The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong

Chloe feels like her life is finally settling down. After moving from place to place due to her dad's job she's finally enrolled in a arts high school that her dad has promised her she'll be able to stay in for all four years. But then Chloe wakes up one day and begins to see ghosts - which freaks her out just a bit (understandably so) - and her school forces her into group home for treatment where she learns the others kids have some pretty unusual abilities as well.

The beginning of the book was super S-L-O-W. The author spent an inordinate amount of time setting up accessory characters and background information that were either never mentioned again or that could have been explained at a later date. That's not to say the action does pick up with a vengeance - literally once things got going I couldn't bear to put it down. Chloe is smart and thinks each situation through and the major cliffhanger ending had me pulling out my hair saying 'Eek! That's it?!?' I especially liked the villains in this book - they are nasty and vindictive and not at all who you would suspect. Yea for bad guys who aren't made of cardboard!!

My biggest beef is why is Chloe so interested in Simon (another kid at the group home)? Unfortunately for him, he has the personality of a turnip. Now, Derek - that boy has potential. I can't wait to see what he does in the next book.

Silly side rant: If have to read one more book where the protagonist's name is Chloe I think I'll shoot myself in the head.

reading order:
~ The Summoning
~ The Awakening

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

I have so many good things to say about this sweet, charming, hilarious, and poignant little book! It's got to be one of my favorites this year so far.

Miss Pettigrew is a governess who can't hold a job and is now at her wits end. In hopes of a new position, she is sent by her agency to an upscale neighborhood but instead of a house full of unruly children, Miss Pettigrew finds herself helping the lovely Miss Delysia LaFosse (a beautiful nightclub singer) who needs help managing the various men in her life. Nick - the handsome bounder who can melt you with a glance, Phil - the man who just might be able to back Miss LaFosse in his next production, and finally Michael - who actually wants to marry Delysia but who Miss Pettigrew doesn't exactly approve of. In a series of comedic exchanges where Miss Pettigrew throws off her straight-laced upbringing, she helps Delysia and her friends sort through problems while worming her way into everyone's heart. After spending a day withe Miss LaFosse Miss Pettigrew knows her life will never be the same again - as she truly learns the meaning of living.

I loved every single character who graced the pages of this book, I loved the illustrations that look like they were pulled from some 1940s magazine, most of all I loved Miss Pettigrew's discovery of herself and her extremely witty conversation. Her inner monologue was priceless and I found myself (like everyone else in the book) wondering just what amazing thing she would do next.

Just watch the trailer and see if you don't want to rush out and see this lovely film. Amy Adams just happens to be the PERFECT Miss LaFosse.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

I have nothing but respect for the Printz awards. In the past they have chosen some truly aMAZing books (like The White Darkness or Looking for Alaska) some not so much my favorites but still, they always choose books just a little bit different, which is what I really like. Each book tends to deal with difficult issues surrounding teens that take my breath away and never fail to get me thinking. 2009's choice is no light-weight either. I've actually had Jellicoe Road in my TBR pile for several months now and just haven't had a chance to pick it up. Now that I've finished it, I'm just kicking myself for not reading it sooner.

Taylor Markham is head of her house at the Jellicoe School, where many of the students, like her, are orphans or have been abandoned by their parents. Taylor was brought to Jellicoe School by the mysterious Hannah after her mom left her at a 7-11 when she was 11. Each year, the students fight the Cadets, who camp near the school for several weeks and the Townies in a type of territory 'war' that determines control over various trails, streams, and buildings in the bush. This year, Taylor has been selected as the school's leader and is more than reticent to participate. Then Hannah unexpectedly disappears and Taylor knows it's connected to the disappearance of her mother and will stop at nothing to find out more. Joined by other students, the mysterious Cadet leader Jonah Griggs, and the Townie Santangelo, Taylor slowly unravels the story of her past and the stories of those she loves most.

To be competely honest, for the first part of the book I was pretty lost. There are several storylines and everyone seemed to have 'history' which made for some confusing reading. But knowing how many people have raved about it, I just kept reading hoping to make sense of it all. And it did. Taylor's story came together with such unexpected beauty that I found myself totally intrigued by each new revelation and it's effect on Taylor and her friends. That's not to say I missed some things along the way - I actually had to reread several parts after finishing becuase I totally missed one major revelation. Oops. But I can't say enough good about this book: there is such heartbreaking sadness, wonder and hope found here that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

Beastly by Alex Flinn

Set in modern NYC - where anything can happen - Kyle Kingsbury is Mr. Popular. He's handsome, rich and can get any girl he wants. But Kyle is spoiled, selfish and extremely unkind. As a prank he spurns a gothic chick who turns out to be a witch(!) who curses him to become as ugly on the outside as he is on the inside. Turned into a beast, his only chance to return to his human form is for him to find a girl who he can love and will love him (in beast form) before two years are up. Feeling hopeless after being spurned by his TV perfect father, Kyle encloses himself in a Brooklyn home with only a rose garden, tutor and housemaid as companions.

The best part of this book is that Kyle is a 21st Century teenager with all sorts of technology at his fingertips. Prefacing each section are chatroom logs that Kyle joins as a type of online support group for people who have been changed by magic. There he meets up with the frog prince and the little mermaid -- their conversations had me cracking up and wishing I could read their stories as well. I enjoyed this new take as it details Kyle's transformation into a beast instead of solely from Beauty's perspective after the Beast has already been transformed. Such a different take on a classic story that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell

I'll admit it first thing: I was a King Arthur groupie. Summers were spent at Renaissance festivals, and one year my best friend and I even made medieval dresses for ourselves - and it wasn't even close to Halloween. So coming into this lovely, lovely book which retells the story of Elaine, the Lady of Shalott, I was more than excited. Then I opened the book and saw it was all in verse and I sort of did a little dance around the house. Okay, so it was a big happy dance.

In this revised version of The Lady of Shaott, Elaine along with her brothers and father live in the soldiers camp under the direction of Arthur. She has become friend, sister and healer to the men but her only wish is that she could have more female friends. As war progresses, Elaine gets her wish when Lancelot, the love of her life, brings back Gwynivere to be Arthur's bride. But Lancelot is obviously in love with Gwyn and can only see Elaine as a young girl. To make matters worse, Gwyn is utterly beautiful and completely mean and nasty to Elaine. Which I thought was a totally delicious change.

Sandell may not have stayed completely true to Tennyson's original poem about Elaine, but this version was more filled with hope for the future. The cadence and smooth flow of events competely had me sucked in from the very beginning. Here's one of my favorite passages:
The warriors gather, but I am not welcome.
Or so Lavaian tells me, hurling
the words like rocks over his shoulder.
Stay here. The meeting is no place for a girl.
Leaving me here, alone,
to wait and wonder.
What will become of us?

Just so dang great.

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

There are some people who have the talent of being able to take any situation and turn it into a great story (like the guy from Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock). A.J. Jacobs is another such engaging individual. He is smart, witty, and charmingly neurotic. His latest project is to pull every single commandment from the Bible he could find (over 700) and try to live each one as literally as possible for an entire year. So not just the 10 Commandments (which are pretty tough to get right all the time anyways) but ALL of them, even the ones most people think are crazy and don't understand.

What follows is an almost day-to-day account of Jacobs' successes and failures (it's hard to conquer lust when you work for Esquire magazine) in a very real, very personal way. In his quest to better understand the Bible and its' rules, he meets with various individuals including deep-south snake handlers, Creationalists, and Samarians while in Jerusalem to name a few. Perhaps my favorite interview was when he met with a Jehovah's Witness - whom he actually ended up out-talking. The man finally begged leave when his wife called him at 10:30pm wondering when he was going to come home.

As a side note, one reason why I liked this book so much is becuase he is constantly including lists - lists of rules, various Biblical interpretations, things he wants to work on, etc. I love lists and I like other list-makers, so thank you.

Surprisingly, although humorous, this book also constantly had me thinking about my own personal spirituality - which I don't think is necessarily intended, but a logical extension. Most likely it was due to Jacobs' honesty - if he could be so brutal in self-examination, why not me? But that doesn't mean I would only recommend it to someone religious - I think just about anyone would enjoy this engaging book.


Holy pile of books Batman!

Presenting Lenore is giving away two massive piles of books from Penguin.

The first set is a Penguin Reality Pack

The second set is a Penguin Fantasy Pack

You have until June 3 to enter so what are you waiting for?!?

Can I say really want to read Dull Boy?

Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli

Amazingly powerful story about a young orphan who roams the streets of Warsaw, Poland stealing food and striving to be invisible. He doesn't know much about the world until another orphan, Uri, finds him and gives him the name Misha, a history, and a way to become truly invisible. Misha records with unflinching honesty his first experience meeting a Jackboot (Nazi soldiers) and his own naive belief he was safe from them: he's a Gypsy and not a Jew. Above all, Misha is curious - excessively so - and his curiosity leads him into to more than one seriously dangerous situation after another. Sometimes bringing about unexpected happiness, like meeting Janinia and other times that led to profound grief as he is herded into the Warsaw Ghetto along with other Jews.

Without Misha's exuberance and curiosity, this book could have been devastatingly sad, but instead half the time I was chuckling over some new scrape he had gotten himself into. Misha witnesses firsthand the cruelty of the Nazis, poignantly illustrated in one scene where Nazi officers bring their girlfriends to the Ghetto to throw food to the prisoners as if they were birds in a park.

Spinelli is a masterful writer. This story could be read for its powerful plot lines, for its treatment of families and friendships, or for its rendering of one boy's horrifying experience in a Jewish Ghetto. Much can be gained from either perspective.

What stayed with me the most were the descriptions of his adult years - Misha's struggle to fit into society after facing so many horrors in his youth. I found myself going back and rereading multiple passages becuase I couldn't bear to put it down. So very moving.

Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot

I've been reading a bit of Urban Fantasy lately (ok, ok a LOT) and I've gotten just a little burnt out. Not that I don't love it - send a nice Patricia Briggs my way any time, but sometimes a girl just needs a nice fluffy read. Something you don't have to think too hard about and something that will not make you feel bad about that second helping of chocolate cake you had with lunch. Meg Cabot has that wonderful ability to create female characters I find myself wishing I could call up to go shopping with or even just to chat with in real life. So Heather Wells + big bag of peanut M&Ms = a dang good time.

After losing her recording contract, boy-band famous fiance, and her life savings (courtesy of her thieving mother) Heather Wells is in serious need of a job. Still it's a struggle for her when the girl who used to be a household name (if only to tweens) becomes an assistant director at a New York college dormitory, I mean, residence hall. Heather spends her days solving problems for 19 year-olds and her nights pining for her landlord, Cooper, private investigator and Mr. Unconventional Himself. Oh and just to make things even more interesting, Cooper is her ex's brother. So when girls start dying in the dorm - er, residence hall, Heather knows it's not just a coincidence and enlists PI Cooper to help track down the killer.

Flowing throughout is Heather's inner monologue in which she ponders everything from vanity sizing, exercise (walking to your favorite bakery DOES count), the miraculous effects of chocolate and even the love of a good pet. This hilarious thought process is what kept me so intrigued, not the mystery. Mystery = Meh. It almost seemed as an afterthought - which isn't necessarily a bad thing in this case at least. Heather and her antics constantly had me in stitches. I'd love to sit down to lunch with her or her friend Magda and let the good times roll.

reading order:
~ Size 12 is Not Fat
~ Size 14 is Not Fat Either
~ Big Boned

Magic to the Bone by Devon Monk

With the recent discovery that magic actually does exist technology has advanced so that it’s available to everyone for whatever – green lawn, less wrinkles - presto it’s done. But magic isn’t all pixie dust and faeries, oh no, it’s available to everyone but it comes with a price: each time inflicting bruises, sore throats or even headaches depending on how much magic you used. Consequently, there are lots of folks taking advantage of the system (and others around them) by offloading their magical kickback onto unsuspecting victims. Allison Beckstrom is a Hound, someone who uses magic to track down magical offenders and turns them over to the law to make sure they pay for their crimes. Only Allie gets an additional bonus every time she uses magic – she not only gets the nasty side effects but she also looses portions of her memory.

When Allie discovers her estranged father has offloaded his magic onto a little boy (illegally of course) who is now on the brink of death she gets fightin’ mad and wants to see justice done. But her father swears he didn’t do it and Allie doesn’t exactly believe him. So naturally when her father winds up murdered everyone is pointing the finger at her and Allie can’t seem to remember if she did or didn’t do it. Her only option is to trust the shady Zayvion Jones who has some very interesting talents himself to help her discover who is the real murderer and get her off the hook. Good, solid read with an interesting twist on the general conception of magic as a whole. I’m looking forward to see where Allie goes next (and can I just say I hope it’s with Zay?).

I’d like to give a special thank you to the cover artist on this one. Usually, UF covers sort of turn me off and tend to not look anything at all like the characters. To tell you the truth I was not terribly excited about this one either – tattooed girl shown from behind – can we get any more unoriginal? But after reading it, this cover gets it right, I mean, *gasp* the artist might have actually read the book or at least listened to someone who knew the characters. I mean she’s Allie: funky tattoos (sort of), black tank top and short hair. So thank you, thank you for giving me a cover that doesn’t make me want to tear the cover off every time I look at it.

Blue Diablo by Ann Aguirre

Corine Solomon changes her address as often as she changes her hair color – a side effect of having the ‘gift’ of being able to touch an object and know what happened to the last person who used it. Many people are fascinated with her gift, for good or bad, keeping her continually on the run but when her ex Chance comes looking for her to help him find a missing person close to them both, he gives her an offer she can’t refuse and Corine reluctantly agrees to help.

Like any couple with a history, things are a little iffy when Corine and Chance are together but when they discover this isn’t some simple kidnapping but that there are all sorts of nasties on their trail: demons, warlocks, and black magic up the wazoo things go straight from Uh Oh to Craptastic in a hurry. Really making this book come alive for me were the secondary characters who agree to help them along the way. This stellar lineup includes Chuch, an ex-merc who can do séances with the best of them, his protective wife Eva, the tiny Chihuahua Butch and a cop Jesse Saldana who may be more than professionally interested in Corine. I just loved Chuch and Eva’s interactions – especially every time she called him by his full name – she just kills me.

The setting itself seems to almost be a living, breathing character in this book - most of the action takes place in Mexico or Laredo, Texas and the surrounding border towns. Since Aguirre herself is an ex-pat living in Mexico, I could see the authentic flair everywhere, right down to the smell of rice and beans which of course, made me hungry every time I opened the book up.

Sometimes the transitions were less than smooth but all said this was a pretty good read with potential for future installments (watch out for the cliffhanger). Still, I do enjoy Aguirre’s Jax series more. I mean, can anyone compare with that feisty jumper? No. No they can’t.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Supposedly one of the 'great' love stories of all time, I have always felt Catherine and Heathcliff's relationship was selfish, manipulative and just plain weird. I could never understand why she felt she could marry Linton and still have Heathcliff on the side and that Edgar would accept him too. I guess she could see herself aiding Heathcliff in the process, but I just can't see how she could rationalize that. Maybe it is just a bitter reminder of how stringent class distinctions were in that period.

For the longest time I felt nothing but disgust for Heathcliff until after thinking about this book for some time: he may be vindictive, mean spirited and low but he did have a rough life where he was mistreated at every turn. I think his one redeeming moment was when Cathy and Hareton were starting to connect and he couldn't bear to punish them -- perhaps he did have a heart if only it lay beneath layers and layers of darkness. This time around I actually felt like Catherine was more the villain than he ever was.

I'm glad I reread this one from an adult standpoint. I know that love isn't always passionately destructive and all consuming -- but 'Wuthering Heights' truly is an engrossing tale.

I highly recommend the recent Masterpiece adaptation, it was fantastic!

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Mia has experienced the ups and downs of life. She is a talented and serious cellist with a somewhat unusual family and an incredible punk-tastic boyfriend. After school is canceled due to a snowstorm, Mia and her family get in the car to visit some friends. Then the unthinkable happens: a fatal accident that leaves Mia a spectator to her own frantic rescue and hospitalization. After witnessing the parade of doctors, nurses and worried family and friends Mia realizes she must make the ultimate decision in her life: continue to live…or leave it all behind and simply let go.

Slim it is, fluff it ain’t. Heartache, pain, tenderness, love and sacrifice fill every page as Mia is visited by friends and family and flashbacks to various points in her life. These flashbacks contain vivid memories of her parents, grandparents, brother Teddy, boyfriend Adam, best friend Kim, and a love affair with her cello. Each visit or memory underscores her unique relationship those she loves; each one contributing to a different facet of Mia’s personality and illustrating the difficulty of her choice. Along the way, Mia discovers dying is easy, living is what’s truly hard. If I Stay could have easily turned itself into a trite melodrama with cardboard characters, but instead, it deftly handles life-altering challenges with sensitivity and extreme care. I couldn’t help but review those things that make my own life worth living after reading this little book.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

In all the Seven Kingdoms no is feared or revered as much as Gracelings -- individuals who are born with an innate talent to do something extremely well, be it to sing perfectly, outrun a horse, or even to read minds. Gracelings are immediately discerned by their different colored eyes, often to their disadvantage since most people distrust and even dislike them. Katsa is born with one green and one blue eye but has no idea what her grace is until after her seventh birthday, when she accidentally killed a man. With the unlikely grace of killing Katsa is turned into her uncle's (King Randa) personal thug and enforcer - sending Katsa off on missions to 'punish' his vassals through pain, torture or even death. For herself, Katsa views her grace as a burden -- more often than not seeing herself as a monster. That is until she begins planning and executing her own secret missions with the help of her friends to combat the oppressive reigns of various rulers. One such mission to rescue the kidnapped grandfather of another ruler doesn’t go exactly as planned when Katsa encounters another Graceling almost as talented in fighting as she is. A Graceling who will challenge every belief Katsa holds about the world around her and herself.

Boy, oh boy, Katsa kicks butt. Really. She's not happy unless she's taking out an entire battalion of bad guys. She doesn't feel feminine (she even cuts off all her hair - I can totally sympathize!) but she still possesses this incredibly soft inner self which is slowly uncovered as she opens herself up to others. In her struggle to define, and perhaps more importantly, learn to control her Grace, Katsa strives to find the courage to take control of her own life. This fast-paced book practically flew by but still took the time to address even minor characters which left me feeling satisfied and thoroughly engaged throughout. Graceling is an adventure story, a fantasy, a mystery, a political suspense, a romance -- it has it all and doesn't stop for a second. I found myself thinking about Katsa long afterwards because by golly, how fun would it be to be able to KNOW you could take down anybody, I mean anybody, before they even noticed you had two different colored eyes?

reading order:
~ Graceling
~ Fire

Savvy by Ingrid Law

Mibs Beaumont comes from a long line of people who have a specific knack – something particular they can do well that begins to manifest itself on their 13th birthday, often with disastrous consequences. Her grandfather can create new earth, her brother causes storms and hurricanes and her mom can do anything perfectly. Mibs is two days away from her 13th birthday, eagerly contemplating what her savvy will be – shooting lasers from her eyes or maybe the ability to turn herself into a balloon. But after her father is rushed to the hospital following a car wreck, Mibs perfect birthday plans are put on hold. Certain her savvy will be the one thing to save her father, Mibs, her two brothers, and the children of the minister embark on an unlikely adventure-filled road trip to the hospital hundreds of miles away.

Filled with smooth, whimsical writing that almost floats on Fish’s breezes, Savvy was a book to be savored. Each character was so well developed with concrete personalities and unique quirks -- I would have loved to meet Lil (who is eternally late) and Lester with his big van full of pink bibles. Sometimes hilarious, at others heartwarming and wholesome, Savvy captured this reader’s heart with both hands, pulling me along for one wonder-filled ride. Savvy could easily lend itself to a sequel as the Beaumont family has other children with potential for very interesting savvies and I for one would love to hear their stories.