life experiences and personality) with Rory. Though I have to say, my mishaps were never near the scale of hers.

You don't have to read these books in order. Well, at least you don't have to read the first two in order. The third one is much more enjoyable if you've read the first two, because the characters from the first two books are featured heavily in the third one. The fourth book is definitely much more meaningful and less confusing if you've read the other books 1st. But for the first two books, you can read them in either order. They are both built to be standalones, and are perfectly wonderful under their own power. I read them in order, but it wouldn't have mattered if I'd read Finally first. In fact, if the plot of the first book doesn't appeal to you, just read this one. They are very different books, but both are excellent reads.

Stay tuned for my review of 13 Gifts!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins, 2014


Hello, readers! I wish you all the very best New Year's Day possible. Here's to a great 2015! I have big dreams for this little blog, and I hope 2015 will be the year to see them fulfilled. Here's tomorrow's review early, as a New Year's treat.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Jed, TsTs, and Chai are the very best of friends. So when Jed is snatched up by a hawk and carried away to another realm, TsTs and Chai resolve to go after him. Mysteriously, the hawk has dropped him. They saw it. Jed could be alive. New communities are discovered, new friends made, huge danger is encountered (both man-made and of the fox and bobcat variety) and the mysteries of squirrel culture are revealed. It turns out that squirrels are steadfast and fun-loving. It turns out they adore peanut butter. It turns out they love games and really good stories. And nuts.
Newbery Medalist Lynne Rae Perkins loves peanut butter, too. And one day, while she was sitting on a bench enjoying the sunshine and a peanut butter sandwich, a squirrel asked for a smidgen of peanut butter in exchange for a story. Was it Jed? Well, readers will have to figure that out. Nuts to You is wholly original, funny, lively, and thought-provoking. It is a deeply satisfying piece of storytelling about the power of stories to save the world; about the power of friendship and the importance of community. Illustrated in black-and-white on every page by the author. Includes an introduction, epilogue, and footnotes throughout.

(272 pages)

After reading it:
I originally learned about this book at Semicolon. The upshot of the review there was that it was a lot better than  it looked. When I checked it out of the library my mother read it before I did and told me that it was better than she had expected. It was Thanksgiving weekend and I had barrelled through my other books, with only this one left to go. It actually took me a day or two to bring myself to read it, despite the fact that I'd been told multiple times that was better than it looked. After reading it, what is my verdict? It's better than it looks.

Yes, it really is. It looks hokey, like kids book working to get a message across. But upon actually reading it I found that it's really a sweet story of friendship with just enough peril keep things interesting, while at the same time keeping things from being too dark. I would recommend this highly most middle schoolers and frankly also many elementary schoolers. It's no Harry Potter, but even older readers like me can spend a couple hours reading this fun book.


Later:
It took me forever to read this, and now it's taking me forever to review it. I don't know what it is with this book, but as soon as I set it down I put it so completely out of my mind I go long stretches of time without picking it up again. It's a good story for younger readers, with black-and-white illustrations and humorous footnotes throughout, but I find it extremely unmemorable. Perhaps the target audience would retain it more than I seem to be able to. There's nothing objectionable in it, and it's actually pretty sweet.