The Reluctant Heiress by Eva Ibbotson

Tessa has been raised to be a princess in the grand Austrian style but after losing her parents and most of the family fortune, she finds herself joyously happy to be working (for free) for the International Opera Company as a under-wardrobe mistress. Embracing her new life, Tessa feels only slight pains of regret when her aged aunts inform her of the proposed purchase of her family estate, the castle Pfaffenstein, by the millionaire Guy Farne for his fiance. Only this fiance is more in love with titles and money than Guy, but since she's so dang beautiful, he kind of missed that little detail. Tessa (of course) is awed by handsome Guy who helps her out of a few tight spots but it's not until she unknowingly returns to Pfaffenstein with her opera company that she discovers how connected she is to Guy.

The best part of any Eva Ibbotson novel is her introduction of the principle characters. Each has a richly developed history with personality traits (sometimes quirks) and anecdotal references to their youth. Guy's story is one of those standout characters to me - Ms. Ibbotson's descriptions of Guy morphing from a foundling who would fight against perceived injustice into a successful man had me rooting for him early on. And just like Martha Hodge, his foster mother, I too was enchanted with his changing eye color - green for unsettled and sad and brilliant blue for joy. Here's one fantastic description of Guy during the first time he meets Mrs. Hodge.
Guy was led in, glowering, and stood before her. At the time of this encounter he was six and a half years old. Entirely without hope or expectation, he looked at Mrs. Hodge. Small for his age, with the extraordinary air of compactness that characterized him, his chin lifted to receive the information that he was not acceptable, he waited. His knees, scrubbed to a godly cleanliness, shone scarred and raw; his naturally springy hair had been slicked down with several applications of Vaseline and water and stuck relentlessly to his scalp.

Mrs. Hodge looked at him and felt frail and tired and more mortal than usual. Force emanated from this strange-looking boy as visibly as beams from a lighthouse. It was impossible; she would never be able to cope with him.

The boy waited. His eyes, strangely and slantingly set above high cheekbones, were a curious deep green which sent Mrs. Hodge in search of images that were beyond her: of malachite, of the opaque and clouded waters of the Nile.

Silence fell. Only the sudden descent of his left sock as the garter snapped revealed the tension that the child was concealing.

It was entirely without volition that the words Mrs. Hodge now uttered issued from her mouth.

"All right," she said, "I'll have 'im. I'll give it a try."

Pretty dang heartwarming huh? Underneath all that emotion is some beautiful language too: "opaque and clouded waters of the Nile"... perfectly descriptive.

Even though I enjoy her stories, particularity A Song for Summer, I sometimes wish Ms. Ibbotson's character's could experience love without all the heartbreak. But one of her true talents lie in being able to express the hopeless pain stemming from unrealized love. Tessa is a model of heartbreak when she discovers has no chance with Guy, so maybe you gotta stick with what you do well - but things do work out for her characters in the end. It just usually takes a long time and plenty of shuffling of partners.

I've come to expect at least one nasty fiance and one surprise or disastrous wedding in each of her books. On the flip side, I also expect plenty of prose on the subject of music, dance or literature and heroines who are almost always super-humanly sweet. Even with these conventions, I still loved Guy and Tessa's story. Although I wish I could have seen them together more often, their shared passion for music and equality helped to create a pretty solid relationship for me. Tessa could have had a little more backbone occasionally, but since I had just read a couple hundred pages about how intimidating Guy can be, I can understand her reticence to speak up for herself at times. Other than that, it was a fabulous stroll through the musical paradise of Vienna.

Life Without Friends by Ellen Emerson White

Thanks to Angie over at Angieville (she never steers me wrong), I've discovered the wonderfulness that is Ellen Emerson White. And when she spotlighted Life Without Friends during her weekly Retro Friday post, I knew it was only a matter of time before I picked up this series as well. True, Ellen Emerson White's characters do seem to be very similar - girls from upper class Boston, who usually enjoy sports (typically tennis and skiing- in this case running), and are undoubtedly wicked smart - but each one is so different in her own way that I can't help but love them all. Beverly from Life Without Friends is no exception.

Beverly hasn't exactly had an easy time of things, after her mother died, she's gone to live with her father, step-mother and 5-year-old step-brother Oliver, all of who she couldn't get along with less. On top of that she's entering a new high school she feels completely lost in. In hindsight, she chose the wrong kids to hang around with at school, but at the time gorgeous and fast-living Tim seemed to be perfect. Not unexpectedly, Beverly is at the center of a murder scandal at her school, finding herself ostracized and friendless and constantly eaten up by guilt and self-loathing - wishing she had only done something to stop Tim.

Enter Derek, a fun-loving guy who does landscaping at one of the city parks. After a series of pretty dang humorous encounters, Beverly and Derek embark on a somewhat unusual friendship (meaning Derek doesn't usually know if they will be friends the next day or not). Derek is more than persistent (thankfully) when it comes to Beverly though and doesn't relent until he gets her to open up to him and slowly helps her work through some of her guilt and fears - while making her laugh every step of the way. My kind of guy. That's not the only reason I am in serious like with Derek however, he is just so dang sweet and thoughtful. Like when he was to meet her parents for the first time, he dressed up and even cut his hair and was very anxious to find out what Beverly thought of the result. Pretty cute huh?

I couldn't have loved Beverly's story more. Obviously, she's got some major issues to deal with and demons to beat back but she's trying to work through it all, that (to me) is a major show of courage. That seems to be one of the overall themes in Ellen Emerson White's books; even when her characters have to deal with some tough times, they've proven themselves to be up to the task and so I'm never worried for their futures. Curious? Yes, but anxious, no. I also love that on the cover Beverly is sitting on the bench where she and Derek spend so much time getting to know each other. Nice.

series reading order:
~ Friends for Life - my reivew
~ Life Without Friends

Friends for Life by Ellen Emerson White

After having lived in New York for the past three years, Susan McAllister returns to Boston hoping to fit right in with old friends. She's happy to resume her relationship with Patrick and even more excited to be reunited with her best friend Colleen. Colleen however, has changed. She's lost too much weight, seems preoccupied, and is convinced a classmate was murdered when no one else suspects a thing. Susan isn't sure what to make of this accusation until Colleen herself is found dead, supposedly from a drug overdose, and Susan is determined to find out who is responsible for her best friend's murder.

Ooohhh. Feel like we're in a Sweet Valley High novel yet?

Although Susan is convinced of foul play, her parents and even Patrick don't want to hear anything about it. She's all alone on this one and as she slowly starts to tarnish her new girl reputation, Susan gets closer to danger herself as she finds out who dealt that fatal dose of LSD (I know - campy but still fun) to Colleen.

Imagine my surprise when I figured out that the Susan in Friends for Life is actually the same Susan as Meg's hall adviser at college in Long May She Reign - I guess when you have a good character you don't forget them. In Long May She Reign however, I felt like Susan was much more interesting and developed (funny, since she's only a secondary character in that one). Unlike her later books, Friends For Life has a bit of sensationalism to it (upper class teens overdosing on drugs) and is more focused on the drama rather than letting the action be driven by the characters themselves. Which is okay, it just doesn't create the depth which I'm come to associate with Ellen Emerson White's other novels. This difference is most likely due to the fact that Friends for Life is Ellen Emerson White's first novel, written while she was still a student herself. So however much I enjoyed this book, it definitely had a few quirks and didn't pull me in quite as much. That's not to say I didn't enjoy Susan. She's so full of loyalty and courage, it's hard not to like her.

series reading order:
~ Friends for Life
~ Life Without Friends

Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti

Chosen to become an icarus at age seven, Taya has spent her life as a messenger of the skies. Icarus fly on feather-light wings made of the precious metal ondinium, delivering mail throughout the three provinces of Ondinium: Primus, Secundus, and Tertius. As a way to protect its citizens, Ondinium has been divided into a many-layered social structure teeming with rules and codes of behavior, ranging from the lowest manual laborers to the highest or Exalteds who must wear heavy robes and masks in public to protect their purity (!). As an icarus, Taya is granted the unique position of residing outside of the different castes in order to fulfill her duties as a messenger.

When a cable car malfunctions, Taya is on hand to rescue an exalted and her son which unexpectedly puts her directly in contact with the exalted's family - including the lady's two cousins, the brothers Alister and Cristof Forlore. Both brothers seem interested in Taya and she's not really sure what to make of either of them: Alister the charming and handsome politician or Cristof who has rejected his caste and now fixes clocks in one of the rougher parts of town. Ondinium has always been plagued by spies and terrorists, but when a series of bombings and murders occurs, Taya is forced to work closely with the Forlore brothers who definitely are not what they seem.

This was the first Steampunk novel I've tried and it left me feeling a little underwhelmed. The premise caught my attention quickly enough, however, the characters and plot itself failed to really capture, and ultimately more important, keep my interest. I had to really force myself to continue reading and that's never a good sign. My mind often wandered while reading and I ended up creating all these random connections to other things: the province names Primus, Secundus and Tertius reminded me of the brother's names in Stardust and I kept thinking about the 2000 election and the eternal debate over torn chads every time the Great Engine's programming was explained. (Ondinium uses a type of punch card to run a steam-powered computer/engine.) Taya as a character held much promise on the surface: a girl who files around on metal wings who can cross class lines is a pretty good start, but she just never took flight for me. She had her moments, but I kept wondering how the story would have been handled if another author had written it.

Since one of the components of Steampunk seems to involve romance, I was hoping for a good love story at the least. Again I was disappointed as I never really felt any sort of connection between either of the Forlore brothers and Taya. Not to mention the continual awkwardness of two brothers falling for the same girl. Eek - I wasn't buying it.

Please don't take this to mean Clockwork Heart was all bad - there were plenty of interesting scenes with promise. Overall, I just felt like the story could have been a little tighter. On the plus side, I loved the cover: the wings, the girl with the gear in her chest - awesome. I just kept hoping the story would measure up...

See Michelle Laugh

Every so often, a truly funny book comes along. Not just one you chuckle over or one that garners a smile every so often, but one that makes you laugh out loud, giggle uncontrollably or snicker repeatedly. You know the ones: books so hilarious that you find yourself laughing aloud even when you're sitting by yourself in the lunchroom when no one else is even close to your table and all your co-workers turn around to stare at you while you try (usually unsuccessfully) to contain your giggles (not at personal experience). Sometimes these so-called 'funny' books are suspiciously hard to explain to spouses, parents, and random passer-bys. You may actually try reading aloud a particularly humorous passage but when your unappreciative listener only gives you a courtesy laugh, you try and explain (usually unsuccessfully) why you were snickering uncontrollably moments before, "and then Pam's creepy-deadpan voice comes on the answering machine and she's like 'we know where to find you'! Hah! Get it?...cause she's a vampire and they know?....oh, never mind." (definitely not a personal experience either). If you've ever been in one of these situations, this list is for you.

Without further ado, these are the books that I find to be Pure Comedy, A Rollicking Good Time, and Unusually and Unquestionably Funny.


Pure Comedy
Clarice Bean series by Lauren Child
You've probably seen Charlie and Lola on the Disney Channel, but did you know Lauren Child has also penned a series of chapter books about one Clarice Bean who loves the spy Ruby Redford and dreads school more than a dentist appointment. She's constantly at odds with her teacher, Ms. Wilberton and her younger brother Minal Cricket. That's not even mentioning the clever illustrations and text art. Let the British hilarity ensue!

The Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series
by Louise Rennison
Journal-style entries from one insecure yet completely bonkers teen in Britain keep me coming back for more in this series. I love Georgia's pranks, her helpful glossary for everything she's happened to rename, and her constant usage of fabbity, fab, fab.

Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding
Hmmm. This is the third British book on my list. Can you tell my preferred type of comedy? Bridget has been immortalized on the silver screen but you must read her diary entries on losing weight, getting drunk (alone), and finding love. Mr. Darcy himself (Colin Firth) actually makes an appearance in The Edge of Reason and I was literally rolling around the floor as Bridget quizzed him about emerging from the pond in Pride and Prejudice...wet. *snort*

A Rollicking Good Time

Stephanie Plum mysteries by Janet Evanovich (particularly High Five)
Stephanie Plum has to be one of my favorite fast-talking heroines at the moment. She gets into some doozies and has a full complement of friends and family who never fail to keep things interesting. My personal favorite happens to be Grandma Mozer - give that woman a gun and I know serious comedy will follow.

Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park
Please be warned, there is some serious hilarity in these little gems which have been mistakenly marketed to grade-school children only. My favorite Junie B.-ism? "Band aids! I love those little guys!"

Unusually and Unquestionably Funny

The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman by Louise Plummer
Awkward Kate is about to embark on her own real, live romance starring her brother's best friend which she describes in classic Harlequin cliches in this quirky teen novel I could not get enough of.

Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman
I am a Jane Austen enthusiast myself and I couldn't have loved Julie more as she sets off to find her own Mr. Darcy - especially when her best friend calls dibs first and she discreetly tries to steer her in another direction. Teenage drama and hilarity at it's finest.

Chuckle Your Way Through or honorable mentions:

Sookie Stackhouse mysteries by Charlaine Harris
This blond and perky waitress can not only read your mind, but she can deal with vampires, fairies, and shape faster than you can say "gumbo." I find the unintentional comedy of the vampires (primarily Pam) at the top of my list.

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
What started out as a fondness for the Disney movie, has escalated into a full blown love-affair with these classic books. Pooh and (my personal favorite) Piget trying to get out of a pit while fearing the presence of Heffalumps is a hoot.

Patrick McManus - if you happen to be married to a Idaho farm-boy, then chances are, these gems have found their way into your hands over the years. All are extremely funny and usually deal with hunting, fishing or camping incidents or just small town life in general - making your husband's stories exponentially more hilarious. I particularly recommend A Fine and Pleasant Misery for beginners.

This list is ever-expanding so please, please tell me if I missed out on your favorite funny book. I am particularly interested in reading more humorous YA books since I seem to be lacking in that department but any other suggestions would be welcome too. I do have a reputation to keep up and co-workers to make curious people.

Long May She Reign by Ellen Emerson White

Six months ago Meg was kidnapped by terrorists who made sure she understood that she would never leave them alive. Over the course of thirteen days, they shattered her knee, deprived her of food and water and then left her to die chained up in an old mine shaft. Unable to face such a fate, Meg smashed the bones in her hand in order to slide out of the handcuff and then stumbled through the woods until she found people who could call in the cavalry. After being rescued, Meg still has a long road ahead of her: numerous operations and grueling physical therapy not to mention dealing with the fallout over her mother's (the President) controversial statement: "can not, have not, and will not negotiate with terrorists." Yeah, that's her daughter she's talking about. Comforting huh? Meg finds she's in serious trouble of never coming out of her depression while living scared at the White House and so persuades her parents to let her attend Williams College even though she is far from being well enough to go.

At Williams, Meg is more on her own than ever before and constantly feels like she is the brunt of her classmates disdain. Slowly she begins to make friends (more because people bully her into it) with her hall adviser Susan and even begins a rocky relationship with Jack aka Malibu Bobby (say it with a Boston accent - it gets funnier every time). Setbacks happen but Meg is her old determined self and refuses to give up.

Can we talk about Preston for a moment here? I find him absolutely irresistible so would love to talk about him for hours. Preston is Meg's father's press secretary and basically the best friend of the entire family. The man is smart and funny, knows how to rock a suit, and is so loving and caring that frankly, my heart just melts a little every time he speaks. He becomes one of the only people, excepting Beth (her best friend since kindergarten), who Meg can truly open up to and get straight answers from in return.

Ellen Emerson White surely knows how to take her time. She doesn't rush a character into situations or confrontations that are too premature, she gives them time to simply be, allowing for a incredibly natural and realistic progression of events. And with Long May She Reign weighing in at 700+ pages, I felt like I got my money's worth and then some. That's not to say I wouldn't welcome another 1,000 pages or so - I'd read them in a heartbeat.

I have no idea how EEW could have waited twenty odd years to finish Meg's story. Twenty Years!! If I had read these books prior to this last one coming out I think I would have died not knowing what happened to Meg. So much is left unanswered in Long Live the Queen that is so beautifully explained in Long May She Reign that I just can't comprehend her waiting so long to put it on paper.

I find it interesting that two of the four cover art pieces are nods to very, very well-known works: essentially the Dutch Mona Lisa (or Girl with a Pearl Earring) and the actual Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. I feel like this could be a reference to the fact that Meg herself has become a household name, just like these paintings. This cover is just so Meg: the Williams sweater, dark Oakleys, and the blue hand-brace - although she looks a little more filled out than my vision of a too-depressed-to-eat Meg.

series reading order:
~ The President's Daughter - my review
~ White House Autumn - my review
~ Love Live the Queen - my review
~ Long May She Reign

Long Live the Queen by Ellen Emerson White

Meg's family has faced some pretty rocky times in the last couple of years. Her mother, now Madame President Powers, is still recovering from an shocking attack (albeit out of the public eye) and Meg's family seems to now be, not-surprisingly, closer and more tight-knit than ever. Meg's biggest worry is finishing up her senior year while trying to avoid the ever-present reporters who follow her families' every move when the unthinkable happens: Meg is brutally kidnapped by terrorists and forced to endure more than she ever imagined. Meg isn't sure why she was taken or even where, but she knows the terrorists have no plans to let her live. Which quickly becomes her only goal.

Meg goes through some truly horrific stuff in this novel. She's beaten down and left so physically and emotionally scarred, she knows her life will never be the same again. Unexpectedly, I found myself repeatedly in tears while reading because I had unknowingly become so dang attached to Meg, I understand why some scenarios were more painful than others. Ellen Emerson White knew she couldn't start off the series with a story like this, but since she's built up a character (Meg) supported by incredible secondary characters with such believable interactions that I was completely drawn into this story. I could feel and understand every single person's pain because I'd been with them all for so long, I just got it.

So if I thought White House Autumn was taking a risk dealing with a presidential attack, then Long Live the Queen has to take some kind of award for even daring to discuss a teen who is taken hostage by terrorists. I do have one thing to say about Ellen Emerson White, that woman is fearless. Fiercely fearless. She doesn't shy away from any of the tough questions or the questionable emotions, she faces each dead-on with a calm and precise determination. Terrorists, kidnapping, Vietnam - I mean is there anything this woman can't do - and do well?

For this third installment, I find it noteworthy that the artwork was chosen to mimic James McNeill Whistler's classic painting Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist's Mother. I can't fault their taste - there is something inherently classic about Whistler's work, I totally dig it. Of course it is tongue in cheek with the hanging picture of the White House in the background and it definitely allows you to see the bright blue leg and hand brace Meg is now sporting. As for the Queen herself, Meg's attitude seems to be almost passive, which after reading this novel, I can assure you is anything but, which is a none too subtle reminder that Meg is under constant scrutiny all the time and that even when she's feeling wretched and depressed, she's still putting on her 'public' face and doing what she has to.

series reading order:
~ The President's Daughter - my review
~ White House Autumn - my review
~ Love Live the Queen
~ Long May She Reign

Jumping Off Swings Winnah

Thank you all so much for your oh so wonderful get-me-out-of-a-book-slump-FAST recommendations. I think I probably added 10-15 inches to my TBR pile alone...
And now for The Winnah:


Send me your address to mmillet at gmail dot com within the next five days and I'll get your copy of Jumping Off Swings sent off!


Book Blogger Appreciation Week is in full swing and they have so many wonderful things going on. Today they have asked bloggers to think about how you read books. Mostly what are your habits and quirks - in five words or less.

* Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
POPCORN!! mmmmhhmm

* Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
I'm sorta weird, and it's probably due to HS and college required reading: I mark in books I consider to be 'classics' and wouldn't dream of writing in anything else. I know, OCD much?

* How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
bookmark, even though it's usually something odd like a napkin, debit card or receipt

* Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
both - I feel like I need to be improving my mind from time to time

* Hard copy or audiobooks?
hard, but I like to have something to listen to in the car

* Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
I am so bad at this, I HAVE to get to some sort of break/end of chapter before I can put down a book.

* If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
usually, but sometimes I'm lazy and I don't want to

* What are you currently reading?
Long Live the Queen by Ellen Emerson White

* What is the last book you bought?
Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

* Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
I try to only do one at a time, mostly cause I read too fast

* Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
during my little guy's nap time - that is my precious 'me' time

* Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
series, mostly because that means I'll have an automatic next read - I like no-brainers

* How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
by genre, then by size, then by if I've already read them or not - not very logical, I know, but it works for me

White House Autumn by Ellen Emerson White

After her mother became the first female President, Meg wonders if her life will ever resemble anything remotely normal. Feeling somewhat like she has a handle on her new school and enjoying a somewhat-normal relationship with cutieboy Josh (even if they can never truly be alone, what with the requisite security agents following her every move), Meg is hoping to simply enjoy her junior year. But it's hard to just be a teenager when the media wants to know every detail of your private life and pictures of her keep cropping up of her doing the most mundane things, especially when she should be focusing on her college applications - not that she's worried about getting in - she'd just like to be accepted (or not) on her own merits for a change. Meg is trying to keep everything together when a shocking and horrible attack is made on her mother and Meg and her family are forced to turn to each other in their private, yet very public, grief.

If I had simply read the synopsis of this novel, I would have been more than a little skeptical. I mean: female president is attacked - ensuing emotional crisis and shock - trite and overdone right? Just like her other novels, Ellen Emerson White handles this potentially disastrous subject with such careful handling, I couldn't help but be drawn into Meg's family's story. Trust me, this is one of those authors who never does anything half-way: Meg goes through such feelings of anger, shock and pain - all so quintessentially teenage responses but at the same time extremely unique and believable. Each member of her family expresses their grief in different ways and with her dad constantly away from home, it falls to Meg to help keep her younger brothers, Steven and Neal, from falling apart. Leaving Meg unable to fall apart of course. But Meg is more than competent and though it takes everything she's got, she begins to draw closer to her family in ways they never expected.

Let's talk cover art for a moment here, shall we? This book is reminiscent of Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring - an extremely iconic work of the Dutch Renaissance. What I think I like best about this cover is that the cover artist chose to retain the same bright blue and yellow color scheme; a very smart choice since the dark background makes such colors essentially pop off the canvas, forcing the viewer to study her in exceedingly up-close-and-personal detail. I get the sense with the juxtaposition of Meg wearing her Red Sox cap and the iconic earring that Meg herself has become a study in contrasts - her tomboy nature clashing with her idea that she must be elegant and as put together as her mother.

series reading order:
~ The President's Daughter - my review
~ White House Autumn
~ Love Live the Queen
~ Long May She Reign

The President's Daughter by Ellen Emerson White

Ellen Emerson White is a relatively new discovery for me. I begin with her incomparable The Road Home and have quickly done whatever I could to get my hands on her other books, knowing if they were half as good as The Road Home, they would be well worth my time. And I was right. I always like it when that happens.

Meg Powers is a regular teenager - she plays tennis, fights with her parents, tries to navigate a hormone-driven high school, and gives her young brothers all the trouble she can. Meg does have a couple of things that set her apart from your average teen however - for one, she's smart with a biting wit and two, her mother, a career politician, has just decided to run for president. Not PTA president, mind you, but Leader of the Free World President president. Going with this not competely unexpected decision, Meg and her family must face the realities of campaigning on such a large scale. They must first endure the endless agony of the primaries nationwide, then the pageantry of the Democratic Convention, and if all goes well, eventually leading up to the Presidential election, that is, if her mom's lucky to even get that far.

Even though Meg is extremely smart, sometimes so much so that I forget she's only a teenager, she still experiences the all-too natural desire to not attract attention to herself (an instinct ingrained in all teens of course) which becomes basically impossible with all the media coverage, teachers asking for her mother's stance on education, and never knowing if guys are asking her out for herself or becuase her mother is famous. Through it all, she and especially her brothers keep a constant run of banter and sarcastic remarks running throughout - often tempering the many emotional scenes with levity leaving you with a sense that humor is the only thing keeping the Powers family sane.

The Powers family has an awesome dynamic. They are all incredibly smart and each loves nothing better than to crack a joke or pop off some smart aleck response. Meg and her mother are so much alike - but in exceedingly different ways. Meg feels that since her mother might become the first female president and she is the eldest child, there is even more pressure to be as elegant and intelligent as her mom - talk about your pressure.

I absolutely adore the new covers for the re-release of this series - each is a perfect representation of the emotions Meg experiences. This particular design is an homage to Andrew Wyeth's celebrated painting Christina's World. This choice was spot-on for capturing Meg's feeling of desperation and isolation. She has no choice but to follow her mother in perusing the presidency - no matter the cost to their family or herself. Not without hope however, Wyeth (and likewise Meg) depicts Christina facing her difficulties face-first, without any hesitation and ready to get down to business.

series reading order:
~ The President's Daughter
~ White House Autumn
~ Love Live the Queen
~ Long May She Reign

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

Jenna Fox has awoken after lying in a coma for the past year following a horrible accident to discover that not only does she not remember the house or the people she is with but has absolutely no memory of her life before the accident. Her mother encourages her to piece her life back together by watching home videos of herself that span every year of her life - each neatly cataloging every moment of Jenna Fox's growth and development. As an only child, she is obviously her parent's pride and joy but Jenna finds herself rebelling against their strict rules without really understanding why.

Oh, and did I mention it's set in the future after the world has been plagued by epidemics and violent sicknesses due to too much genetic engineering of plants and medicine? Yep. It's one of those fabulously creepy dystopian books. My cuppa tea.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox was one of those suspenseful books that kept me constantly trying to guess The Big Secret. Hints are dropped along the way and little by little Jenna begins to remember things from her past; ultimately revealing an all together not unexpected twist. Jenna is a compelling storyteller with a very clear voice. I loved that she often would mistake the meaning of a particular word or phrase since she had no idea what it meant - often substituting an alternate meaning that usually was more accurate than the originally intended meaning. Watching her slowly put together all the pieces of her story was a fascinating look at how a person facing total amnesia might react.

I felt that the relationship between Jenna and Lily, her grandmother, was extremely real. Right from the start, Jenna gets the feeling that Lily doesn't like her but knows at one point she must have loved her like any normal grandparent. As their relationship develops, their conversations contain some of the most searching and realistic interactions in the entire book. Though unsure of what to make of Jenna, Lily is constantly pushing her to think for herself and to act on her decisions. Sounds like an ideal grandma to me. That said, the other secondary characters were pretty flat by comparison. Her parents were at times, almost stereotypical in their quest for the perfect daughter and even her interactions with other teens left me feeling a little like "huh?" There was one kid in particular, Dane, that the author just sorta introduced as being weird and then competely dropped which was weird. I felt like the book resolved itself in such a way that still left me with questions but with enough answers to satisfy me - although I could have competely done without the epilogue. It really just didn't work with the overall tone.

cry for help + giveaway

So I'm sorta in a reading slump. Unfortunately, I am stuck waiting for my next chosen series (Ellen Elemerson White's President's Daughter series) to come and just can't decide what to start on instead. Do you have a never-fail-pull-me-out-of-a-slump-fast Book Not To Be Missed? I like just about anything and would love any input.

Since I need ideas fast, I'll make the request a little sweeter: I'll be giving away a copy of Jo Knowles Jumping Off Swings to one random recommender. Extra points will be awarded if I actually chose your book so be sure to make your recommendation as interesting as possible. Contest will be open until Monday, September 13th at midnight.

Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews

Coming back from a long-awaited trip to Atlanta (it's been almost two years since I went home!), I settled into the third installment of Ilona Andrew's much loved Kate Daniel's series with more than a little excitement. With the series set in a futuristic Atlanta that has been ravaged by magic, I felt like I was getting to extend my vacation a few more days as Kate described tromping around Buckhead and other notable downtown spots. Also, I've been waiting all summer to snag a copy of this one and the anticipation may have made me a tiny bit antsy. What started off as a pretty good series has now turned into one of my top three current fantasy series, the stories have literally gotten so much better with each book.

Kate is back to her usual Order of Knights of Merciful Aid day job after the massive magical flare that rocked the city of Atlanta. She's still trying to figure out how to support Julie - the orphan she adopted in the magical aftermath - and most of all how to avoid His Royal Fussiness or Curran, the Beast Lord. Needless to say, she isn't exactly pleased when the ucky Saiman calls her up to say he's got one of Curran's shifters, Derek, captive in his apartment. Derek makes Kate swear not to tell Curran the reason he's broken into Saiman's apartment - to steal tickets to an extremely illegal, extremely dangerous gladiator-type tournament - which leaves her in a place she does not want to be. But when things with Derek go south in a hurry, Kate throws herself in a deadly struggle to save her friends without revealing her true identity (which she actually finally divulges to the reader! FINALLY).

What I think makes me keeping coming back for more in this series is its constant humor. Kate is a smart-mouth and I love her. I guess I just have a thing for girls who can't keep their mouth shut even to the detriment of their health. Sometimes I would completely bust up while reading and just couldn't wait to see what would happen next. This humor element is especially important to me since there is so much darkness that Kate faces. For starters, her whole life has been centered around killing one big, bad guy for goodness sakes. So, Ilona Andrews strikes a nice balance for me. Another reason I love it is becuase of the relationships between the characters: Kate and Curran, Kate and her 'ward' Julie, Kate and Derek, they are all so real and constantly changing, leaving me breathless with anticipation for what will happen next.

Does anyone else totally dig this cover? Okay, I know they all have been quite similar: Kate with a sword and Curran as his furry self - but until I saw this book up close and personal and realized that Kate is sporting a set of very colorful bruises along her arms did I think: "Yeah! That's my girl who doesn't know how to stay out of trouble!"

series reading order:
~ Magic Bites
~ Magic Burns - my review
~ Magic Strikes

Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles

Told alternately from the perspective of four life-long friends: Caleb, Corrine, Josh and Ellie, Jumping Off Swings is a book that deals with the consequences of teen pregnancy - and the fact that it affects the life of everyone, not just the young mother. Parents, friends, teachers, classmates, the father, mother, the child - everyone. Ellie and Corinne has been friends since elementary school but Corinne has been worried about her beautiful friend ever since she started sleeping with guys and feeling heartbroken when it didn't lead to anything long-term. Sporting a massive crush on Ellie ever since second grade, Caleb is disgusted to find out his friend Josh not only slept with Ellie at a party but then left her and bragged about it to his friends afterwards. Now all four are caught up in the aftermath of depression, anger and scorn as Ellie discovers she is pregnant at 16.

This is a delicate topic all around and I felt like Jo Knowles handled it with all the care it deserved. That said, I still wouldn't recommend it to just anyone: it was such a mature, emotional roller coaster which brought out so many feelings. It wasn't just a fluff story of a girl facing the scorn of family and friends while trying to decide what to do. There was very real character development. All four of the teens voices came across so clearly I understood the choices they made because I knew them. My only problem was I felt like every one of the teens portrayed had a terrible home life, minus one. Which of course can lead to someone making not so wise choices, but still, it seemed more than a little depressing at times.

I was a little unsettled about the relationship between Ellie and her mom however. Ellie basically goes through the whole book with some serious self-esteem/self-worth issues. Coming from a family that isn't exactly the most loving or touchy-feely, she has tried to find that fulfillment in the boys she dates. Okay, I get it: teenager doesn't feel loved (especially by parents) and so turns to boys at a young age. What I have a problem with is the face that even though her mother is basically MIA from her entire life at one point she and Ellie have sort of a kodak moment which seems to ask the reader to believe that even though their relationship has been non-existent up to this point, it will be better in the future. Personally, I really don't see that happening. It wasn't even that grand of a peace offering on her mother's part in the first place and I just felt that Ellie's pain was perhaps a little too serious for her mom's 'too little, too late' gesture. That said, Jo Knowles could have just been illustrating the point that these two completely opposite people will probably struggle to connect for their entire lives.

Overall, it was such a well-written novel reminding me of all the struggles that accompany the teenage years. Part of me is sooo glad they are behind me and part of me cringes to think that I'll have a son facing those same sorts of challenges in a few short years...

If my life had books titles

I've seen this meme at a few different sites and I sorta took the questions I liked best.

Using only books you have read this year (2009), cleverly answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title. It’s a lot harder than you think!

*Describe Yourself: Magic to the Bone by Ilona Andrews

*How do you feel: Savvy by Ingrid Law

*Describe where you currently live: Under the Rose by Diana Peterfreund

*If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle

*Your favorite form of transportation: Street Magic by Caitlin Kittredge

*Your best friend is: The Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

*You and your friends are: Valiant by Holly Black

*What’s the weather like: Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston

*Favorite time of day : The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong

*What is life like to you: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

*Your fear: Blue Diablo by Ann Aguirre

*Thought for the Day: On the Bright Side, I'm now the Girlfriend of a Sex God by Louise Rennison

*How I would like to die: Fade by Lisa McMann

*My soul’s present condition: Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre

Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston

I must admit I was immediately intrigued by the beautimous cover on this book. Love the dress, love the hair - it caught my attention. Then I read the teaser and said to myself:

faeries? check
Shakespeare? check
shiny, sparkly wings? check, check

ding, ding! We have a winner!

Kelley has come to New York, fresh out of high school, ready to meet the acting world head-on. She's found the perfect apartment (even if her roommate is a little OCD) and has finally landed a huge role in A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Avalon theater - a very off, off Broadway theater - but hey, theater is theater, right?

Sonny on the other hand, is a changeling - taken from his parents at birth and fated to live in the faery realm forever. He has been raised to become one of the elite Janus guard who protect the human world from the nasties that might try to slip through the gates from the faery kingdoms and just happens to be pretty dang good at his job - which explains why when Kelley is almost killed he is right there to play knight in shining armor.

What Kelley doesn't realize is the closer she gets to Halloween - when the gates between the faery and human world will open - she will get one up close and personal meeting with the faery kingdom in all its beauty and cruelty. Sonny will do anything to protect Kelley against the fae; even if it means losing everything he loves.

The Shakespeare references really made this a stand-out read for me. That combined with Kelley's descriptions of the stage mixed with the machinations of evil and benign faery creatures constantly drew me in. Sonny and Kelley's characters were so blindingly real to me - Sonny can fight, is loyal and is officially my new dream boy. ::sigh::

One thing I really liked about this story is although it uses known fairy creatures and themes, the plot is entirely original. Some of the revelations weren't a surprise, but most caught me totally off guard - just like a real fairy bargain perhaps? It comes as no surprise that I totally ate up this story and am very, very delighted to read Darklight this December.

series reading order:
~ Wondrous Strange
~ Darklight