Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays: The Arctic Code by Matthew J. Kirby (June 30)

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 A Daily Rhythm. 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 Arctic Code by Matthew J. Kirby.


Synopsis (from Goodreads):
It is the near future, and the earth has entered a new ice age. Eleanor Perry lives in Tucson, one of the most popular destinations for refugees of the Freeze. She is the daughter of a climatologist who is trying to find new ways to preserve human life on the planet. Dr. Perry believes that a series of oil deposits she has found in the Arctic may hold the key to our survival. That's when she disappears—but not before sending Eleanor a series of cryptic messages that point to a significant and mysterious discovery. Now it's up to Eleanor to go find her.
This search will launch Eleanor on a breathless race to unlock the mysteries of what has happened to our planet, solving the riddle of the cold that could be humanity's end—and uncovering a threat to the earth that may not be of this world.


Here's this week's teaser, from page 33:

"We have something no other species in the history of the planet has ever had." He brought the index finger down and laid it against his temple. "Our brain. The human mind is an ingenious thing, and we will find a way to survive in an age when so many other animals go extinct. 

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

My Favorite 2015 Books So Far

2015 has been an amazing year for books. Maybe it's because this is the first year I've really been seriously about blogging (which means I also keep up with the latest books a lot better than I used to!), but I've read so many amazing books this year - and not all of them were later books in series I already liked.

Here we go, in no particular order. Links go to my reviews for all of these except the last two, which go to Goodreads.

1. Masterminds by Gordon Korman

2. The War That Saved My Life by Kimbery Brubaker Bradley

3. All Fall Down by Ally Carter

4. Princess Academy #3: The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale

5. Willow Falls #5: Graceful by Wendy Mass

6. Spell Robbers by Matthew J. Kirby

7. Gollywhopper Games #3: Friend or Foe by Jody Feldman

8. Genuine Sweet by Faith Harkey

9. The Palace Chronicles #3: Palace of Lies by Margaret Peterson Haddix (link goes to Goodreads)

10. The Missing #8: Redeemed by Margaret Peterson Haddix (link goes to Goodreads)

What are your favorite 2015 books? Check out more Top Ten lists over at The Broke and the Bookish!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff, 2014

Click to view
on Goodreads 
From the author of the National Book Award nominee A TANGLE OF KNOTS comes an inspiring novel about figuring out who you are and doing what you love.
Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he's not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself.
A perfect companion to Lisa Graff's National Book Award-nominated A Tangle of Knots, this novel explores a similar theme in a realistic contemporary world where kids will easily be able to relate their own struggles to Albie's. Great for fans of Rebecca Stead's Liar and Spy, RJ Palacio's Wonder and Cynthia Lord's Rules.

(320 pages)


I've been sitting here for like fifteen minutes trying to start this review. The words I already wrote and deleted could fill a whole paragraph, and I have nothing to show for it. I don't usually have such a hard time getting into a review - most times, I just sit down and spout out a bunch of random thoughts and then go back and edit them into a coherent piece of writing. With this one, however, I am literally sitting here typing about blogger's block because I can't think what else to write. The words look good on the page, though (I'm finally getting a paragraph written!), and even if I wind up deleting this at least I'm finally getting the words flowing. [I kept this in, even though I thought I wouldn't, because it's part of my reaction to the book.]

I guess my blogger's block stems from my inability to connect with what Albie's going through. Usually, I can start right off the bat by recounting something from my own life that can segue into a discussion of the book. Hey, when I was neck-deep in Richard III research for my final English project I actually used a discussion of Richard III to review Margaret Peterson Haddix's Claim to Fame (which, BTW, has nothing to do with ancient English kings from the Middle Ages). But this time, I honestly can't find anything to talk about. I've struggled with many things, from loneliness to melancholy, but I've never (and I'm really not trying to brag here) had any real trouble in school. I've disliked subjects, sure, but I've never been unable to do them. So when Albie is struggling to study for his spelling tests and can never get more than four out of ten words correct any given week, I feel his agony but I'm also just frustrated at the idea that he has to work so hard for such little results.

The metaphor that just popped into my head about the spelling tests is "having your hands tied," and I think it actually applies to the entire book. Albie's hands are tied when it comes to school, because no matter how hard he works he still can't do well. His hands are tied at home, because his father commands Albie to do well in school but never spends any time with him. Albie's hands are tied in his social life, because no matter how hard he tries he still doesn't understand what makes people tick. He honestly believes that the popular kids are nice to him because they like him (and not because his best friend's family just got their own reality TV show), and that his "uncool" friend with a dreadful stutter can become cool if she just follows his tips for being popular (tips such as "Don't ever be last in the line to go to lunch" and "Sing fake words to the songs during chorus").

Besides Albie, everyone's hands are tied in some way or other. His best friend, brand-new reality TV star, is hedged in on every side by camera crew and people wanting to be his friends for nothing more than the fame. Albie's mother's hands are tied because she desperately wants to help her son succeed . . . but is horrified that, by her way of measuring success, Albie keeps coming up short. Albie's babysitter Calista's hands are tied because her ways of helping Albie sometimes go against what his parents think is best for him. Even the reader's hands are tied, because Albie is narrating and he often doesn't pick up on things that should be fairly obvious. So when I, at least, read the book, I spent half the time wishing I could pass Albie notes about things. He gets so confused sometimes, and takes things at face value that obviously need to be evaluated more deeply, and it's frustrating to be unable to help him.

Absolutely Almost frustrated me a lot, but that doesn't mean I didn't like it. I am glad I read it, and I'll be sure to recommend it to people I think who would like it, but I personally don't think I'll be rereading it or fangirling over it any time soon. It pulled me in, though, and made me think. And that's what really counts.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Princess and the Foal by Stacy Gregg, 2014

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on Goodreads 
Princess Haya loves her family more than anything--especially her mother who brings light and happiness into King Hussein's house. So when Queen Alia is killed in a tragic accident, Princess Haya is devastated. Knowing how unhappy she is and how much she loves horses, Haya’s father, King Hussein, gives her a special present: a foal of her very own. And this foal changes Princess Haya’s world completely.
Set in an exotic locale where royalty is real, this story of a determined modern-day princess is both beautiful and awe-inspiring. Perfect for fans of Black Beauty, Misty of Chincoteague and anyone who wonders what it's like to be a real princess.
(272 pages)

I picked this up at the library because its cover and title reminded me of The Princess and the Unicorn by Carol Hughes, which charmed me as a little girl devouring books about fairies and unicorns. I'm very glad I didn't read The Princess and the Foal when I was actually reading The Princess and the Unicorn, because I just know I would have been hugely disappointed by it; far from being a magical book about a fancy princess and her foal (who, you know, I kind of assumed would be able to at least talk or something), it's actually a book about a girl struggling to find her place in the world after the death of her mother. It was nothing like what I was looking for, but it was a beautiful story and I'm very glad I read it.

Haya's mother died when she was three. The book begins right before her mother's sudden death (via airplane accident) and goes until she is twelve. Haya (in both real life and the book) is an amazing equestrienne, and it was very interesting to watch her develop those skills throughout her childhood, beginning with rambling rides around the horse yard atop horses who didn't care if a toddler sat on them while they wandered around, and training until she was good enough to lead her father's stable in the King's Cup (which is a huge horse competition, apparently). You get to watch Haya and, to a certain extent, her brother Ali grow up, you get to watch her relationship with the people around her change as she assumes more responsibility as a princess, you get to watch her get into all sorts of typical little-girl mischief. My favorite example of this is when she stuck her brother in the dumbwaiter going from her room to the kitchen, because she didn't want to try it out with her favorite doll. As a big sister, I can relate with the appeal of using siblings as guinea pigs.

The biggest disappointment with this book came from looking the real facts up on Wikipedia. The real Princess Haya is still an amazing horse-woman who accomplished everything she did in the book, and her mother really did die in a lightning storm when Haya was three, but there are just some peripheral details that were left out whose discovery changes the way I look at the events in the book. For example, Haya and Ali's mother was the third out of four wives King Hussein had throughout his life (two of which he was divorced from, and the last of which he married a mere year after the death of Haya's mother). What's more, Haya had far more than just one younger brother (Ali) and one older brother (a shadowy figure mentioned only once as an explanation of why Ali would not become king): her own mother had also adopted another daughter shortly before her death, and King Hussein had nine other children between his other wives. Three of these were born during the time period covered in the book, and none of them were so much as hinted at. I can understand why Gregg chose to skate past all of these facts in order to streamline the story into a shorter, more intimate tale of family and healing from loss. However, Gregg goes a step farther than just ignoring the facts - she actually clips and twists them to fit her own picture. In the epilogue, she describes the way Haya married the shiekh of Dubai and had two children with him; what she completely neglects to mention is that this skeikh has quite a few wives, Haya is only a "junior wife," and her two children are 1/12 of the 24 kids he has fathered between his different wives.

A little less of a romantic ending, isn't it? I mean, I can see why Gregg would clip the polygamy from her epilogue if a bunch of younger kids are going to be reading it. I would almost have preferred that she left the marriage bit out of the epilogue altogether, though, because the way it is feels kind of like lying. Then again, I think I'm digging a bit too deeply into this - everyone knows that "based on a true story" means nothing more than "I'm going to steal the names and the setting and make up my own story." Gregg definitely did far more than that with The Princess and the Foal - instead of clipping pieces she liked from the true story and making up the rest, she started with the whole story and clipped away what she didn't like. And I really can't complain too much about what she threw away, because what was left was a story about family, grief, and horses strong enough that even my aversion to horse-back riding didn't keep me from enjoying it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Top Ten "Top Tens"

I haven't been doing the Top Ten Tuesday meme for very long, so I haven't got a lot of choices to pull from for this week's list of favorite Top Ten prompts. Still, I enjoyed so many of them that it really wasn't hard to pull together a list: the to-read lists helped me organize my thoughts and create a checklist for the coming months; the favorite books/authors lists gave me the ability to flash-recommend a bunch of books to someone in a hurry; the random ones like "book-related problems" gave me the opportunity to do something different from the usual posting patterns. All good things!

1. Top Ten Books I'm Going to Read This Summer (Not Necessarily on a Beach)

2. My Top Ten Favorite Authors

3. Top Ten Childhood Books I Would Love to Revisit

4. Top Ten Inspiring Quotes From Books

5. My Top Ten All-Time Favorite Books

6. Top Ten Book Related Problems I Have

7. My Top Ten Favorite Book Heroines

8. My Top Eight Recommendations For People Who Like Harry Potter

9. Top Eight Books on my Spring TBR List

10. Top Ten Fiction Books I Can't Believe I Haven't Read

What have been your favorite top ten prompts?

Teaser Tuesdays: The Princess and the Foal by Stacy Gregg, 2014

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 A Daily Rhythm. 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 Princess and the Foal by Stacy Gregg.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
The inspiring novel about real life princess and equestrienne Haya of Jordan.
Princess Haya loves her family more than anything--especially her mother who brings light and happiness into King Hussein's house. So when Queen Alia is killed in a tragic accident, Princess Haya is devastated. Knowing how unhappy she is and how much she loves horses, Haya’s father, King Hussein, gives her a special present: a foal of her very own. And this foal changes Princess Haya’s world completely.
Set in an exotic locale where royalty is real, this story of a determined modern-day princess is both beautiful and awe-inspiring. Perfect for fans of Black Beauty, Misty of Chincoteague and anyone who wonders what it's like to be a real princess. (272 pages)
This week's quote comes from page 125:
Steadying herself, Haya prepares to jump. She feels like there should be something - a speech or at least a drum roll to signify the momentous nature of this occasion. She is going to ride Bree. Her horse, whom she raised from a three-day-old foal. They are about to become united, two spirits joined as one at last.
Does this interest you? Check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Into the Land of the Unicorns by Bruce Coville, 1994

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on Goodreads 
As each chime sounds, Cara climbs faster up the steep bell tower. Eleven! She must be on the roof when the next bell tolls. Twelve! With a deep breath, and only half believing she will survive, Cara jumps off the church roof and into Luster, land of the unicorns.
In Luster, Cara meets many wonderful creatures, but the most magnificent of all is Lightfoot, a rebellious young unicorn. Cara's band of friends comes to include a hairy creature named the Dimblethum and the monekey-like Squijim. Together, they set out to reach the Unicorn Queen before the mysterious man who is following them does - to prevent the destruction of all unicorns forever.
(176 pages)



This is a small book that I only found because a friend of mine recommended it to me. I read it, and enjoyed myself doing it, but then forgot to review it. I didn't fall desperately in love with the book or its world, didn't rush out to buy the rest of the books in the series that very minute - but yesterday, when I decided it was really (past) time for me to review Into the Land of the Unicorns, I requested the next few books from the library. I'm looking forward to seeing how Coville expands the story-lines he started in the first book.

First books in series are notorious for being nothing more than set-ups for the later installments. They set the stage, introduce the characters, and pull the reader in with an exciting premise that will be explored in the later books.That's exactly what happens in Into the Land of the Unicorns, with the added bonus of a nice little storyline (a quest-type journey) to tie all the world-building bits together. We get to learn about the world of Luster along with Cara, learning who to trust and who to avoid through Cara's experiences and interactions. The stage is set for a powerful tale of family, friendship, and forgiveness. Will it be thoroughly explored? I hope so, but I don't know. The story so far is stronger than I would have expected for its deceptively short size, but I'm not sure which of the many paths Coville will take to expand the story in the next books.

It's not exactly mind-blowing (I saw the plot twist coming from the very beginning!), but it's definitely promising. Cara doesn't get much time to show her stripes as a character, because she's pretty much constantly reacting to the events around her, but she has pretty strong characterization for someone in such a small book. My favorite characters, though, were the animals of Luster. From Lightfoot, the alternately wise and adolescent unicorn, to the Squijum (who reminds me a lot of Gurgi from the Prydain chronicles), every creature was unique and endearing in its own way. There is a Cara in every book; not as many feature characters like the bizarre assortment of beings living in Luster.

Honestly, I enjoyed it. The main issue I had with Into the Land of the Unicorns was its size; by the time I was into it, it was over! I won't be wholeheartedly recommending the series until I've read the later books, but if I do wind up suggesting it to people the one thing I know I'll warn is "don't start reading until you've got easy access to all of the books!"

Friday, June 19, 2015

Full Ride by Margaret Peterson Haddix, 2013

Click to view
on Goodreads
Becca thought her life was over when her father was sent to prison for embezzlement. It didn't help when he used her as his excuse: "How else is a guy like me supposed to send his daughter to college?" She and her mother fled their town and their notoriety, started over, and vowed never to let anyone know about their past.
Now a senior in high school, Becca has spent the last four years hiding in anonymity. But when it's time to apply to colleges and for financial aid, her mother gives her a rude awakening: If she applies, her past may be revealed to the world
But Becca has already applied for a full-ride scholarship. And as she begins to probe deeper into the secrets of her past, she discovers that she and her mother might be in danger of more than simple discovery - by revealing the truth about their past, she might be putting their very lives in jeopardy.

(368 pages)

When Full Ride came out, I was in 10th grade and taking my very first AP class. My comprehension of the college admissions process was extremely vague, and the parts of the book dealing with it flew right over my head. I was gripped by the story line about Becca's father, about the crimes he had committed and how Becca and her mother were paying for them every day of their lives. Becca's academics served as nothing more than the distraction she used to keep her mind off of the terrible rut her life had entered when her father went to jail for online theft.

The second time through, it's the academic parts of the story that grasp my attention. When Becca and her friends allude to "AP lit" and "AP calc," I know exactly what they're talking about (and shudder because I'm taking them next year!). When Becca's friends recommend that she check out collegedata.com, I get out my iPad and a Google it - only to decide that, like Becca, I'm none to keen on handing out my address to some random college tips website. When Becca ruminates about how her father went to Vanderbilt (or, actually, lied to her about how he had gone there), I flip through my college notebook to discover that I have indeed researched Vanderbilt, but it doesn't have two of the three major fields I'm looking for.

Okay, okay, enough examples. My point is that I could totally own what Becca was going through, college-wise, and that Full Ride came alive to me in a whole new way because of it. But the really neat thing was that when I read it for the first time, I didn't have that angle and I still really enjoyed it. Full Ride is multi-focused enough that you could read it from quite a few different backgrounds, and get different things out each time. This makes it a great re-read as you go through life, because as you discover more about different issues Becca is struggling with (and watches others struggle with), you will find more and more angles in the book that interest you.

Of course, having so many different balls in the air at the same time means that a few of them get dropped by the end of the book - no, "dropped" isn't the right word. They get "sidelined." Mrs. Haddix opts for a dramatic and relatively fulfilling ending, but she leaves a lot of storylines up for grabs. I for one would have liked to read more about Becca's relationship with her friends, how it shifts as they come to grips with the new knowledge they gain as the book goes along. Do they question everything they ever thought they knew about her? Do they feel tricked? Or do they just blink for a minute, go "okay," and keep moving? I don't know, I think that could have been explored a little more.

Altogether, though, it's a very well-written and engaging book, with lots of really interesting topics woven together. And as for the true test of my feelings toward Full Ride? Yeah, I stayed up until after midnight re-reading it. In another year or two, I'll probably do that again.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Top Ten Summer Reads

At 9:30 last night I realized that I hadn't written this week's Top Ten Tuesday post. This summer schedule is really messing with my head, I have to tell you! I spent the day reorganizing my closet and didn't think of my blog at all. So much for reliability, eh? And I didn't even get a clean room for my efforts - the closet looks marginally better, but now I've got piles of junk all over the floor. Yay.

The  good news is that this week's prompt, summer reads, is just about exactly what I wrote about a few weeks ago when the prompt was beach reads. I don't got to the beach, so I wrote out my summer reads. So check out "this week's" post here - and if you've already read it, just pretend you're having a  case of heat-induced déjà-vu. It is summer, after all!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sorry I'm Not Sorry by Nancy Rue, 2015

Click to view
on 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 have amped up solving 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 show solid biblical solutions to the bullying problem set in a story for tween girls.
"Sorry I'm Not Sorry" tells the story of Kylie Steppe, former queen bee of Gold Country Middle School. After bullying a fellow GCMS student, Kylie has been expelled--"and "she" "has to attend mandatory counseling. Without her posse to aid her and other peers to torment, Kylie focuses on the person who stole her GVMS popularity crown: Tori Taylor. As Kylie plots revenge on Tori, she attends therapy sessions, where she reveals a few details that might explain why she finds power in preying on her middle school peers. After a rough year with bullying backfire, will Kylie decide to become more empathetic with her peers?
It's hard for tweens to imagine why a bully acts the way she does. "Sorry I'm Not Sorry" shows girls that they hold the power to stop bullying through mutual understanding and acts of love.
(288 pages)


This is the third book in the "Mean Girl Makeover" series. I've never read the first one, but I got a copy of the second book (You Can't Sit With Us - click to check out my review) in January. I didn't particularly love You Can't Sit With Us for its plot or characters, but it still held a special place in my heart because it was the first book I ever got for free as a read-to-review. That's why I still chose to review Sorry I'm Not Sorry, when I probably wouldn't have otherwise. I'm actually glad that I did, because it's much better than its prequel.

It's still got some issues, I'm not going to sugarcoat that. Kylie has such a complete turn-around that it's just a little too good to be true. The anti-bullying Code the "nice" kids go by still is kind of over-the-top touchy-feely. Lydia, the bullying counselor, is a little too perfect. Everyone thinks it's perfectly normal for a public school counselor to talk about faith and the Bible when she's working with students. Kylie's ex-friends go way overboard when they turn on her and give her a chance to understand what it's like to be the one who's bullied.

But somehow all of these things, which bugged me like crazy in YCSWU, aren't nearly as glaring in this book. I think a large part of this is that I actually liked Kylie a lot better than Ginger. Ginger was like this quivering, emotional mess who thought that if her father heard the mean rumors about her mother he would have such a mental collapse she would be taken out of his custody. This when her mother had been dead for several years, and the authorities had never even hinted that her father was a negligent parent. And she was supposed to be smart! Kylie, on the other hand, was much more believable - and, frankly, likeable. Her reasoning for keeping the bullying a secret was "I don't want to deal with this. I'm grounded off of going online anyway, so I'll just not think about it." You can almost understand how Kylie, a kind-hearted girl deep down, could do such horrible things to her classmates: it's obvious that she's emotionally stunted, and that her parents don't know squat about raising children. They always come to her defense, are constantly on her side . . . and consider their duties fulfilled if they give her a credit card and send her off to the mall.

I can almost buy that Kylie was a genuinely nice person who did some terrible things without thinking through the consequences. But, as much as I found myself loving her as a character, how can I accept that she never second-guessed what she'd been doing? How can I believe that she was so steeped in the bullying game, and yet can do a complete one-eighty over the course of a few months? Shouldn't she have had a stronger conscience during her time as a bully? Shouldn't she have had a few relapses into bullying people? Why does she go from being completely horrible, to being so nice? I can understand that being taken away from the social pressures of middle school would play a role in that, and certainly getting a taste of her own medicine in the form of her ex-friends' treatment helps Kylie understand her own shortcomings. But at the same time, it's just a little too rose-tinted to survive any careful scrutiny.

But maybe that's why I enjoyed it.

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

Friday, June 12, 2015

Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, 2015

Click to view
on Goodreads
“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”
Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike. 

(288 pages)

I'm back to using speech recognition software to write my reviews. I can't tell you how frustrating this is - my own body is betraying me. For those of you who don't know, I fell off a horse last September and tore a ligament in my left (dominant) wrist. After a few months of splinting, I got an MRI in November and had surgery two weeks before Christmas. I spent about a month using speech recognition software because it was too hard to type school assignments, emails, and blog posts all with one hand. I've been off the software for a few months now, but in May I had three AP tests and this past Saturday I took the SAT. I guess I over did it, because my wrist hasn't felt this bad for a very long time. I'm back to speech recognition software, splints, and even using a sling when the pain is at its worst.

I've had a pretty hard time this last school year. My temporary disability has caused me stress, multiplied the effort it takes to complete an assignment, and very likely hurt my grades. In a way, this is sort of like Ally's dyslexia: she has spent her whole life stressing about her inability to read, laboring over what should have been simple assignments and getting terrible grades because she literally could not do the work. However, my struggles have been with a (hopefully!) temporary issue that has caused me physical pain. Ally's struggles have existed since she first began learning to read; her pain is not physical, which is often easier to deal with, but mental. She has grown up believing that she is stupid and worthless, living in fear of being discovered as the practically illiterate girl she really is. This mental and emotional pain is far and above anything that I have ever experienced, and hopefully ever will experience.

Because Ally doesn't just have dyslexia; she has spent her whole life hiding that dyslexia (though she doesn't know what it's called) from the world. She has moved often enough, because her father is in the military, that no one has ever caught on to the fact that she doesn't complete schoolwork because she can't, not because she is lazy or trying to be a troublemaker. She has grown shall around herself and is used to living very lonely life, a life of being teased and made fun of and getting sent to the principal's office. It is truly beautiful to watch her leave that shell behind. Hunt does a lovely job of showing how Ally blooms under the mentorship of a teacher who not only cares about her academic struggles, but about her emotional struggles as well.

I can't tell you how much I loved this book. You're just going to have to repeat yourself to discover what a gem it really is. The themes are serious but not overwhelmingly dark, the characters are nuanced and compelling, and Ally's dyslexia is painted in a very realistic light. By all means, go read this book!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

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 A Daily Rhythm. 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 Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”
Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike. 
(288 pages)


This week's quote comes from page 35:
I sit on my bed, holding my copy of Alice in Wonderland. The shaky writing in the front of the book says, "For Ally - my wondrous girl! Love, Grandpa." The colors of the book are all bright even though the book is old. Inside, the pages are soft and the writing is bigger than in books now. But I still can't read it by myself. It's like having a gift that's locked in a glass box.
Does this interest you? Check back on Friday for my review!

Five Authors I Want to Meet (and Five I Already Have)

Note: Okay, so this week's prompt is actually for upcoming releases we're excited about. I have no idea why I thought it was authors we want to meet - the only excuse I can offer is that I put this post together the evening before I took the SAT. I guess I was a little distracted, huh?


I have met many fabulous authors in my life, and there are many more I am dying to meet. This week's Top Ten prompt asks for ten authors I want to meet, but I've met a lot of the authors I really wanted to, so I'm dividing this into five authors I have already met and five I want to meet sometime in the future. Here we go:

First, here are five authors I am dying to meet:

1. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books
This one is obvious. Who doesn't want to meet JK Rowling?! Maybe if I do decide to go to college in the UK, my chances of meeting her will increase. Hey, I should go add that to my college decision notebook!

2. Angie Sage, author of the Septimus Heap books
She also lives in the UK, so I guess this one goes under "reasons to move to Great Britain" along with potentially meeting JK Rowling. I have talked to her on Twitter a few times, but I would love to meet her and get her to sign my books.

3. Jennifer A. Nielsen, author of the Ascendance trilogy (my review)
I have been trying to get Jennifer Nielsen to visit Maryland for years, and I even contacted her publicist once about it - but I've never been able to meet her. I do have an autographed ARC of Mark of the Thief, and I've talked to her on Twitter a handful of times, but it's not the same as meeting her in person.

4. Wendy Mass, author of the Willow Falls books (and many more!)
I'm not exactly sure where Wendy Mass lives, but I'm pretty sure it's in America. I'd love to meet her and get her to autograph at least some of the half a dozen books I own by her.

5. Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series, the Kane Chronicles, and the Heroes of Olympus books
Any event with Rick Riordan attending sells out in like five minutes flat, so the odds of my ever meeting him face-to-face are extremely small. If I could meet him, though, I would love to have him autograph my copy of The Lightning Thief, which began my journey with Riordan's books almost 5 years ago.

Next, these are some of my favorite authors who I have already met:

1. Margaret Peterson Haddix, author of more books than I can list here (including Double Identity)
Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I am a massive fan of Margaret Peterson Haddix's. My parents also know this. That's why my mother went two hours out of her way to drive me to a middle school where Haddix was doing an author visit. With the school's permission, not only did I get to see Haddix and hear her presentation, but I also got to spend 5 to 10 minutes with her before the presentation, chatting with her about her books as she signed her way through the four I'd brought in. It was awesome!

2. Gordon Korman, author of many wonderful books including No More Dead Dogs
He was actually the first author I ever met. It was at a book fair, and I was one of a long line of people signing up to get books autographed after his presentation. I spent the entire 30 seconds it took him to sign my books grinning like a maniac and bobbing up and down like an excitable puppy.

3. Shannon Hale, author of the Princess Academy trilogy
I met her during her book tour for Palace of Stone, the second Princess Academy book. She was on a panel with Jessica Day George (see #4), and it was very surreal to me to meet the author of the book I've loved since before I understood that there were people who wrote the books I read. I got my childhood copy of Princess Academy autographed, so now it's even more special to me than it was before.

4. Jessica Day George, author of the Dragon trilogy (plus a lot of other great books!)
As I said above, I met her at the same time I met Shannon Hale. There on a panel together at a book Festival, and I was really lucky they're sitting next to each other because I only had to sit through one line to get books by both of them signed. As soon as I saw Jessica Day George during the panel, I knew that she was someone I would love to talk to. Now that I follow her on Twitter, I'm sure of it!

5. Matthew J. Kirby, author of The Clockwork Three (and more)
my family was late to Kirby's session, but we caught him just as he was walking off to get in his car. He was very kind to me even though I was making him go off schedule, and he signed the brochure for the festival (which was all I had with me at the time). He sat and chatted for a moment before going on his way, and I was really struck with how nice he was as a person, on top of being a fantastic author.

Have you met at any of the authors on either of these lists, or any other authors? If you could pick any author in the world, who would you want to meet?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Beyond Championships by Coach Dru Joyce II, 2014


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on Goodreads

As the coach of one of high school basketball s greatest programs, Coach Dru Joyce has been mentor and motivator to some of the nation s best young players, including basketball legend LeBron James. Despite having virtually no experience in the sport, in less than ten years Dru went from a no-name fan to one of the highest profile basketball coaches in the country.
With insight and grit earned from his years on and off the court, Coach Dru shares for the first time the secrets to his teams success and his own coaching achievements. Far more than a sports book, Beyond Championships is a blueprint for anyone looking to make better choices, reach their full potential, and become winners in all areas of life.
As Dru outlines the nine principles that he promotes to his players and tries to live in his own life as well, you ll discover that the solid foundation on which he built so many successful basketball programs can be applied to almost any situation. As you assess your chosen path in life and look for ways to embark on a more inspiring and rewarding journey, Coach Dru offers an accessible and relatable roadmap for personal evolution. (224 pages)


I'll be honest here: I don't do basketball. We had season passes once to the local high school so I have seen the game played, but I don't know much more about it than that you have to bounce the ball when you run and you're trying to get it into your opponent's basket. Why did I volunteer for a review copy of Beyond Champions, then? What sort of person would be interested in reading a book by LeBron James's coach, when she could never even remember if LeBron played basketball or baseball? Well, the short answer is that I was curious. I like to try out new things periodically, and this seemed like a great way to wade a few inches into the sports scene. Plus, I loved Ben Carson's advice book You Have a Brain, and I wanted to read a book similar to that.

Well, it's not really very similar to You Have a Brain. I wish it were. Carson spent the first half of the book walking through his childhood/tracing his own path to success, then the other half of the book explaining the applicable lessons that he had drawn from his experiences. It was interesting, well-organized, and very useful because the advice was compiled in a few chapters at the back of the book. Joyce, on the other hand, organized his book so that every chapter focused on a different piece of advice from him. This begins well enough in the first few chapters, where he explains his own childhood and young adulthood in parallel with advice about "the beauty of rock bottom" and how "decisions create environment." The story thread becomes much more blurred in the later chapters, as Jocye uses anecdotes from random parts of his career to illuminate each point. The chronology is pretty dodgy. 

I still would have enjoyed Joyce's book despite the fuzzy narrative, but I struggled for the better part of a week to get through it. I had a hard time deciding what I thought about Joce as a person - knowing nothing about sports, I don't know if he's really known as a great Christian guy, or whether that's just how he's spinning it in his book. He doesn't pull any punches describing his (rather abysmal) college years, but he paints a too-good-to-be-true picture of himself as a coach, talking about his own skill and his own techniques and his own devotion to the players until the reader (or at least this reader) is ready to yell "enough already!" and go Google some old scandals involving him. Also, he name-drops almost incessantly. It's "LeBron this" and "Bron that" (he informs us early on that he gets to use this nickname for James), and "he is indebted to me for what I taught him as a kid." I don't doubt that Joyce and James were very close, and that James learned a lot under Joyce, but it got a little old hearing about it all the time. Maybe that's just because I don't know LeBron James from Michael Jordan, though - sports fans probably wouldn't complain that there are too many details about the basketball star.

Basically, only read this if you care about LeBron James, Dru Joyce II, (and his son, Dru Joyce III), and/or the mindset of basketball coaches. Otherwise, just skip this one and go read an advice book written by someone you are interested in.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go watch TV for an hour. Reading about all of that basketball stuff is exhausting.

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

Friday, June 5, 2015

Lucky Strike by Bobbie Pyron, 2015

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on Goodreads
A rich, southern voice tells the unforgettable story of two vulnerable outsiders, the lightning strike that turns their world upside down and the true meaning of lucky.Nate Harlow has never had a lucky day in his life. He's never won a prize, he's never been picked first, he's never even won a coin toss. His best friend, Genesis Beam (aka Gen), believes in science and logic, and she doesn't think for one second that there's such a thing as luck, good or bad. But only an extremely unlucky person could be struck by lightning on his birthday... and that person is Nate Harlow. By some miracle, though, Nate survives, and the strike seems to have changed his luck. Suddenly, Nate's grandpa is the busiest fisherman in their small, beachside town. And Nate finds himself the center of attention, the most popular kid at school, the one who hits a game-winning home run! This lucky streak can't last forever, though, and as a hurricane draws close to the shores of Paradise Beach, Nate and Gen may need more than just good luck to save their friendship and their town: They need a miracle. (272 pages)

I'm beginning to feel old. Yes, old. And don't laugh at me, okay? Sixteen-year-olds are allowed to feel the effects of growing up just as much as adults - in fact, we go through more changes in a shorter amount of time than you do! So when I read a Middle Grade book, one that is targeted to an age group that I was a part of only four years ago, I get a bit nostalgic. I get nostalgic for the days when I was easily wowed, when plots never felt reused or simplistic or - perish  the thought! - boring. Now that I'm older, and have read so many books, I am much more particular about the books that I read. My eyes aren't the fresh eyes of a book-loving seventh grader; they're the critical eyes of a well-read soon-to-be Senior in high school. Yes, I realize I'm exagerrating. But I'm in a reading slump right now, so this is how it feels. In a few weeks I'll be bright-eyes again, but right now the world is a well-trodden place where there is nothing new to bring to the table.

I'm sad Lucky Strike didn't bring me out of my slump, but I just didn't like the characters enough to enjoy it very much. Nate didn't really win me, and I especially didn't care much for the way he treated Gen. He's such a fair-weather friend that as soon as he gets struck by lightning, he hoofs it over to the popular kids' side. Haha, he's a "fair-weather friend" who leaves after he gets "struck by lightning!" I don't know why, but I think that's hilarious. Puns aside, though, Nate was rather an anomaly. Descriptions of Nate and Gen's past together depicted him as this great friend who stuck by Gen through thick and thin. Then we're supposed to believe that he ditches her in a really cruel way (by standing her up, barely apologizing, and then calling her a weirdo in front of all of their classmates). Then at the end - well, I won't spoil it for you, but I bet you can guess. Nate's supposed to be this nice kid who went a little popularity crazy when his luck changed, but I just don't buy it. I wish I did, though.

As for Gen, I didn't really love her either. I mean, I liked her more than Nate and I felt bad for her when he was mistreating her. But I'm so sick of the "socially disconnected" depiction of smart people that I didn't really like her as much as I could have. How come the smart person always has to be the weirdo? As a smart-ish person myself, I know this isn't always the case - when you're born, God doesn't decide between giving you scholastic or social aptitude. Being able to process large numbers in your head (definitely not a gift God has given me) does not require you to spit them out like a calculator in the middle of conversations. Caring about turtle eggs on the beach does not mean you sit on the beach 24/7 and forgo having fun with people your own age (and species).

The plot idea is a fun one, and has a lot of potential. Byron focuses on the reactions to Nate's new luck: I already discussed Nate's less-than-ideal reaction, but the far more interesting aspect of the story is everyone else's reaction. Any time one person seems to have an advantage in this world, we seem to break into two groups: the beggers and the haters. The beggars are the people who swarm Nate, asking him to do things for them or play on their team or come ride in their fishing boat. They want some of Nate's luck to rub off on them, so they scurry to stay on his good side. Everone else despises Nate for being so successful. When he and his grandfather have a run of fabulous luck, the other men of the village become bitter that Nate's grandfather is getting everything. They become bitter, behaving meanly to both Nate and his grandfather, because they are swept away in the feeling that an injustice is being done them.

Honestly, the more I think about it the less I liked Lucky Strike. There's nothing so wrong with it that I would consciously refuse to recommend it, but there's also nothing so positive about it that I would go out of my way to suggest it to others. I may hand it off to my middle grade-aged brother if he seems interested, but I won't push it onto him. And who knows, he may like it much more than I did.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Top Ten Books That NEED To Be Turned Into Movies

Ooh, this is a fun prompt! Who doesn't have a secret laundry list of books that just have to be turned into movies? I know I for one have been keeping one for years in my head, and I'm excited to get it down in writing. Here are my top ten, in no particular order (other than the order they popped into my head):

1. The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen (my review)
2. The Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage
3. The 39 Clues series from Scholastic
4. The Willow Falls series by Wendy Mass (my review of the first book)
5. The Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix
6. The Candymakers by Wendy Mass
7. The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker
8. The Always War by Margaret Peterson Haddix
9. The Gollywhopper Games books by Jody Feldman (my review of the second book)
10. Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

And there we go! What books do you think should be turned into movies? Click here to check out more top ten lists at The Broke and the Bookish.

Teaser Tuesdays: Lucky Strike by Bobbie Pyron, 2015 (June 2)

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 A Daily Rhythm. 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 Lucky Strike by Bobbie Pyron.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
A rich, southern voice tells the unforgettable story of two vulnerable outsiders, the lightning strike that turns their world upside down and the true meaning of lucky.
Nate Harlow has never had a lucky day in his life. He's never won a prize, he's never been picked first, he's never even won a coin toss. His best friend, Genesis Beam (aka Gen), believes in science and logic, and she doesn't think for one second that there's such a thing as luck, good or bad. But only an extremely unlucky person could be struck by lightning on his birthday... and that person is Nate Harlow. By some miracle, though, Nate survives, and the strike seems to have changed his luck. Suddenly, Nate's grandpa is the busiest fisherman in their small, beachside town. And Nate finds himself the center of attention, the most popular kid at school, the one who hits a game-winning home run! This lucky streak can't last forever, though, and as a hurricane draws close to the shores of Paradise Beach, Nate and Gen may need more than just good luck to save their friendship and their town: They need a miracle.
(272 pages)

This week's quote comes from page 17:
"Come on," someone called from the line forming behind them. "Get moving!"
"Gen, please," Nate pleaded. Why, oh why, couldn't she just this once act like a normal person? 
Does this interest you? Check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, 2007

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on Goodreads
Miri lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have quarried stone and lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king's priests have divined her small village the home of the future princess. In a year's time, the prince himself will come and choose his bride from among the girls of the village. The king's ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess.
Miri soon finds herself confronted with a harsh academy mistress, bitter competition among the girls, and her own conflicting desires to be chosen and win the heart of her childhood best friend. But when bandits seek out the academy to kidnap the future princess, Miri must rally the girls together and use a power unique to the mountain dwellers to save herself and her classmates.

(314 pages)

I'm in a reviewing slump, because I haven't read anything I cared enough about to review lately. So what do I do when I need to have a review up in two days? I turn to my old favorites and choose one I know like the back of my hand. I haven't read Princess Academy in a long time, but it really doesn't matter because I've read it so many times that I could review it in my sleep. I won't, though - I'm wide awake right now, I promise!

Why do I love Princess Academy so much? Part of it comes from exposure, I guess. I read it for the first time when I was seven, and fell in love with just about everything about it: the mountain, the "magic," the ending. The main reason I love Princess Academy, though, isn't just exposure to it at an early age - it's the story, and the characters, and the setting, and just about everything else. 

I love Miri for her sense of humor, her intelligence, her strength . . . and her weakness. Miri feels inferior to the other villagers because she is small and physically weak, and her father won't let her work in the stone quarry with the majority of her neighbors. Growing up on the outskirts of the quarry, spending her days with the young, the old, and the physically handicapped who can't work in the quarry, Miri has developed a sort of inferiority complex. She hides her insecurities and her loneliness by cracking jokes and teasing others, hiding herself so completely behind a facade of lightheartedness and confidence that no one suspects how unsure of herself Miri really is. I love watching Miri throughout the book as she learns not only how to read and write (though those are obviously important too!), but also how to believe in herself and to positively affect the people around her.

I also love the other characters. Peder, Britta, Esa, Frid, Knut, Lars, even Olana - they all have unique personalities, unique motives for acting the way they do, unique reactions to the formation of the Academy. Britta is my personal favorite because she begins as a minor character but becomes more and more prominent as the book goes on. Her story deserves a novel all to itself! I also love Peder for the whole childhood frienship/loyalty thing between him and Miri, and I love Katar for what makes her so desperate to win the prince's heart. Steffan is one of my favorite characters because he's more than just a cartoon-prince only good for acting as the author's trump card in the princess competition (like, "I want XYZ to marry the prince, so Steffan picks her even though that wouldn't make an sense!").

This review is becoming too long, so I'm just going to stop. I could keep going, though, listing off every single character in the book and why I love them. I could also talk about the Heidi-esque setting, and the awesome side-plot about linder (which is the stone they quarry), and the theme of familial love that runs strong through the veins of Princess Academy. Instead I'll simply summarize the rest of my review like this: It's one of my favorite books. Ever. And you need to read it.

And if you already have read it? Read it again. Then (though this is less urgent) read the sequels - here's a link to my review of the third book in the series, The Forgotten Sisters.