Monday, December 31, 2012

Princess Academy: Palace of Stone

Author: Shannon Hale
Author's Website:
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Released: August 21, 2012
Genre: YA Fantasy
Series: Princess Academy #2
Source: Library
When Miri and a few of the girls from Mount Eskel's princess academy travel to the capital to help the princess-to-be get ready for her wedding, they have no idea what to expect. Some are worried about leaving their beloved mountain for the first time, others are thrilled about going to the big city, and Miri is mostly just happy to see her best friend. But not everything in Asland is as perfect as the mountain girls hoped. As Miri learns more about her new home, she finds herself deep in the middle of an upheaval that affects everyone she loves. Torn between loyalty to the princess and her belief in her new friends' daring ideas, Miri must test the strength and skills she gained in the princess academy.

When I first read Princess Academy, I thought it was a classic like The Secret Garden or A Little Princess. This was before I started paying attention to publication information like dates, and I honestly thought it belonged in that category.

Well, it does. It may not have been written at that time, but I love the way it has the same "feel" and atmosphere. And Palace of Stone has that same quality. Palace of Stone reads like a more contemporary fantasy, where the heroine has a clear choice to make between two impossible situations. But it still captures that undefinable magical quality that, in my opinion, will make it last for a long time as a favorite book.

Miri, as we already know, is a strong, opinionated character. It's great to see her falter in her opinions, to really have to stop and grapple with things. She has that same can-do attitude as in the first book, but nothing is as clear-cut as it was back then. And she realizes more and more that her actions can have devastating or liberating effects - sometimes both, and she has to know which one is more important.

I love the way everything is resolved. The solution is classic Miri, when she finally sees things clearly and knows which side to be on. The way all the characters get in on it (well, almost all..) adds to the sweeping quality of the resolution, but we're still kept breathless until it really all succeeds, with many twists along the way to pose obstacles to the girls' plans.

That's something I love about this book, also. It's not a clear rise and fall, things get worse and then they get better. It's a roller-coaster. Things appear to be starting to move forward, and then suddenly they're all back to square one and have to start over, or they come across new information that changes the way they see things and they try desperately to turn back the tide of what their actions started. It's a great journey to be on!

Chasing Fire

Author: Nora Roberts
Author's Website:
Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons
Released: April 3, 2012
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: No
Source: Library

Rowan Tripp has been jumping fire for quite some time now, but this season, everything changes. First, there's the rookie, Gull, who challenges her rule of not getting romantically involved with her colleagues, wearing down her resistance with charm and personality. Then there's the more sinister angle of the season, with someone obviously out to get her and her team, aiming to wound or even kill members of the squad as payback for last year's tragedy. Rowan knows she has to keep her wits about her at all times, in the plane and on the ground when she's fighting fire, but all these distractions make it difficult. She has to figure out how to let someone in and be a part of her life, to have someone to lean on in the hard times, without allowing it to overtake her.
What struck me most about this book is the amount of research that must have gone into getting every detail of fighting fires exactly right! Each fire that they battle is described in its own way, each time they have to choose different strategies based on the nature of each fire, and it amazed me how many variations there are in it, that it's not just going in there and spraying water on the fire. And that Nora Roberts was able to vary things in that area is an amazing feat in itself!

The romance in this book takes a bit of a back burner to the suspense portion of the story. The focus is on the danger and on figuring out who the perpetrator is. I guessed early on who it was, but I kept doubting myself as new information came in - which is the point. I was a little disappointed in that I felt it was unreal that the police would keep the same suspect they first charge with the crime, because it looks like he was set up right from the beginning, and as things progress, it becomes clearer and clearer that he didn't do anything. 

But overall, I was fully engrossed in the story and enjoyed it very much.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Uninvited

Author: Liz Jensen
Author's Website:
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Release Date: January 8, 2013
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Series: No
Source: ARC from Publisher
A seven-year-old girl puts a nail gun to her grandmother's neck and fires. An isolated incident, say the experts. The experts are wrong. Across the world, children are killing their families. Is violence contagious? As chilling murders by children grip the country, anthropologist Hesketh Lock has his own mystery to solve: a bizarre scandal in the Taiwan timber industry. Hesketh has never been good at relationships: Asperger's Syndrome has seen to that. But he does have a talent for spotting behavioral patterns and an outsider's fascination with group dynamics. Nothing obvious connects Hesketh's Asian case with the atrocities back home. Or with the increasingly odd behavior of his beloved stepson, Freddy. But when Hesketh's Taiwan contact dies shockingly and more acts of sabotage and child violence sweep the globe, he is forced to acknowledge possibilities that defy the rational principles on which he has staked his life, his career, and, most devastatingly of all, his role as a father.
The Uninvited is like an environmentalist, anti-capitalist - and much more violent - Childhood's End. Arthur C. Clarke leaves many things unanswered in Childhood's End - all the whys and what for's - and I feel like The Uninvited is (intentionally or not) a sort of response to that. The group-think of the children is what led me to this train of thought at first, but as the narrative moves on, the motives and results of the children's actions faintly echo how Clarke told his story.

Of course, the way the story is told is affected by Hesketh's Asperger's. The choice of making Hesketh have Asperger's is brilliant in so many ways. First of all, it provides a detached narrator, someone who can relay events in a logical way without having it tinged by his emotional attachment. That of course disappears about halfway through the novel, which makes the effects even stronger. When an outsider like Hesketh begins to feel personally involved, you know there's something really terrifying going on. 

Besides that, Hesketh's voice adds a chilling quality to the story. Having all these crazy things going on, but told in such a matter-of-fact, plodding sort of way - it takes you a step back from the events and forces you to expend energy to think about what's going on and what it all means for the way the adults have to deal with it - and that means that as a reader, you're much more involved and definitely more affected by the shocking turns of events. And then when Hesketh's survival method of origami-making in his mind escalates and escalates, becomes more frenzied and more common, it heightens the eeriness of it all.

I loved watching Hesketh grapple with his innate logical and reasoning skills when presented with things that just don't fit. I loved seeing him fight and fight against admitting that "supernatural" things could be happening. And I also loved trying to stay a step ahead of him and figure out what was really going on. I didn't. But I tried! When he finally comes to terms with it all, when he finally figures out the real truth, I love the way he reacts. It emphasizes the futility of fighting back, the way he accepts it as reality and goes on with his life, albeit very much altered.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Book Sale!!

I'm selling some used books over at the Book Sale page! Click here to head on over to the sale. Instructions and list of books are on that page. Happy reading!

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Hey everyone! I'm conducting a survey about book-buyers' demographics and buying/borrowing habits.  This started out as a for-fun thing, but a friend advised me on the style and format of the questions, saying that if I ever decide to publish the results (!) I need to have questions and choices that will be accepted. So who knows....?

Please take a few moments and fill out the survey. I will hopefully be sharing the results here in a couple of months!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Smart Girls Get What They Want

Author: Sarah Strohmeyer
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Released: June 26, 2012
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Kindle

Gigi and her friends are smart. They work hard for great grades that will earn them spots in Ivy League colleges. They're only in tenth grade, but they've been working for this forever. But when they realize that their focus on schoolwork and smart stuff has earned them status as social non-entities, that some of their classmates don't even know they exist, they take a good look at their priorities. Gigi, Bea, and Neerja begin to take a more active role in high school activities and social life, and the things they discover astound them. Their preconceived notions about people, about life, about everything they think they know - all are challenged as they venture out into the big, wide world of high school.
A really exciting ride, this book! Lots of twists and turns, lots of surprises - which fits for a book about how blind and ignorant such smart girls could be. They're definitely book smart, but they lack all fundamental knowledge of how things work, of what makes people tick, even of themselves. I love, though, that as clueless as they are, I still identified with them and felt for them right from the start. They're not bad girls, they're not hermits by choice, they just need an education. And boy do they get one!

The people who seem smart are not necessarily so, and vice versa. And people who think they like one person find out they actually like someone else entirely, for reasons that become clearer and clearer to the reader even as those people remain in the dark. And when the girls think they're being shunned, they don't realize that it's mostly their own fault they feel that way.

Then there's the aspect where the girls overcome their fears. Especially Gigi - the way she starts out vomiting at the thought of public speaking and ends up speaking fearlessly when it's necessary is so great, so indicative of her overall growth as a teenager instead of an Ivy-League-bound bookster. 

Small point - I like the parent figures in this book. They're not too meddlesome, but I like that the girls have their parents to support them, even when they go behind their backs. Parents who are there and not in some emotional turmoil with their kids is rare in this kind of fiction, but in this case it allows the focus to be on the girls' social life without being eclipsed.

A really fun read with some deep, thoughtful moments...


Author: Stephanie Guerra
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish
Editor: Marilyn Brigham
Released: May 15, 2012
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Kindle
Stella is captivated by Ruby from the moment Ruby makes her grand entrance into class as a new student. When Ruby singles her out for friendship, Stella gets a taste of what taking risks and living on the wild side feels like. But it comes at the expense of her old friends who disapprove of Ruby, and Stella is left to choose whether to stand by Ruby and become a social pariah or to go back to her old friends and reclaim her previous comfortable place on the social ladder. When things seem to be spiraling way out of control, Stella makes a desperate attempt to set things straight and salvage her life - but is it too late?
I love the way Stella's descent into madness is so vividly and realistically portrayed. It's gradual, one little thing at a time, so it feels natural, and I felt the whole time like I was watching it happen. Ruby is definitely a fun character to read about, but she also pulls at your heartstrings quite a bit. Stella's home life also plays on your emotions, and the way she balances everything adds to the complexity of the story.

Though I do wish some points had been more developed - like her home life, particularly her relationship with her mother. Her sister's relationship with Stella is fully developed, but I feel like there are some points with her mother that could have been explored more. Her relationship with Mike also. That's laden with psychological possibilities, but it gets superficial treatment.

Stella's relationship with Ruby, though, is so real, so believable. And the way everything wraps up at the end - beautiful!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Blink Once

Author: Cylin Busby
Author's Website:
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Agent: Brenda Bowen
Editor: Melanie Cecka
Released: September 4, 2012
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library

West wakes up in a hospital bed, being rotated by a nurse, unable to move or speak. The nurses and his family and friends who visit don't seem to be able to understand him, but Olivia does - beautiful, former dancer Olivia who is the patient in the next room, who comes up with the system of blinking once for yes, twice for no, and gives West a pen and whiteboard to write on so they can communicate. She always knows what he wants to say even when he can't say it. And slowly, over the stolen time they spend together, Olivia and West fall in love. But then West is moved to another hospital for surgery, and he recovers his physical capabilities. And that's when everything falls apart. Who is Olivia, really? And what's the connection between her and the dreams she claims are ghosts of previous patients haunting West?
I love the tone of this story. West doesn't actually talk while he's in the Wilson center, but we get to know him fairly quickly by the way he tells the story, even without seeing him interact with Olivia. He tells the story with a sort of dry humor, but at the same time he's very serious and somber. It's an interesting mix.

The way the story moves from West's current experiences to his dreams and memories is really great. The tense shift from past to present in his dreams and memories makes his inner stories more immediate, which adds to the effect of the fog West is in while he's hospitalized. And the way they're interspersed at matching points, the way the end of each dream matches what's going on in real life, really made me wonder what the significance of his dreams are, where his memories are going to take him...

The mystery (mysteries, really) of what is really going on is really compelling. How does Olivia get away with everything she does, visiting West, stealing files from the nurses' station...? Who are these people West is dreaming about? What happened to the patient who was in his room before West, and is he connected to West or Olivia in any way?

It's really powerful when West recovers and finds out the truth about all this. Accepting the truth is hard for him, but I love how it affects him and how he manages to go one from there. Recovering and going back to normal life is hard enough, but it seems that experiencing this added bit of strangeness actually helps him get back on his feet mentally and emotionally, regardless of what everyone else thinks.


Author: Erin Jade Lange
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Agent: Jennifer Laughran
Editor: Caroline Abbey
Released: September 4, 2012
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
Butter's nickname reminds him of an experience he'd just as soon forget. It's all in the past, after all. Everyone leaves him alone now, and he sits at his own lunch table with his big spread every day. But when he finds out it isn't over at all, that he just isn't aware of what people say about him behind his back, Butter decides to take control, to be the one to decide what people say about him. And he creates a blog promising to eat himself to death on New Year's Eve at midnight. He's an instant sensation, and suddenly he's included in all the popular crowd's activities. It feels like popularity - but is it, when all his new "friends" are cheering on his suicide?
The premise of the book drew me in before I even started reading. A boy so down about his size and his resulting social ostracizing, and a promise to commit suicide in a novel way, streaming live for all his classmates to see - definitely intriguing, in a morbid kind of way. But the book itself is not morbid - or not entirely, anyway. Butter is a funny guy, which no one appreciates because they can't see past his size. His friend from fat camp recognizes Butter's true personality, but Butter can't process that because it's too tied up in fat camp experience, and he sees it only as being friends with another fat person, not a "real" person, not the people who "count."

His personality tones down the horror of what he's going through. Seeing the story from his eyes, the way he feels about each event, means that there's a sarcastic commentary to everything - everything except what matters to him, like the girl he likes or the real attention he gets from his new "friends." But when he talks about his plan to eat himself to death live, when he's busy compiling his last meal's menu, he's snarky and sarcastic.

While Butter is enjoying his newfound popularity, I as the reader was aghast at how his "friends" were reacting, realizing that this is a completely realistic situation. I could totally believe that this could happen in real life, and it's a sad commentary on teens' emotions and capabilities of immense hurtfulness and callousness. Butter's reaction is equally saddening, as a desperate boy clings to even the merest resemblance to friendship and acceptance.

Of course, as the date of his last meal gets closer, the tone changes and he begins to realize the realness of it. That brings a real dilemma, as he tries to decide if he'll go through with it. He isn't quite sure if his "friends" think he'll go through with it or not, and he knows there are some people who would tell the authorities if they thought he really will. So he tells his "friends" he'll do it of course, while telling everyone else it's just a joke.

Thus begins the really tense reading experience. Will he or won't he? What will his social outcome be? The ending fully satisfies, with the lessons he learns about friendship and real life, and relationships in general.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Katherine Tegen (HarperCollins)
Released: February 28, 2012
Genre: YA Dystopian
Series: Yes (Book #2 Insurgent)
Source: Library Kindle
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.
As usual, it took me a while to get with the program and read the book everyone is going crazy over. And as usual, I loved it and am waiting impatiently until I get my hands on the second book!

Tris's emotional struggle and her journey to self-realization are so clearly, so starkly portrayed. I felt along with her every step of the way - every moment of confusion, every time she had to make a decision that would alter the rest of her life based on two seconds' thought. Her romance with Four both helps and hinders her internal battles, and I loved that it was ambiguous, not that he is clearly a good influence on her.

All that is a great backdrop for the action and suspense of the story. The intrigue is really cleverly strung out, keeping the reader guessing as to what it all means while giving little glimpses into the "enemy's mind" and letting Tris find things out slowly but horrifyingly. But more than the main conflict and plot, the encounters between the guys and girls in Tris's training/initiation group are terrifying for what they reveal about how the society has fallen from the practices that were put in place originally to help protect them. That sixteen-year-olds are able to behave so ruthlessly is more frightening in some ways than what the adults are planning.