Monday, August 31, 2015

Saving Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea, 2015

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Seventh grade was going to be awesome. The only thing missing was Mr. Terupt.
The kids from Mr. Terupt’s fifth- and sixth-grade classes are entering their first year of junior high school. There’s a lot to be excited about, but there are new challenges, too. Peter and Jeffrey face tough competition on their wrestling team. Alexia has a disastrous first day of school, and that’s only the beginning. Anna is desperate for Charlie to propose to her mother—what is he waiting for?! Danielle isn’t feeling so well, but she's trying to tough it out, like Grandma. Trouble with a bully makes Lukedread going to school for the first time ever. And Jessica is waiting anxiously for an acceptance to a theater retreat in New York City.
Everyone is missing Mr. Terupt. When a fight threatens to break up the group forever, they think their favorite teacher is the only one who can help them. But the kids soon find out that it’s Mr. Terupt who needs saving.
This novel includes extra content in the back of the book. Readers will find a Junior High Survival Guide with tips from the old gang!

(384 pages)

I've loved these books since Because of Mr. Terupt was a standalone, and I didn't even have a book blog. Thus many of you may not know how much I love the Terupt books. Let me tell you now: I. Love. Them. Which is why I was over the moon when I found out that Saving Mr. Terupt was actually a thing. A third Terupt book? Sign me up! I requested it from the library immediately (instead of pre-ordering it, because I was out of shelf space and trying to teach myself the Art of Patience), and snapped it up the day it came in (which was three days after its release date, thank you very much. I hate really don't like my library). I devoured it that same day.

The first thing I discovered was that it had been too long since I read the first two books. It took me a few chapters to remember the ins and outs of who was who. It didn't help that there were three girls and three boys (all conveniently crushing on each other in three neat pairs), and the girls sometimes got kind of muddled together. Then there were pieces of peoples' pasts that I had to scramble to remember, especially Jeffrey's - the whole dead brother thing is never explained at all in this book, and it took me a while to remember what on earth was going on with him. My other main complaint is that it felt like things were constantly escalating. Not that escalating tension is a bad thing (and frankly, Buyea did a great job in general with it), but that every single stinkin' chapter ended with "little did we know, it was just the calm before the storm," or something to that effect. It's like, I get it. Things are going to get worse. Quit saying that and start showing me.

But then, I also really liked how things continued to escalate throughout the book. We start out all happy and gay, excited about a new school year and pledging to remain the best of friends, and then slowly sink lower and lower into the tension and stress that is middle school, until everyone is at pretty much complete odds with each other. I still absolutely adore Mr. Terupt, and I was completely behind everything the gang did as they fought to help him. I saw literally every twist coming (except the one with Jessica, when she went you-know-where and met you-know-who), but that didn't stop me from feeling bad for Mr. Terupt, and rooting for him to come out on top.

I always loved how there were so many different characters telling the story in the Terupt books, because it allowed a more complete view of events - and it made it possible to actually have six main characters I could still keep straight (most of the time). I continued to enjoy reading about six very different kids in Saving Mr. Terupt, and I appreciated the fact that they were all struggling with very different issues throughout the book and yet the narration never began to feel disjointed.

All in all, I really enjoyed Saving Mr. Terupt. I don't think it's quite as good as the first two books, but they're so good that it's only in comparison that it comes up (slightly) lacking. I still recommend it to all fans of the previous books, and would even recommend it on its own merits to people who haven't read the rest of the series, except it wouldn't make one bit of sense if you came in without all the backstory from the first two books. But yeah, definitely a great book. Someday I'll buy the second and third Terupt books and complete my collection (which is currently a collection of one).

Friday, August 28, 2015

El Deafo by Cece Bell, 2014

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Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece's class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.
Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school--in the hallway...in the teacher's lounge...in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it's just another way of feeling different... and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?
This funny perceptive graphic novel memoir about growing up hearing impaired is also an unforgettable book about growing up, and all the super and super embarrassing moments along the way.

(233 pages)

I don't really read comic books very often (actually, I never read comic books), but I saw so many great reviews of El Deafo that I just had to check it out. And I'm very glad I did!

This is quite the autobiography. Cece perfectly depicts the thought processes of little girls, complete with one-dimensional classmates/friends and the little embarrassments that turn into major catastrophes when you're young. The comic-book format was perfect for telling this story, and I loved the way she depicted everyone as bunnies instead of as humans, which basically lets readers fill in whatever human faces they want for the characters. Instead of making it explicitly a story about only her own childhood, Cece lets the reader choose what the characters look like (and maybe who they resemble in the reader's own life).

Speaking of that, some of Cece's experiences mirror my own - especially in the beginning, when she moves away from her childhood home. Whether you're hearing or not, it's hard to leave your friends behind, and I can totally relate to the loneliness of leaving behind everything that is familiar to you. Other parts of Cece's story are less similar to my own childhood (in large part just because I didn't grow up attending school - there's a lot less drama when your only classmates are your three younger siblings), but they still rang true as the sort of trouble that kids have growing up. Cece (the author) perfectly nails the one-dimensional way children see the world.

I'd like to think that I could take stories from my childhood, write them in comic-book form, and win a Newberry, but I have a feeling it wouldn't really be that simple. Just for starters, I can't draw - at all - so I wouldn't be able to write the comic book in the first place. Technicalities aside, though, it takes a certain type of extreme talent to so perfectly relay the experiences and attitudes of childhood without a) sugar-coating things or b) making the MC seem like a total brat. Bell does a marvelous job straddling this line with El Deafo, and I'm glad I was able to spend a few hours with the result.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

If I Taught "Slow-Burn Romance 101," I Would Use These Five Books

Today's Top Ten Tuesday prompt is fill-in-the-blank: if you taught some sort of 101 class, on a topic of your choice, what ten books would you use as examples? I cast around for a while before choosing my topic, but once I had it I knew it was the once: Slow-Burn Romance 101. Be careful below, because each of these features pretty major spoilers for their books/series.

1. The Harry Potter series
This series is basically one big slow-burn, because the characters all start out as little kids and discover their feelings for each other slowly as the books go on. You'll notice, class, that there are two main romantic couples at the end of the book: Harry and Ginny, and Ron and Hermione. You'll also notice that Harry and Ginny waited five (and a half) books to become official, but Ginny had been showing signs of a crush on Harry for a lot longer than that. Ron and Hermione never really seemed romantically interested in each other through the usual signs (blushing around each other, forgiving the other's faults, etc.), but it came as a shock to no one when they got together in the last book. Why? Because Hermione yelled at Ron just a little too often, and because Ron actually read that book about complimenting girls so they don't get mad at you.

2. The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series
Yes, class, this is the infamous Percabeth that you've heard about. The key again is to notice the little things: the way they immediately had strong (though rather negative) feelings for each other at the beginning of the first book, foreshadowing that they would always have very strong feelings for each other. The way Percy kept a picture of Annabeth in his school binder at the beginning of the second book. The way he was the most upset out of everyone else at camp when Annabeth was kidnapped by monsters in the third book. The way Annabeth is absolutely furious when she found out that Percy spent a few weeks with Calypso in the fourth book. When you add in the more obvious signs (like Annabeth kissing Percy in book four), it's extremely clear by the fifth book that Percy and Annabeth love each other - which makes it that much sweeter when they finally get together.

3. All Fall Down (Book 1 of the Embassy Row series) by Ally Carter
This one is a little bit harder, because the rest of the series isn't out yet and Grace and Alexei's relationship isn't set in stone. But I'll bet anything that they wind up together in the end, because I can sniff out the signs. Grace turns to Alexei when she becomes overwhelmed, and he knows her well enough to take her to sit on the wall and detox for a while in silence. His father wants him to steer clear of Grace, but Alexei refuses because he doesn't want to stop being with her. If these aren't the signs of a slowly blooming romance, I'll . . . I don't know, I'll eat my projector.

4. No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman
Yes, class, I realize this is a Middle Grade novel. But who says there can't be great slow-burn in MG, too? The great thing about the romance between Wallace and Rachel is that you get to watch it evolve from both sides, because the story is told in multiple-POVs. At the beginning, Rachel despises Wallace as the jock who's ruining her play, and Wallace despises her for being the drama geek who starts complaining whenever he suggests a minor change to the script. They slowly begin to thaw toward each other as the story progresses and they get better acquainted. When Rachel is the only person defending Wallace when he's under attack for sabotaging the play, and Wallace is so determined not to let the real saboteur ruin her beloved play, you can see that the slow-burn has reached its peak and is ready to burst into flame.

5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
What's a literature class without a Jane Austen book, right? Pride and Prejudice is the classic slow-burn romance novel, the one everyone points to as an example. Lizzy and Mr. Darcy's romance simmers for a long time, kept tiny by a combination of Darcy's pride (his initial refusal to dance, which puts Elizabeth on edge, and then later his reluctant to explain his past with Wickham) and Elizabeth's general stubbornness (her refusal to believe Darcy could be a decent person, her attachment to Wickham, etc). They both have to completely abandon their previous misconceptions about each other before they can get together, and so you can see their relationship grow as they slowly inch their walls down. And when Darcy pays Wickham to marry Lydia, and Elizabeth refuses to promise she won't marry Darcy, you know that things have finally come to a head.

So there we go. I've only got five today, class, because it's hard to come up with good examples of slow-burn! Have you read any good slow-burns? If so, please let me know in the comments below.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Dark Whispers by Bruce Coville, 2008

This is the third book in the Unicorn Chronicles. There are some unavoidable spoilers below, so don't read the review unless you've read Dark Whispers's prequels! Click to read my reviews of the first and second books in the series.

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In the much-anticipated third volume of the Unicorn Chronicles, Cara Diana Hunter journeys to the Valley of the Centaurs in quest of a mysterious lost story that could hold the key to the survival of the unicorns. But the price for that story may prove to be more than her heart can bear.
(480 pages)


Bruce Coville got more and more long-winded as this series went on. I'm still trying to decide whether that's a good thing or not. I've never been a huge fan of the technique where the author switches POV every other chapter, telling two separate stories about two separate main characters. I usually find it really annoying, actually, because you're constantly braking to a halt just when one story is getting good, then switching to the other storyline that you've kind of forgotten about, and then switching back to the first one and so on and so forth.

In this case, though, this method worked pretty well. I mean, it worked better than it usually does. I still got frustrated every now and then when a story was cut off just as it was getting good, but in general it was pretty smooth. I guess it's just the best way to tell two different stories, when they're going on in completely different locations. My biggest beef with Dark Whispers, besides the switching-POVs, is actually one I already mentioned in my review of the second book - I don't like Cara's father. Like, at all. His motives just felt so fake to me, and I honestly didn't even believe his "transformation" at the end of Song of the Wanderer. By the end of the third book, I guess I do believe it (either that or he is most definitely biding his time), and he had some inner monologues that cleared up a little bit of the fog around his motives throughout the series, but still. I just don't like him.

Things weren't perfect over on Cara's side either (I mean seriously, her grandmother is terrible at communicating with people - and not in a "this makes sense" kind of way, but in a "I'm trying to keep the reader in suspense" way), but it was on the whole a much better read. I love Cara a lot, and while she still feels rather like a vanilla character, you really can't help but root for her. The discoveries she makes at the end of the book are pretty mind-blowing, and I love the new friend she makes along the way to her destination. Cara sometimes reminds me of Jenna from the Septimus Heap books, and the resemblance was strongest in Dark Whispers. It's funny, because I can't really identify why that is, or why she reminds even me of Jenna at all, but the underground scenes definitely had a Septimus-Heap-like feel to them. Which is definitely a plus in my book.

All in all, this is a pretty solid installment in the Unicorn Chronicles. If I was reviewing it as a standalone, I would be pretty tangled up between the parts I loved and the parts I . . . didn't. As it is, I can definitely recommend it as the continuation in a good series.

And now I need to travel an hour by car to get a copy of the fourth book from a different library system, because it went out of stock in, like, a day as far as I can tell. I'll post a review when I get my hands on a copy.

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen, 2015

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From New York Times bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen comes a stunning thriller about a girl who must escape to freedom after the Berlin Wall divides her family between east and west.
With the rise of the Berlin Wall, twelve-year-old Gerta finds her family divided overnight. She, her mother, and her brother Fritz live on the eastern side, controlled by the Soviets. Her father and middle brother, who had gone west in search of work, cannot return home. Gerta knows it is dangerous to watch the wall, to think forbidden thoughts of freedom, yet she can't help herself. She sees the East German soldiers with their guns trained on their own citizens; she, her family, her neighbors and friends are prisoners in their own city.
But one day, while on her way to school, Gerta spots her father on a viewing platform on the western side, pantomiming a peculiar dance. Then, when she receives a mysterious drawing, Gerta puts two and two together and concludes that her father wants Gerta and Fritz to tunnel beneath the wall, out of East Berlin. However, if they are caught, the consequences will be deadly. No one can be trusted. Will Gerta and her family find their way to freedom?

(384 pages; Release date August 25)

Wow. Just wow. I love Historical Fiction, and I'd been meaning to read more about post-WWII Germany, but I still couldn't believe my luck when I found out that one of my favorite authors would be writing a Historical Fiction set in post-WWII Germany.

A Night Divided is a relatively small book for the punch it packs. It's filled with terror and sorrow and agonizing dilemmas, but also love, friendship, and family. Gerta and Fritz are making huge sacrifices in their fight to unite their family and find the freedom they've only ever heard of. Their mother spends most of the book being a millstone around their necks, fighting to keep them safe the only way she knows how: by keeping them away from freedom. The first time I read the book I kind of hated her, because she was always trying to make her kids give up, give in, and let the government rule their lives. The second time through, however, I realized that she made some very valid points. In the real world, the choice between possible death in search of freedom and (probably) guaranteed life in oppression isn't quite as cut-and-dry as people like to make out. I might root for Gerta and Fritz, and cheer them on every step of the way, but that's partly because A Night Divided is just a book and I know Jennifer Nielsen isn't the sort of author to write the next The Book Thief. In real life, any pretenses at valor aside, I would have to think really, really hard about what to do. The fact that both Fritz and Gerta have files (meaning they've been marked by the government as future traitors) that basically ruin their prospects for the rest of their lives would definitely help tilt me towards leaving, but their mother didn't even know about the files. And since they kept her in the dark about that, I don't think they can really blame her reluctance to risk all of their lives to escape.

Speaking of "the dark," I love the imagery of light and dark that Nielsen uses throughout A Night Divided. Gerta reflects on themes of lightness, darkness, and the sun and moon, using them as metaphors for her situation in East Berlin. At the beginning of the book, when the wall first goes up and she feels the warmth of the sun on her back, she narrates: "This early morning light had not ended the long, dark night. No. For us, the dark night had only begun." Later she looks across the wall and reflects, "it somehow seemed brighter across the wall, as if the sun gave more of its light to the west."
Most poignant, though, is the way she tries to explain why people want to escape East Berlin: "You've seen the sun, Anna. Now that you have, could you ever be content with just stars for light? Would that be enough for you?" There are many more instances of this beautiful light vs. dark imagery throughout the book, but I'll leave them for you to discover on your own.

Nielsen's main characters are very different individuals, in unique situations and settings and all the rest. But the one thing they all have in common is a particular stubbornness in their nature, a certain penchant for breaking the rules. I do love this personality trait, and Nielsen has done it very well every time, but I would like to see her write a completely different character one day. It's Gerta's rebelliousness that is probably the only thing that bugs me with A Night Divided, because there's this separation created between her and her family (who bear "Papa's blood," which somehow makes them more resilient against the brainwashing) and everyone else. Later in the book Gerta references her father's training as the reason she and her brother are that way, but I would have liked a little bit more of a realization that it wasn't just "being Papa's children" that made Fritz and Gerta yearn for freedom. Gerta doesn't seem to realize that there's a difference between seeming content and actually being happy with your life. Some of this might just be the natural result of having a twelve-year-old narrator, though, so I didn't let it bother me too much.

But yeah, I am so happy with A Night Divided. It's even better than I'd hoped it would be! I already knew Nielsen was a talented writer from her other books (including Mark of the Thief, which is Historical Fantasy), but I never knew she could write such a beautiful, poignant novel. Historical Fiction is definitely a strength for her, and I really hope she writes some more books in the genre! In the meantime, I will definitely be recommending this one to readers interested in good books about the Berlin Wall - or just good books, period.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from Scholastic in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ten Authors I Will Auto-Read

This week's prompt is to list ten auto-buy authors (or ten from a specific genre if that's too general). Most people must buy a lot more books than I do, because I can't come up with ten auto-buy authors at all, let alone ten from a specific genre. I'm a reader on a budget of sorts, only spending my Barnes & Noble gift cards on new books, so I try not to go crazy with getting new books. Plus, I really don't have shelf space for a bunch of new books streaming in all the time! We live in a town home, and I share a room, and I am physically unable to add another bookshelf to my room. Unless I got rid of my dresser, that is. Hmm . . .

Anyway, I altered the prompt to be auto-read authors, and still could only come up with seven. The trouble is that there's not really such a thing as an "auto-read" author for me, let alone an "auto-buy" one, because if a book looks inappropriate enough, I won't read it no matter who wrote it. These seven are some of the best authors I know, though, and I've read the vast majority of their new books over the last few years.

1. Margaret Peterson Haddix
If I had to name one true "auto-read" (and even "auto-buy" - I've bought four of the last five books she's written) author, this would be it. I've read every single one of her books, and loved all of them. I plan to continue reading every one of her books as they come out, until the day there are no more new ones. And then I will go curl into a ball and cry.

2. Angie Sage
I absolutely adore her Septimus Heap and TodHunter Moon books, and I am a sort-of fan of her Araminta Spook books (I've only read one), which are a little young for me. If she wrote any other series or standalones, I would most definitely read them unless they looked really, really inappropriate.

3. Jennifer Nielsen
I've read every single book of Nielsen's, too, and I've never met one I haven't liked. I'm not calling her an "auto-read"author yet because she's only written like seven books, and I'm never completely confident about an author's books until I've read like fifteen of them, but I've absolutely loved all of her books I've read so far - including A Night Divided, her post-WWII East Berlin book that comes out next Tuesday (my review will go live on Friday).

4. Jessica Day George
She's written a lot of great books, from the Dragon and Princesses of Westfalin trilogies to her standalone Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, to the Castle Glower series. Only a few months ago I would have listed her as a total auto-read author, but her book Silver in the Blood, which just came out, is one I'm not going to read. I'm still a big fan of hers, but I just can't say I've read "all of her books" anymore. Definitely keeping an eye out for any and all new books from her.

5. Gordon Korman
Ah, another great author! I've been auto-reading his new books for years now, and haven't come across one I didn't like. His last few books (Masterminds, the Hypnotists trilogy, the Swindle books, etc.) have been particularly great. I can't wait to read the second Masterminds book!

6. Wendy Mass
She's got a lot of great books, too, from the Willow Falls series to standalones like The Candymakers and Every Soul a Star. I don't read her Space Taxi series, just because it's for younger kids, but I do keep an eye out for the rest of her books as they come out - and get my hands on them as fast as I possibly can.

7. James Riley
I've only read four of his books (the Twice Upon a Time trilogy, and the first Story Thieves book), but I've enjoyed all of them and am definitely going to read anything new he puts out unless it's, like, some sort of Adult novel about explicit themes.

Yeah, this basically just works out to be another list of my favorite authors (very similar to my actual list of favorite authors), but there we go. All of these authors write very good books that I work very hard to get my hands on.

Teaser Tuesdays: A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen, 2015 (August 18)

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 A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
From New York Times bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen comes a stunning thriller about a girl who must escape to freedom after the Berlin Wall divides her family between east and west.
With the rise of the Berlin Wall, twelve-year-old Gerta finds her family divided overnight. She, her mother, and her brother Fritz live on the eastern side, controlled by the Soviets. Her father and middle brother, who had gone west in search of work, cannot return home. Gerta knows it is dangerous to watch the wall, to think forbidden thoughts of freedom, yet she can't help herself. She sees the East German soldiers with their guns trained on their own citizens; she, her family, her neighbors and friends are prisoners in their own city.
But one day, while on her way to school, Gerta spots her father on a viewing platform on the western side, pantomiming a peculiar dance. Then, when she receives a mysterious drawing, Gerta puts two and two together and concludes that her father wants Gerta and Fritz to tunnel beneath the wall, out of East Berlin. However, if they are caught, the consequences will be deadly. No one can be trusted. Will Gerta and her family find their way to freedom?
(384 pages)
Here's this week's teaser, from page 1:
It was Sunday, August 13, 1961, a day I would remember for the rest of my life. When a prison had been built around us as we slept.
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my ARC review!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Project Inspired by Nicole Weider, 2015

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on Goodreads 
Nicole Weider is on a mission: to help young girls avoid the traps that culture sets. The trap that baits you into thinking you must sacrifice your self-worth in order to be beautiful and popular. Nicole launched Project Inspired in 2010 (www.projectinspired.com), a website for teen girls that analyzes pop culture and explores ways girls can live in their authentic beauty.
In Project Inspired, Nicole shares tips for you to stay true to yourself--to how you were created to be--as well as how to dress modestly yet fashionably, how to make a positive difference in the world, and how to enjoy your teen years while standing firm in your faith. With photographs, real behind-the-scenes stories from inside the fashion world, and an honest look at living a life that looks great on the outside and feels great on the inside, Project Inspired is a book you'll turn to time and time again.

(176 pages)

This isn't really what I was expecting. I requested it from a Christian book catalog, but the synopsis doesn't really sound that religious so I thought it was going to be mostly more general advice, not Christian-specific. That doesn't mean I'm not the target audience (after all, I am very much a Christian teenage girl!), but it does mean my blog isn't quite the target I thought it would be - I try not to stray too far into Christian books when I do my reviews, but oh, well. Non-Christian readers, just skip over this one, I guess.

Anyway, on the whole I really liked Nicole's tips. At times they seemed kind of random (and in the beginning I thought the entire book would be full of outfit tips!), but she makes a lot of great points. I can't say that all of the fashion terms really registered with me (what the heck is a "studded cross body" purse? And who actually worries about the oils in her hands being bad for her face?), but I think that's just because I'm not nearly as dressy as a lot of my peers. A few days after reading Project Inspired I was sorting through all of my clothes, getting rid of those that don't fit or that were too heavy for summer (yes, I waited until August to put aside my winter clothes). I found myself thinking about some of her tips as I considered what outfits I could make with the leftover clothes, and whether I needed to buy any more (the answer: yes. After getting rid of all the winter clothes, I have like ten tops, five skirts, and four pants. I put them all on hangars and they didn't even fill up my closet).

With the life and faith advice, I appreciated that Nicole was very nonjudgemental, and very focused on God's forgiveness. I didn't agree with her on a few points (for example, she believes gender roles are necessary in healthy relationships), but on the whole she had a lot of strong advice about staying pure, actively cultivating strong friendships, and looking for good boyfriends/husbands. I checked out her website very briefly, and found a lot of really great advice (and some I, again, was a little meh about) couched in very loving terms. I believe Nicole honestly has a passion for helping girls "enjoy [their] teen years while still standing firm in [their] faith."

So yeah. I might refer back to Project Inspired in the future for some clothing tips as I work on sprucing up my wardrobe, but I don't think I'll be frequenting the website with any regularity. I love the idea of it, though, and may check back now and then just to see what sort of things people are talking about. I don't know if I'd really recommend this to anyone, but I certainly wouldn't discourage anyone from reading it, either - and if one of my friends is interested by my copy, I'll probably just give it to her.

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

Friday, August 14, 2015

Play to the Angel by Maurine F. Dahlberg, 2000

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on Goodreads 
Austria in 1938 is under the shadow of the Nazis, but twelve-year-old Greta doesn't notice-she cares only for her piano lessons with their new neighbor, a teacher with a mysterious past. Herr Hummel believes in Greta, and she begins to prepare for a recital. Then the Nazis invade, and Greta discovers her teacher's secret. His life is in danger, and she may be the only one who can help him.
(192 pages)

This is a beautiful book that I'd read a long time ago, but almost completely forgotten. Seeing it in a bin at a book swap, I snatched it and brought it home so I could re-read it (and also, figure out which book it was - I had it muddled up with another WWII book that I still haven't been able to track down).

It really is a great story, and even though I can never entirely relate to piano-prodigy main characters (because who'm I kidding? I am so not a piano prodigy - I quit as soon as my parents let me!), I still love reading about people like Greta who are so dedicated to their art. I also like looking at the Holocaust from different angles, and the Viennese view of events has always particularly fascinated me. I can't imagine how terrible it must have been to be one minute a safe, independent country and the next minute - to not be.

I also have a penchant for characters with Hemophilia. I know that Kurt isn't actually in the book itself (he died before the book began), but his shadow hangs over the entire story, and I appreciated getting a look at the aftermath of the tragic disease. Kurt isn't just defined by his hemophilia, though, and I thought he was pretty well-fleshed out for not even being in the book at all. Greta is very obviously heartbroken about his death, and struggles with the conflict between trying to get out from under his legacy and forge her own name, and not wanting to give him up entirely.

I can't say I'm a big fan of Greta's mother, though. Actually, I really didn't like her. I don't care if she was so broken up about Kurt's death; she shouldn't have written Greta off like that! She's so wrapped up in mourning him, and trying to get herself together enough to move past his death, that she's completely blind to all that she's missing with her daughter. I know things were hard for her, but still. Also, she thought Hitler was a good guy for most of the book! I know she didn't really understand the horrors of what he was doing, but still. Not a big draw for me.

I did love Herr Kimmel, though, and I liked how his backstory tied Greta's piano-playing together with the events that were unfolding at the beginning of WWII. I really liked the ending, when everything came together, and I closed the book with a nice satisfied feeling.

I highly recommend Play to the Angel to anyone who thinks it looks interesting, and will definitely keep it in mind going forward, as a go-to WWII book for anyone who wants a good WWII book (including younger kids not yet ready for the more gruesome books about concentration camps, Nazi cruelty, etc).

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

My Ten Most-Read Authors

When I first saw this week's prompt, I thought this would be really easy. All I had to do was go check out my most-read authors on Goodreads and write down the first ten, right? Well, wrong. Because I'm working on it, but I haven't yet added every book I've ever read to my Goodreads account. So while the first few authors are correct (mostly - because I've actually read even more than Goodreads thinks) the rest are sort of muddled. So my list is based off of my Goodreads list, but modified to reflect reality. Links go to my reviews.

10. J.K. Rowling
Heh, she probably doesn't really belong on this list. But hey, I've read seven of her books! And they were great books! And I didn't know who exactly to put here, so I put her!

9. Rick Riordan
Let's see, there are five Percy Jackson books, five Heroes of Olympus books, and three Kane Chronicles books. So that makes thirteen Rick Riordan books I've read, not even counting the three Percy Jackson/Kane Chronicles crossovers (which I don't - I've only read two of them). I read all of his books, I just wish I could say I enjoyed all of them. I adored the original Percy Jackson books, though, so that's good. It's also what propelled me through the less-awesome Heroes of Olympus books.

8. Joan Aiken
Ah, now here's a childhood favorite! I honestly don't really know how many of her books I've read (though now I think about it, probably enough that she should be a lot higher on the list. Oops.), but I do know I've read a lot. I've read almost all of the Dido Twite books (which are awesome, by the way!), as well as at least some, if not all of the Felix Brooke trilogy (which I read when I was, like, eight, so I don't remember). I still get sucked into her books like nobody's business.

7. Wendy Mass
The Willow Falls books rank very highly on my favorites list, as I'm sure you've figured out by now, but I've also read almost all of her books: Every Soul a Star, A Mango-Colored Space, The Candymakers, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, the Twice Upon a Time trilogy, and many more. I count twelve books just from the ones I listed (Willow Falls has five books), and I'm pretty sure there are more than that.

6. E.D. Baker
I'm not really sure she should be this high on the list, but I did read like eight of her Frog Princess books, plus three of those Princess books and two Wings books. That only makes thirteen, but let me tell you - it felt like more. And I mean that in the nicest way possible. Mostly.

5. Jessica Day George
Let's see, there are the two trilogies (Dragons and The Princesses of Westfalin), the three Castle Glower books, the standalone Sun and Moon, Ice and Snowand - wait, I thought there was more than that. Nope, just checked Goodreads, I was wrong. I mean, there was also Silver in the Blood but I haven't read that (and don't plan to). If I were a less lazy girl, I would shift her name farther down the list. As it is, she's staying here because I don't want to re-number like half of my authors over again.

4. Gordon Korman
Now this one, I know for real should be up here. I've read almost all of his books, including the long Swindle series, all five of his trilogies (Island, Kidnapped, Everest, Dive, and The Hypnotists), the On the Run books, the first Masterminds book, and his 39 Clues contributions, not to mention all the awesome standalones like No More Dead Dogs and Ungifted. From series alone, I count like twenty books. That's a lot of books! That's a lot of good books!

3. Carolyn Keen (and company)
Yes, I realize all of the Nancy Drew books weren't written by one author named Carolyn Keene. But you know what? I don't care. They have her name on their cover, so this counts. And I read so many Nancy Drews when I was younger, I knew I had to put this on here. Sure, they aren't the shiny and exciting new books that a lot of these other authors' books are, but they're classics and I loved them. Still do, actually. I know it's juvenile, but I can't read just one Nancy Drew - if I pick one up, I zip through like ten.

2. Margaret Peterson Haddix
Ah, here we have the author whose writing I am probably most devoted to. I will literally read anything Margaret Peterson Haddix puts out, no matter how terrible the synopsis makes it sound. I haven't read one book by her that I didn't like - and I've read all 30+ of her books (including Full Ride, Leaving Fishers, Double Identity, and Claim to Fame), so that really means something.

1. Agatha Christie
Pah, I was going to put Margaret Peterson Haddix at the top of my list until I realized that the spot had to be reserved for somebody else. Who else but the queen of mystery could take the top of my most-read authors list? I've been reading her murder mysteries for like eight years now, and have consumed quite a few of them.

So there we go. I got a bit muddled in the middle, but my top choices came out all right. Anyway, it's close enough, isn't it? Considering this is all based on my memory of reading books stretching back to when I was six years old, I think this is fine. What about you? What are your most-read authors? I'd love to know!

Teaser Tuesdays: Play to the Angel by Maurine F. Dahlberg, 2000 (August 11)

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 Play to the Angel by Maurine F. Dahlberg.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Austria in 1938 is under the shadow of the Nazis, but twelve-year-old Greta doesn't notice-she cares only for her piano lessons with their new neighbor, a teacher with a mysterious past. Herr Hummel believes in Greta, and she begins to prepare for a recital. Then the Nazis invade, and Greta discovers her teacher's secret. His life is in danger, and she may be the only one who can help him.
(192 pages)

Here's this week's teaser, from page 75:
"Mutti, are you proud of me?"
"Of course!" She turned around, surprised. "I've always been proud of you. You're polite, and you get good grades and help me with the housework. Speaking of helping me with the housework, would you set the table please? That's a good girl."
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Drosten's Curse by A.L. Kennedy, 2015

Click to view
on Goodreads
From award-winning author A.L. Kennedy, an original Doctor Who novel featuring the beloved Fourth Doctor, as played by Tom Baker.
“I shall make you the jewel at the heart of the universe.”
Something distinctly odd is going on in Arbroath. It could be to do with golfers being dragged down into the bunkers at the Fetch Brothers’ Golf Spa Hotel, never to be seen again. It might be related to the strange twin grandchildren of the equally strange Mrs Fetch--owner of the hotel and fascinated with octopuses. It could be the fact that people in the surrounding area suddenly know what others are thinking, without anyone saying a word.
(368 pages)


This is the first book I've DNF'd in a very long time, and I'm heartbroken to do so. I came into The Drosten's Curse with an open mind, ready and willing to fall in love with this new medium of Doctor Who (having previously only watched the actual TV show). Unfortunately, I just couldn't do it. I stopped reading at page 150, and then skipped to the end to read the last few chapters - the writing style careened between "fan-fiction" and "Agatha-Christie-wannabe," and just became so painful I couldn't continue.

A lot of that had to do with the characters. Bryony is supposed to be this great, clever, strong heroine like the ones on the show (Rose, Martha, Donna, etc.), but she feels incredibly two-dimensional. Her pluckiness is really the only thing even slightly appealing about her - and it feels just a little too forced. I was excited at the beginning when she was introduced as a European History major (because, hey! I love European History!), but Kennedy completely avoids using this to actually give Bryony a personality, besides a few perfunctory references to Richelieu that really don't add anything to the story besides giving a tiny bit of credibility to Bryony's claim of having majored in history.

Putta was my favorite character. If all the other characters had been done as well as he was, the book would have been okay enough for me to actually read to the end. He was very endearing (though, if I'm being extra nit-picky, there was a rather over-the-top "this is a character you're supposed to find endearing" feel to him), and I did wish him a happy ending.

But what about the Doctor? Yikes. Just, yikes. I haven't watched much of Tom Baker-era Doctor Who, but I've seen enough to get the flavor and this just wasn't it. I mean sure, there were the perfunctory Jelly Babies scattered throughout the book, and a few references to his big scarf and wild hair, but being inside his head just didn't work at all. You're never inside the Doctor's head in the TV episodes, so I can't say this for sure, but I'm 99.99% positive that the Doctor's thought process wouldn't be anything like the way it's depicted in The Drosten's Curse. Kennedy would have been better off just staying out of his head altogether, because the scenes told from his POV are just - well, they're painful. Very painful. And I decided to DNF the book during one of those scenes.

So yeah, I definitely don't recommend this book to anyone. Who would recommend a book they couldn't even bring themselves to finish, anyway? If you've never seen Doctor Who but are curious about it, then please, I beg of you, go watch the actual TV show instead!

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

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Hostage Prince by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, 2013

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on Goodreads
Terrifying monsters, daring escapes and a kingdom on the verge of war…
Unlikely companions Snail and Prince Aspen find themselves thrown together on the adventure of a lifetime. Due to a series of misunderstandings, they end up on the run, having adventure after mishap after scary, thrilling escape. When they reach Aspen's kingdom, they learn to their horror that their actions have divided the country and plunged it into violence. Every minute counts: it is time for Snail and Aspen to figure out a way to stop the building war—together.

(256 pages)

Honestly, just look at that cover. Does this look like a good book to you? Snail's leggings are truly hideous, and Aspen . . . well, he kind of looks like a girl. Which is kind of ironic, thinking after having read the second book.

Yeah, I've already read the second book as well. Because while The Hostage Prince looks very mediocre from the cover, it's actually really, really good. My mother, who also read it, was willing to make a special library run the day the second book (The Last Changeling) came in, even though she'd been running around all day doing errands, just because she wanted to read it so badly. She finished it that same night.

The thing about the Seelie Wars books is that they don't pull any punches - sometimes literally. As middle grade fiction goes, this series is surprisingly dark and full of violence (a lot of it implied, but some deaths actually shown). This makes the tale that much more gripping for the main characters, and makes me love them that much more for not being like the people (er, creatures) around them. Because they live in a world of ruthlessness, where any sign of mercy or sympathy is treated like a deadly crime, their own behavior becomes that much more endearing. I love the way that they begin the book behaving the way most people of their respective classes would to each other (the prince completely in charge, Snail completely submissive), but then the wall between them breaks farther and farther down as the story progresses. There just reaches a point when you're in danger and it's more important to grab someone's hand and drag them away than it is to ask their permission for touching them, you know?

Snail makes for a great main character, because she's not a huge rebel. Honestly, I'm sick of stories about girls raised in servitude who spend all of their time revolting. Snail is the low of the low, and she knows it. She understands her own position of weakness, and while she may get a little bitter from time to time (when the nobility get especially capricious), and she never loses her own self-respect, most of the time she just goes along with however things are going. She begins to gradually lose this mindset of needing to "keep her place" as the story goes on and she develops a friendship with Aspen.

Speaking of the prince, he's not always the brightest bulb. But then again, I think that goes along with his upbringing. He's basically just meant to be a placeholder to keep war from breaking out between two kingdoms; there's really nothing he can be expected to actually do with his life besides that, so he hasn't exactly gotten a lot of stimulating training or anything. I love him a lot, though, especially as the book goes on and he begins to discover things about himself and how the world works that he had never even considered before (for example: just because someone isn't born into royalty, doesn't mean he or she is good for nothing more than cleaning up after you - she might actually make a great friend, too).

So yeah, I'm a huge new fan of the Seelie Wars series (and of Jane Yolen's!), and I can't wait to read the third book. Keep an eye out for my review of book two, The Last Changeling, in the next couple of weeks!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

My Ten Favorite Fairytale Retellings

Ooh, I love this prompt! I went through a couple Goodreads lists looking for retellings I'd read, and wound up with like fifteen books/series to choose from after like five minutes. I'm a huge fan of fairytale retellings, so this is going to be a lot of fun! Here are ten of my favorites:

1. Jessica Day George's Princess of Westfalin trilogy (My review of the first book)
This is a great series for many reasons. It's got retellings of three great stories (The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood), it ties them all together into one cohesive tale, and it does all of this by taking advantage of the twelve heroines in The Twelve Dancing Princesses (every book focuses on a different one of the sisters).

2. The Rumpelsiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde
This is a great book that features a bunch of different retellings. Every chapter is a completely different retelling, and it's really neat reading so many completely different takes on the same story.

3. Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George (My review)
This is another retelling by the amazing Jessica Day George! It's a retelling of one of my favorite tales, East O' the Sun, West O' the Moon.

4. East by Edith Pattou
This is one of my all-time favorite retellings, and also one of the first retellings I've ever read. It's another version of East O' the Sun, West O' the Moon.

5. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
This Newberry-winning retelling of Cinderella is famous enough I really don't need to describe it too much. Needless to say that I love it just as much as every other fairytale fanatic out there.

6. Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
This is the follow-up to Ella Enchanted, and is a very loose adaptation of Snow White. I honestly love it just as much as the more famous Ella Enchanted, and only wish it were as popular.

7. The Twice Upon a Time series by Wendy Mass
There are three of these so far: one about Rapunzel, one about Sleeping Beauty, and one about Beauty and the Beast. They're funny, clever retellings of the classic tales, and I really love them.

8. The Half Upon a Time trilogy by James Riley
This awesome series doesn't focus on just one fairytale; it jumbles dozens of different stories together, from The Little Mermaid to Sleeping Beauty, and I love it so much!

9. The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker
No, I am not talking about that dreadful Disney movie by the same name, the one that was "based" on E.D. Baker's books. I'm talking about the wonderful book series itself, and more specifically the first book, aptly called The Frog Princess, which is probably the best Princess and the Frog retelling I've ever read.

10. Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
This is such a great retelling of Sleeping Beauty! It's really original, and I love it. Which reminds me, I should re-read it one of these days . . .

11. Curse of the Thirteenth Fey by Jane Yolen (My review)
Yes, I realize this is more than ten books. I do know how to count, I'm just had to slip this one in there somehow! I thought of it when I was writing down Princess Ben, and I didn't want to get rid of any of the other ones already on the list. I read The Thirteenth Fey recently, solidifying my new addiction to Yolen's books, and discovered another incredibly original take on Sleeping Beauty. It's even more original than Princess Ben, but in a completely different way.

Have you read any of these books? Do you have any others to recommend? I'm always on the look-out for more retellings, so please tell me about your favorites!

Teaser Tuesdays: The Hostage Prince by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, 2013 (August 4)

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 Hostage Prince by Jane Yolen and Adam Semple.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Terrifying monsters, daring escapes and a kingdom on the verge of war…
Unlikely companions Snail and Prince Aspen find themselves thrown together on the adventure of a lifetime. Due to a series of misunderstandings, they end up on the run, having adventure after mishap after scary, thrilling escape. When they reach Aspen's kingdom, they learn to their horror that their actions have divided the country and plunged it into violence. Every minute counts: it is time for Snail and Aspen to figure out a way to stop the building war—together.



(256 pages)

Here's this week's teaser, from page 93:
Mistress Softhands had often said, "When speaking to ogres make your sentences small and direct. Say things plainly. They are not subtle creatures."
She'd neglected to say that in a darkened dungeon room, surrounded by damp walls coated with a kind of phosphorescent fungus that turned everything a vomit green, ogres smelled like death. 
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Smek for President by Adam Rex, 2015

Click to view
on Goodreads
In this much anticipated sequel to The True Meaning of Smekday, Tip and J.Lo are back for another hilarious intergalactic adventure. And this time (and last time, and maybe next time), they want to make things right with the Boov.
After Tip and J.Lo banished the Gorg from Earth in a scheme involving the cloning of many, many cats, the pair is notorious-but not for their heroics. Instead, human Dan Landry has taken credit for conquering the Gorg, and the Boov blame J.Lo for ruining their colonization of the planet. Determined to clear his name, J.Lo and Tip pack into Slushious, a Chevy that J.Lo has engineered into a fairly operational spaceship, and head to New Boovworld, the aliens' new home on one of Saturn's moons.
But their welcome isn't quite as warm as Tip and J.Lo would have liked. J.Lo is dubbed Public Enemy Number One, and Captain Smek knows that capturing the alien is the only way he'll stand a chance in the Boovs' first-ever presidential election.
With the help of a friendly flying billboard named Bill, a journey through various garbage chutes, a bit of time travel, and a slew of hilarious Boovish accents, Tip and J.Lo must fight to set the record straight-and return home in once piece.

(272 pages)

This wasn't as good as the first book, featuring a lot more fluff and a lot less message, but I still enjoyed it. Tip is a bit more angsty this time around, but that doesn't take over the plot too much. It was a lot of fun seeing the Boov in their "native" habitat (as it were), and meet more than just J.Lo.

The Boov are simply hilarious, even when they're being serious, and I loved seeing how they lived (in these house/bubble things), communicated with each other (an argument over whether J.Lo will eat the Koobish "now or later" is particularly memorable), and ran their government (I'm pretty sure I couldn't just walk into Obama's reception room and ask for an appointment in the oval office!). The slightly stale feel to the second book doesn't really have too large an effect on the excitement level, and I was still gripped all the way through. It's just that after I put it down, I didn't feel like I had gleaned much from it - except maybe a lesson about mother-daughter relationships, and that honestly felt a little forced.

There's not much more I can say about the book, because it was really just a goofy romp through Smekday. Tip was, as I said above, as awesome a narrator as ever except for when she was getting a little angsty about her mom, J.Lo was still absolutely amazing, and the new characters introduced in this book were pretty awesome as well (although Smek was only awesome as in "awesomely, hilariously bad - in every sense of the word"). Also, the ending made like no sense but it's fine. I'm cool with that. What more could I expect from a universe where there's such a thing as Koobish, edible pets?

So yeah. If you've read the first book, by all means grab a copy of Smek for President. It won't blow your socks off the way The True Meaning of Smekday did, but it sure will make you laugh.