Love Letters to the Dead

I began reading my latest book, Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira, about two weeks ago. Unlike Oblivion, which was an easy book to put aside, this one kept calling to me, but I wanted to wait until I could give it my undivided attention before I really became absorbed in the story. I read bits and pieces here and there, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I finally sat down and got to know Laurel, the haunting voice that drives this wonderful book.

Love Letters to the Dead is just what the title suggests. It begins as a simple English assignment, but this is one that takes on a life of its own. Laurel was supposed to write a letter to a dead person, but she didn’t really stop there. She wrote letters to several famous people, most of whom died too young…just like Laurel’s big sister, May.

In Laurel’s letters to such notable figures as Kurt Cobain, Judy Garland, Amelia Earhart, River Phoenix, Amy Winehouse, and others, readers learn not only about the lives–and deaths–of these people, but we also see how Laurel is dealing with her sister’s passing. (In short, she’s not.) Laurel’s entire life seemed to stop when May died, and moving on is excruciating at times. She doesn’t really know how to be herself because she’s always lived in May’s shadow. With May gone, who is Laurel…and why would anyone really care?

As Laurel enters a new school, forms a few unlikely friendships. and experiences love for the first time, she relates her experiences to those of the “stars” to whom she is writing. She writes about her fractured family and her guilt over May’s death. She writes of her sister’s magnetism and how everything May touched seemed to be absolutely perfect. She writes about her friends, Natalie and Hannah, and Hannah’s self-destructive behavior–which seems all-too-familiar at times–that is tearing the girls apart. And finally, Laurel writes about what happened before May’s death, the horror she suffered when May should have been watching out for her.

Through these “love letters,” Laurel deals with her grief and guilt, and she comes face to face with the sister she idolized. The sister who maybe wasn’t so perfect. The sister who let her down, first by leaving her vulnerable and then just by leaving.

Laurel realizes that there’s more to her than being May’s little sister, and it’s okay to want a life that isn’t ravaged by grief. Will she always love her sister? Absolutely. Nothing can ever change that. But will she finally understand that her sister was human and responsible for her own choices? Well, that’s a different question altogether and one that Laurel will have to answer for herself. These letters, though, might actually help her come to grips with the truth, and what started out as a simple English assignment could finally set Laurel free.

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So, yeah…I liked this book. Anyone who has every experienced loss will relate to Laurel in some way. We experience Laurel’s crippling grief, we cry along with her, and we wonder if the pain will ever go away. Just like reality, the pain never really leaves Laurel, but she finds a way to deal with it so that she can get on with the business of living. And the process itself is not without its ups and downs, but Laurel powers on, facing herself and the truth about who her sister really was. Through it all, Laurel learns more about herself and who she wants to be.

In addition to empathizing with Laurel in Love Letters to the Dead, readers may also find themselves learning a little along the way. This book taught me more than I ever knew about the lives and deaths of Judy Garland, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, and several others. Their stories, like May’s, were tragic, and their deaths came too soon. Their legacies, though, live on.

I don’t feel I’ve done a very good job of capturing this book, but I hope you’ll give it a try anyway. If you enjoy coming-of-age stories like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, If I Stay, The Fault in Our Stars, We Were Liars, The Opposite of Hallelujah, and many others, I suggest you read Love Letters to the Dead. The format alone makes it a fairly quick read, but the story will stay with you long after you close the book.

For more information on Love Letters to the Dead and author Ava Dellaira, visit the author’s website, Facebook, or Twitter.

Published in: on June 9, 2014 at 1:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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In the Shadows

After wrapping up my previous post on MILA 2.0, I decided to dive into yet another book-in-progress. I honestly didn’t expect to get so involved in the story that I would finish it in a matter of hours. That book is In the Shadows by Kiersten White and Jim Di Bartolo.

Now, I’ve read other works by Kiersten White before (Paranormalcy, Supernaturally, Endlessly, Mind Games, and Perfect Lies), but this one is a little different. In the Shadows is told in both text and art. White wrote the text story, and the amazingly talented Jim Di Bartolo presented another story through his illustrations. I knew the art and text stories were connected, but it didn’t become clear until the very end just how they fit together.

Cora and Minnie live in a quaint town in Maine where their mother runs the local boarding house. One day, a mysterious young man, Arthur, comes to stay with them, and life as they know it is never the same.

Arthur is a rather taciturn boy, but he looks after Cora and Minnie and vows to protect them from the past he fears may have followed him. And he’s not the only one. Two new young men have arrived at the boarding house, and they have more in common with Arthur than any of them know.

Charles and Thomas, sent away by their wealthy father, are in Maine for a while. Charles is slowly dying, and Thomas is determined to make his brother’s days as happy as possible. Part of that happiness comes in the form of Minnie, one of the girls living at the boarding house. Charles is enamored of Minnie, and, while she enjoys his company, her attention never really leaves Arthur, the brooding young man who lurks in the shadows. Thomas, on the other hand, quickly turns his attentions to Cora, and she seems to have feelings for him as well. But is love in the cards for any of these young people, or is an unknown threat just waiting to tear them apart?

It seems that Arthur, Charles, and Thomas–or their families–are somehow connected to an ages-old society, a society that will do anything to protect its secrets. These young people are in very real danger, and they will have to use their wits and every ounce of strength they have to get out of this mess alive.

Arthur knows more about this looming threat than he’s telling, but he doesn’t want to go down the road that drove his parents mad. He may not have a choice, though. When evil threatens his friends, Arthur must make a difficult choice that could impact his life and the lives of those who care about him. What could this choice mean for Arthur and his future? Only time will tell…

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If you enjoy books like Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck or others that combine text and art to create unique and memorable stories, I think you’ll be very happy with In the Shadows. Both the art and text in this book presented interesting–and often terrifying–tales, and the closer I got to the end, the clearer the connections between the two became.

I read a digital copy of this book via NetGalley, but I think this is definitely one case when a print copy would have been preferable. At the book’s conclusion, when the connections between the two stories were revealed, I would have liked to flip through the book’s artwork to see what I may have missed. That’s not so easy to do with an ebook (especially one read with Adobe Digital Editions, a less than desirable ereading option). So, take this advice: READ A PRINT COPY OF THIS BOOK! (Sorry for screaming at you, but I had to get my point across!)

I’m still debating on whether or not to purchase this book for my elementary school library. I think a lot of my students will enjoy it, but the illustrations do contain some scary imagery that elementary students may not be able to handle or even understand. I do think In the Shadows would be a very welcome addition to middle, high school, and public libraries. It’s a quick, easy read that packs a punch.

If you’re still not convinced to read In the Shadows, take a look at the eerie trailer below. It effectively captures the mood of the artwork present in this book and makes me want to read the book all over again!

Published in: on May 25, 2014 at 8:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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We Are the Goldens

This morning, I finished a book that, honestly, made me kind of uncomfortable. The book is We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt. (I was lucky enough to read a digital ARC via NetGalley.) I say “uncomfortable” because this book takes a look at romantic relationships between teachers and students (EWWW!) and the toll a secret like that can take on someone.

As most of you know, I am an educator, so this topic is particularly unsettling. Personally, I find the very idea of romantic relationships between students and teachers to be nausea-inducing, but I have known others who felt differently. I’ve worked with some educators who were caught in compromising positions with students. (Most of them are no longer teaching. Sadly, a few escaped those circumstances relatively unscathed.) This is not a situation I’ve ever understood the appeal of, especially from a teacher’s standpoint. We Are the Goldens examines this odd relationship, but it shows readers how a family member of the student may react to what she discovers.

We Are the Goldens is written as a letter (of sorts) from a younger sister to the older sister she idolizes. The reader becomes, for all intents and purposes, the elder sister, and that allows a glimpse into the sibling dynamic that we often don’t see.

Nell Golden is a freshman at City Day School in San Francisco, and she has this fairy tale image of what high school will be like. She’ll follow in her perfect sister’s footsteps, and everything will be awesome. Her sister, Layla, however, seems to be pulling away from what was once a really close relationship with Nell. At first, Nell isn’t sure what’s going on with Layla, but rumors are swirling about her older sister, and eventually, those rumors make their way to Nell’s disbelieving ears.

There have always been stories about Mr. Barr, the popular, young, good-looking art teacher. Every year, it seems that he’s supposedly hooking up with one of his students, but nothing has ever come of the rumors. This year, though, the stories focus on Mr. Barr and Layla. One person sees them at an art gallery. Another sees them exiting a hotel together. When Nell’s best friend, Felix, tells her what’s being said about Layla, Nell is at once furious and defensive. Her sister’s smarter than that, right? There must be some reasonable explanation.

When Nell confronts Layla with the gossip, Layla does have a plausible reason for being seen with Mr. Barr…but Nell remains suspicious, especially considering that her sister is withdrawing from her friends, her family, and is becoming more evasive by the day. One night, Nell walks in on her sister video-chatting with Mr. Barr, and she realizes that the rumors about her beloved sister are all too true. What is Nell supposed to do now?

Layla swears Nell to secrecy and confesses that she’s in love with Mr. Barr. She knows no one will understand their relationship, so Nell can’t tell anyone, especially not their parents. Nell struggles with this. She knows Layla’s relationship with Mr. Barr is wrong, but how can she turn on the one person she loves most in the world? Nell agrees to keep Layla’s secret, but it’s growing increasingly difficult to maintain her cool over this situation.

Nell has her own life to worry about as well. Being on the soccer team and in the school play. A crush on a popular guy who her sister warned her away from. Worries with becoming a target of the rumor mill herself. Nell’s best friend is also going through some tough stuff, and she wants to be there for him. Keeping Layla’s secret on top of everything else is wearing on Nell, and she’s about to break.

Read We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt to learn how one girl struggles with being loyal to the person she loves most while doing what she knows is right.

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While part of this book focuses on the relationship between a teacher and a student, a larger part centers on the relationship between sisters. Sisters keep secrets–from their parents, from friends, from other family members or authority figures. At what point, though, should secrets be revealed? In We Are the Goldens, Nell wrestles with that. Where should loyalty end? Nell wants to keep her sister–and everyone else around her–happy, but what is the cost? Eventually, Nell comes to terms with what she must do, no matter how it might damage her relationship with her sister.

Now, I am an older sister, and I know that my little sister would tell in a skinny minute if I were doing something wrong or potentially harmful. I would do the same for her. This book, then, made me examine would I would have done if I’d been put in a similar position. (If you’re curious, I would have told someone immediately. Of course, I’m a tattle-tale from way back.) I think any reader who has siblings will be able to relate, at least a little bit, to the characters in We Are the Goldens. Maybe it’s a younger sibling worried about the choices an older brother or sister is making. Maybe it’s an older sibling looking out for little brothers or sisters. Either way, I think this book will resonate with anyone who has ever kept a secret for a sibling.

We Are the Goldens is a quick, intriguing book that definitely has a place in most YA collections. Even though I found some of the plot-line kind of icky, I was curious to see how things would play out for Nell and Layla. And even though the end of the book didn’t provide a ton of closure, I was totally satisfied with it. The author left things for the readers to imagine for themselves.

If you’d like to add We Are the Goldens to your personal, school, or public library collections, it will be released to the masses on May 27th. For more information on this book and others by Dana Reinhardt, check out her website and Twitter page.

Published in: on April 13, 2014 at 12:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Opposite of Hallelujah

I picked up my latest read, The Opposite of Hallelujah, because it’s nominated for the 14-15 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award. (My book club chose to read these nominees for our April meeting.) Judging by the book jacket, I expected sort of a psychological thriller, kind of in the same vein as Dead to You by Lisa McMann. Older sister returns after eight years away, and little sister has trouble adjusting? Yeah, my mind immediately goes to “Are we sure that’s really her sister?” That notion was disabused fairly quickly, but I still enjoyed the book, and it was, at times, quite the emotional roller coaster.

For the past eight years, Caro Mitchell has, for all intents and purposes, been an only child. Her older sister, Hannah left home to become a nun when Caro was just eight years old, and Caro has barely seen her sister since. Things, however, are about to change. Hannah, now twenty-seven, is coming home.

Caro is not pleased with the abrupt change in her life, and, like a typical sixteen-year-old, she lets everyone know it. She doesn’t know how to handle having Hannah home, and she’s unsure what she should tell her friends about this sister she’s never mentioned before. So, she does what a lot of teenagers would do…she lies. Eventually, Caro’s lies do catch up with her, endangering her relationships with her boyfriend, her friends, her parents, and her sister…who is battling issues that Caro is growing desperate to understand.

No one is quite sure why Hannah left the convent, why she refuses to eat, why she can’t sleep, or why she can’t seem to move on with her life, but Caro, after dealing with her own issues, wants to help her sister. She wants to find out why Hannah is so depressed and what can possibly be done to help her. In the process, Caro will come face-to-face with a long-buried secret, a secret that could explain so much about the sister that Caro barely knows.

As Caro learns more and more about her sister, she’s also forced to examine herself. She takes a long, hard look at her relationships with those closest to her, why she chose to lie about her sister, and, ultimately, her faith in God. Caro is forced to come to some unpleasant truths about herself, but those lessons may just bring her closer to everyone she loves…including Hannah.

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I must say that I liked The Opposite of Hallelujah more than I thought I would. When I first started reading–and I figured out that it wasn’t the thriller I had hoped it would be–I was disappointed, and I did put the book down after reading about 100 pages. Yesterday, though, I picked the book up at about 10am, and I didn’t put it back down again until I was finished…350 pages later. I devoured it, and I think many other readers, particularly those who may struggle with their faith, will have a similar experience.

Although I did end up enjoying this book, I have to confess something. I didn’t like most of the characters. Caro was kind of a brat through most of the book, only redeeming herself near the very end. I thought her parents were too hard on her at times, and I wanted Hannah to just snap out of it. (I know this is a familiar sentiment expressed toward depressed people. I’ve heard it often enough myself.) And even though I know it’s fairly common with some teens, I was kind of disturbed by how often Caro snuck out of the house, went to parties, and got drunk with her friends. (I didn’t have a drop of alcohol until I was well out of high school, so this was kind of foreign to me. And yes, I was a goody-two-shoes. I make no apologies.) I did like Caro’s boyfriend, Pawel, but even he disappointed me on occasion.

There was one major thing I definitely liked about Caro. I respected how driven and intelligent Caro was, and I appreciated that she didn’t try to dumb herself down…especially around guys. She was a good student, she excelled in science and math, and she owned it. Good for her.

I’ve only read one other nominee for next year’s SCYABA, I Hunt Killers, so I can’t say yet how this one stacks up with the rest of the list. I will say, though, that The Opposite of Hallelujah is a great read that will resonate with many readers. Anyone who’s ever had problems with parents, siblings, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, religion, fitting in, or owning up to bad decisions will find something to relate to in this book. Read it!

 

Published in: on March 24, 2014 at 3:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Perfect Lies

Warning! Read Kiersten White’s Mind Games and Annie and Fia (an ebook novella) before proceeding. You will be all kinds of confused if you don’t! (Of course, if you’ve come this far in this particular series, you’re probably already confused.)

I don’t quite know what to say about my latest read. Perfect Lies is the sequel to Mind Games by Kiersten White, which I read just three short months ago. I wish I’d read these two books back to back. Maybe that would have alleviated some of my initial confusion.  Even with a fairly short time span between reading Mind Games and Perfect Lies, it took me longer than I would have liked to re-familiarize myself with the characters and the story line (which is complicated enough without having to remember details).

If you’ve read Mind Games, you know that the basic story revolves around two sisters: Fia, a fighter with seemingly perfect instincts, and Annie, a blind Seer who has visions of the future. Both girls have been controlled by the Keane Corporation (really bad place with a worse leader who seeks to keep girls with special abilities in his power and debt), and they are trying–in different ways–to take control of their own destinies.

That’s kind of where Perfect Lies picks up.  Annie and Fia have been separated. Annie, who most believe to be dead by her sister’s hand, is with a group of people working against Keane from the outside. Fia, however, is working against Keane from the inside…with the help of James, Phillip Keane’s son and potential successor.

Perfect Lies is told from the perspectives of both sisters, but their stories are told–at least at first–in different time periods. It’s easy to see, though, from the notes at the beginning of each chapter–Three Months Before, Twenty-Eight Hours Before–that both perspectives are leading up to one huge event.  It’s not always clear what that event will be or how Annie and Fia will make their ways to it. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I figured things out until very late in the book. (Odd for me, but kudos to Kiersten White for keeping me guessing!)

Like Mind Games, Perfect Lies really messed with my head. In addition to not knowing what the characters would do from one minute to the next, being inside Fia’s head was sometimes jarring. In order to confuse the Readers (mind-readers) around her, her thoughts were often chaotic, and that definitely comes across in the text. I also wanted Fia to wake up and really see the people around her and how they were either helping or hurting her already damaged psyche. The same could be said for Annie, but I think Annie dealt with the people around her in a much more positive way than Fia did. Of course, Annie didn’t have to deal with always being the protector or, you know, a hired assassin. That was Fia’s job.

It was interesting to see how the sisters’ stories came together at the end and how they resolved what could have turned into total devastation. (It was bad enough, but it could have been much, much worse.) What I found interesting was that it wasn’t Fia who ultimately saved the day. It was Annie, the sister who nearly everyone saw as weaker and disabled. That, in my opinion, is awesome and sends a message that strength comes in many forms. No one, no matter how weak he/she appears to be, should ever be counted out. That’s something I need to remember in my own life.

Now that this short series is over, I have to say that I did enjoy it. It was quite the mind trip, and I’m messed up enough to admit that I like that. If you are drawn to books that are kind of out there, I highly recommend both Mind Games and Perfect Lies. Just give them a try!

Published in: on March 20, 2014 at 2:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Skinny

I’m not quite sure how I feel about my latest read, Skinny by Ibi Kaslik. I’m not even sure I would have considered reading this book if it had not been on sale…or if my book club wasn’t reading green books this month (books with green covers, “green” in the title, or by authors with the last name Green…you know, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day). With a green popsicle on the cover, I kind of expected Skinny to be sort of lighthearted. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Skinny is told from the perspectives of two sisters.  Giselle, a former medical student, is struggling with anorexia and quite a few other problems. Holly, an eighth grade athlete, is watching her sister, who used to be so strong, totally self-destruct.  Both girls are dealing with very different memories of their deceased father, relationships with guys, and the general business of living. Holly seems to want to help Giselle, but how do you help someone who is so bent on ruining her own life?

The character of Giselle is at once sympathetic and repellent. The reader wants her to turn her life around because she has so much potential, but it’s not easy to even read about someone who doesn’t want to help herself.  One minute it looks like she’s making a turn for the better; the next, she’s returning to her same old patterns. And soon, those patterns will manifest in Giselle’s entire body breaking down.

Holly, the younger sister, has her own issues. She’s partially deaf, she’s prone to acts of spontaneous stupidity, and she crushes on her sister’s boyfriend. But when you see what she has to deal with at home, Holly’s actions at least make a little bit of sense. She’s worried about her sister, but she’s also still a girl focused on her own life…which is going through a rough patch at the moment.

As the story progresses, and we get to know Giselle and Holly a little more, the reader roots for things to change. It doesn’t quite happen, though. This story is not a delightful romp through the park.  There is no happy ending or magical cure for the many issues plaguing Giselle or those who have to watch her downward spiral. As a matter of fact, I found much of the book to be depressing, and only occasionally did I even crack a smile while reading. But that’s okay. This book deals with some pretty serious issues, so it follows that the general tone of the book is serious as well.

Did I get what I expected when I started reading Skinny? Absolutely not. Did I like the book as a whole? Some of it. It was an interesting story, but it was a little hard to follow at times.  I don’t know if that’s because it was hard to nail down an exact setting through much of the book or because Giselle’s thought processes were so scattered.  (I honestly don’t know if the problem was with the character of Giselle or with the author’s writing.) Several times while reading, I asked myself, “What is the purpose of that word or sentence?” Some things just didn’t make sense to me. Maybe I’m alone in that, but I had to reread some passages a couple of times, and things still didn’t become clear.

I do appreciate that this book didn’t have a happy ending. That may seem weird, but, when you’re dealing with issues as serious as eating disorders and everything that results, sometimes happy endings just aren’t realistic. Anorexia takes a toll on the body, and we definitely see that in Skinny. Giselle wasn’t the only one to suffer because of her illness, though. Those around her did as well, and I imagine that many readers with similar experiences will relate to the pain depicted in this book.

Despite the age of Holly’s character, Skinny, in my opinion, is not a book that belongs in the hands of middle grade readers. (Some may be able to handle it but not many.) Much of the content (drugs, sex, drinking, etc.) is for mature audiences, so I would recommend this for high school students who have some modicum of maturity.

Sweet Legacy

Caution! It is absolutely essential that you read the first two books in Tera Lynn Childs’ Medusa Girls trilogy (Sweet Venom and Sweet Shadows) before proceeding to the third and final book, Sweet Legacy. As a matter of fact, go ahead and read them over again (or at least skim) before starting the finale. I wish I had. I spent way too much time trying to re-familiarize myself with the events of the previous two books, and that had a big impact on my reading.

Well, it’s not often that it takes me seventeen days to finish a book, but that’s just what happened with Sweet Legacy. (If you read the warning above, you can probably figure out why.) It’s not the book’s fault. If I had read the books in this series back-to-back, my reading would have gone much more smoothly. As it was, I had a hard time remembering what happened in the previous two books, so, when I found myself totally confused, I had to revisit the previous books to refresh my memory. (Ah, the perils of loving books in a series!) This was rather time-consuming. Add this to my job responsibilities, spending time with family, keeping a semi-clean house, and other stuff, and my reading of Sweet Legacy didn’t go nearly as fast as is normal for me.

Once I finally got into Sweet Legacy (and remembered everything I needed to), the story was rather engrossing. It picks up the story of triplets Gretchen, Greer, and Grace, modern-day descendants of Medusa, and their quest to either close or open the door between the monster and human realms. (This may seem like a simple decision, but it’s really not…as you’ll see.)

Grace, Greer, and Gretchen, sisters who didn’t even know each other just days ago, are doing everything within their considerable power to set things right in the world. But what is right? That’s not always clear, and when both monsters and gods are set on killing you to prevent you from fulfilling your destiny, it muddies the waters even more.

The sisters travel through the abyss, through the halls and dungeons of Mount Olympus, and even through their fair city of San Francisco looking for help in finding the lost door between the realms. They will find help among monsters, gods, gorgons, and humans alike (including a trio of guys that do their part to muddle the girls’ thoughts), and all of them will be tasked with fighting in the battle ahead. Ultimately, though, destiny resides in the hands of Greer, Grace, and Gretchen, three young girls being asked to determine the fate of the world as they know it.

Will the sisters seal the door to the abyss forever (and trap all monsters, good and bad alike)? Will they open the door and let whatever happens happen? Or will they truly fulfill their purpose as descendants of Medusa and claim the legacy that has been foretold for centuries? What do the Fates have in store for Grace, Gretchen, and Greer? Discover the answers for yourself when you read Sweet Legacy, the thrilling conclusion to Tera Lynn Childs’ Medusa Girls trilogy!

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Even though it did take me longer than I would have liked to get into this book, I will say that, once I did, I was impressed with how action-packed it was. Truly, there was never a dull moment, and the strength of the sisters was awesome to behold, especially since their strengths manifested in very different ways. Each of the girls presented a role model that embraced not only her strengths but her flaws as well. The sisters experienced growth throughout the series, and they also grew closer to each other and young men who didn’t try to make them fit into a mold of the perfect teen girl. The sisters are loved as they are, fangs and all.

I would definitely recommend this series to middle grade and young adult readers. Those who’ve enjoyed any of Rick Riordan’s books will likely find something to enjoy in this series, and it’s also kind of interesting to compare the mythologies in both authors’ works.

If you’d like more information on the Medusa Girls trilogy or other books by Tera Lynn Childs, I encourage you to visit the author’s website at http://teralynnchilds.com/. I’ve read almost everything she’s written at this point, and there’s not a stinker in the bunch!

Published in: on January 19, 2014 at 12:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Mind Games

Happy New Year’s Eve, dear readers! I hope everyone has had a great year filled with wonderful books! (I’m good with the wonderful books part of that sentence. The “great year?” Not so much. I’m praying that 2014 is kinder than 2013 was. There were some good times–the birth of my second niece, Ellie, being the best of those–but there were some extremely low points that I’m still struggling to deal with.)

Anyway, you guys likely don’t want to hear any sob stories from me. You’re here for the books, right? (If not, you’ve definitely come to the wrong place.) My last post of 2013 focuses on an aptly named book–Mind Games by Kiersten White. I picked up this book because I adored White’s Paranormalcy series, and I hoped Mind Games would have, at the very least, a similar tone. Well, I was wrong on the tone thing, but I still got another gem of a book from this author. Mind Games is, as the title would suggest, quite the mind trip, and, even though I’m thoroughly enmeshed in the world created in this first installment, I still have tons of questions about what’s really going on. I’m sure other readers are with me on that.

Mind Games is told from two different perspectives–those of sisters Annie and Fia–and their stories venture into the past and the present (and even the future, to a certain degree).

Tragically orphaned when they were younger, Annie and Fia are now under the control of the mysterious Keane Foundation. Annie, the older sister, is blind but gets glimpses of the future in her visions. Fia, who will protect her sister at all costs, is guided by her infallible instincts. Both of them are tools to be used by Keane, for whatever purposes deemed necessary.

When Fia rebels against an order to assassinate someone, her world–which was precariously balanced to begin with–begins to unravel. She doesn’t know who to trust anymore…and that includes those closest to her.

Through the years with Keane, Fia has had to do some truly horrible things, things that stained her hands with blood, but now she’ll face her most daunting task.  How can she escape Keane’s clutches while keeping her sister safe? Is that even possible anymore? What choices does Fia have, and can she use those choices to bring down Keane before he gets more girls under his iron control?

Annie’s visions and Fia’s instincts lead readers through a world of secrets, lies, espionage, and murder in this thrilling novel. Both girls are strong characters…even though their strength manifests in very different ways.

Nothing is tied up neatly at the end of this intriguing book, and that makes me even more eager for the sequel, Perfect Lies, which is due for a February 18, 2014, release.

Fear not, though! If you want more of Annie and Fia, there is a free prequel short story–titled Annie and Fia–available for download.  I read it immediately after finishing Mind Games, and it definitely added to my understanding of these fascinating characters.

For even more information on Mind Games and other books by Kiersten White, check out her blog at http://kierstenwrites.blogspot.com/.  You may also like this book trailer from HarperTeen. It captures Mind Games in ways I could never hope to. Enjoy, and have a happy New Year!

Published in: on December 31, 2013 at 11:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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Fangirl

It probably won’t surprise anyone that a book titled Fangirl really resonated with me. I am a proud member of multiple fandoms (Doctor Who, Sherlock, Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings, Supernatural…just to name a few), and, while I don’t write fanfiction like this book’s protagonist does, I do spend a somewhat unhealthy amount of time lost in these fictional worlds and/or thinking about alternate realities for my favorite characters. I honestly don’t think any of my family or friends really understand how important my fandoms are to me. They don’t get that fictional worlds are often much easier to navigate–and manipulate–than the real world is. Rainbow Rowell gets it.

Cath and her twin sister Wren are off to college. For the first time since ever, the two girls will be separated…totally against Cath’s will. Cath thought that she and Wren would surely be roommates, but Wren had other ideas. Wren wants to live it up at college, and it seems she can’t do that with Cath along for the ride.

Cath, a devoted fan of the Simon Snow book series (which brings Harry Potter to mind), retreats into herself and the fanfiction that means so much to her. She goes to class, studies, eats protein bars in the comfort of her dorm room, stays out of her roommate’s way, and loses her self in writing Simon Snow fanfiction. Soon though, Cath’s roommate, Reagan, decides that Cath is not experiencing anything of college, and she and her friend Levi drag Cath into the “real world.”

Cath is stepping out of her comfort zone just a bit. She’s spending time writing with a cute guy at the library. She’s hanging out with Reagan and Levi more and more. She’s even eating in the cafeteria fairly regularly. Some things, though, are not so great. Cath’s twin seems to be drunk more than she’s sober, Wren is trying to reconnect with their long-lost mother (who Cath wants absolutely nothing to do with), Cath is struggling in her fiction-writing class, and she’s worried about how her father is handling things on his own. As it turns out, Cath has reason to worry…

When things really go pear-shaped, Cath takes solace in her fanfiction writing…and in the arms of Levi. Even when Levi gives Cath reason to write him off, she can’t let go of this boy who accepts her as she is and always has a smile for her (and everyone else he meets). She’s not totally comfortable with this new twist to their relationship, and she often questions what he sees in her and why he bothers with someone who has so many quirks.

As Cath’s freshman year in college progresses, she’ll learn a great deal about herself–her life as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a girlfriend, and a writer. She’ll discover a strength within herself that no one–not even Cath–ever expected. There’s more to Cath than being a fangirl, and, though Simon Snow and Cath’s fanfiction writing still mean a lot to her, she’ll discover that there’s room in her world for so much more.

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I feel like I’ve given too much away in this post, and I’m sorry for that. I hope I haven’t spoiled this book for anyone, especially since I think this book will appeal to so many who frequently visit this blog. It’s a fantastic book that many people–not just fangirls like myself–will find relatable.

Fangirl, in addition to speaking to the fangirl in me, also spoke to me because Cath reminded me a lot of myself in college. I was never the party girl, I was pretty focused on my studies, I had just a few close friends, and I spent much of my time alone. Don’t get me wrong here. I loved almost everything about college, especially my undergraduate years at Winthrop University. (Go Eagles!) Like Cath, though, new situations tend to throw me into a panic, and I’ll usually withdraw into myself rather than enter into an unfamiliar situation. (As you may have gathered, not much has changed since college.) For instance, if I didn’t have a friend to go to the college dining hall with me, I’d stay in my room and nuke some Top Ramen. (I became quite the Ramen connoisseur in college. That cafeteria was kind of intimidating.)

I cannot say enough good things about this book. Like Eleanor & Park, Fangirl really captures what it is to be a young adult. Rainbow Rowell is an author who seems to truly remember what it was like to be a young adult, and that definitely comes through in her books. Her characters are dynamic, sympathetic, and so well-developed that I feel like they’ve become my friends.  I can’t wait to read more from this fabulous author.

For those who’d like to learn more about Fangirl and author Rainbow Rowell, visit the author’s website, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Goodreads. Also, here’s a very short book trailer for Fangirl that you may enjoy!

*Note: Unlike many of the books I post on here, Fangirl is probably not suitable for a middle school audience. The book focuses on a freshman in college, and those of you who’ve been college freshmen probably know what this means:  alcohol, cursing, sex, etc. Not that I’m saying that all college freshman are drunk, promiscuous, or prone to spewing profanity. I’m just saying that, for some, college is the time when young people rebel a bit and push against boundaries. Be prepared for that when you read/recommend this book.*

With that, I bid all of you a fond farewell. I hope you all have a very happy holiday. I’ll be busy with family today and tomorrow, but I hope to return with a brand-new blog post on December 26th. We’ll see how it goes. Merry Christmas Eve!

Published in: on December 24, 2013 at 11:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality

Yesterday, I finished reading Elizabeth Eulberg’s Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality.  I suspected I would enjoy this book because I’d read two of Eulberg’s other books (Prom & Prejudice, Take a Bow), and I adored them. Thankfully, I was right (as I so often am).  In addition to a fabulous title, readers are also given a wonderful story. I think many girls–both young and old–will be able to relate to the character of Lexi, a fun, smart girl with a great personality, who is often overshadowed by what passes for beauty in the world around her.

Lexi’s always been known as a girl with a great personality.  But when she spends her weekends following her mom and seven-year-old sister, Mackenzie, on the pageant circuit, hearing about how beautiful her little sister is, Lexi gets a little tired of looks mattering so much.  She hates the artificiality of the entire pageant world, how pageants have turned her sister into a little monster, and the fact that her mom focuses all of her attention–and money–on pageants and pays little attention to her eldest daughter unless she’s considering how Lexi can help Mackenzie’s pageant prospects.

Lexi’s friends convince her that she’s great the way she is, but they admit that she could highlight some of the features that she tends to downplay.  So Lexi decides to venture into the world of makeup, hair care products, and form-fitting clothes…and the result is a little shocking to her.  For the first time, she’s the one getting noticed for her looks.  She’s being asked out and noticed by the popular crowd.  While Lexi is officially offended that people only started noticing her when she “glammed up,” a part of her is thrilled with the added attention.  Is this what keeps those pageant girls going week after week?

Pretty soon, though, the pressure gets to be too much for Lexi. Yes, she does like some of the makeup and hair stuff, but she doesn’t really feel like she’s being true to herself anymore.  Even when she snags the attention of not one but two popular guys, she questions why they really want to be with her.

Also, tensions are rising between Lexi and her mom.  No matter what Lexi does or says–or even what little Mackenzie does or says–her mom is all about the pageants, and the family is running the risk of losing everything to keep Mackenzie in these pageants. When Lexi’s mom does the unthinkable, Lexi must examine what really makes her beautiful and what she may have to do to finally open her mother’s eyes to the truth.

So how does this girl with the great personality finally get her revenge on those who think “beauty” is everything? Find out for yourself when you read this fantastic book by Elizabeth Eulberg!

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I cannot say enough good things about this book.  I loved–and identified with–Lexi’s character, her friends were awesome, and, even though I’ve never had much experience with the pageant world and its ups and downs, I felt bad for the toll it was taking on Lexi.  I appreciated how Lexi came to term with her own image and realized that the only person she needed to please was herself.

I will say, though, that I absolutely despised Lexi’s mom.  I’ve never watched an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras or Dance Moms or anything like that, but she’s what I imagine when I even think about the parents on those “reality TV” programs.  Completely out of touch with what really matters to–and what’s best for–their children. I finished this book nearly 18 hours ago, and I’m still mad at Lexi’s mom for her atrocious behavior.

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality is, I think, an excellent book for readers in middle grades on up.  It examines what we–girls, especially–really think about beauty and body image.  By the end of the book, the main character learns that being herself is the best thing she can do, and that’s a lesson that all young women–and those of us who are a bit older–could stand to learn.

For more information on this book and others by author Elizabeth Eulberg, visit http://www.elizabetheulberg.com/.

Published in: on September 14, 2013 at 4:09 pm  Comments (1)  
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