The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I first heard about The Changeover from the always fantastic Sarah Rees Brennan on her post about Transformative Romances (as did my good blogging friend Chachic - but who ended up posting her review much quicker than I could!). I had never heard of this 20+ year old novel, but knew if it came with a stamp of approval from the woman who brought us Mae and Nick and Alan, well then - I would be a fool to pass it by.

Laura Chant is a seemingly normal 14 year-old girl. She goes to school. She babysits her brother Jacko. And sometimes Laura even has what she calls 'premonitions.' Like the time she knew something bad was going to happen the day her father left her mum. Ever since, Laura has been careful to not ignore her strange feelings until one hurried morning when Laura finds herself experiencing that disquieting sensation once again. Forced to ignore her fears in favor of making sure Jacko and her mother are both taken care of, Laura reluctantly chooses to ignore the warning. When the day almost finished, Laura hopes she has somehow escaped this time around when Jacko asks to visit a strange curiosity shop on their way home. Inside Jacko encounters a strange and foul old man who in a moment of triumph places a type of gruesome stamp on Jacko's hand. Unable to remove the horrid stamp, Laura and her mum are forced to watch helplessly while Jacko becomes increasingly more sick and lifeless. Full of fear for her little brother, Laura turns to the one boy who she thinks might be able to help. The strange yet quiet Sorensen Carlisle. Although most people think Sorry is simply a model student with perfect manners, Laura knows he's a different animal entirely. She knows he's a witch.

Mysterious-sounding enough for you yet? Well, it was for me. I ended up reading The Changeover in little more than one sitting because Laura's voice simply grabbed hold of me from the start and refused to let go. Margaret Mahy should be given an award for crafting such beautiful writing and stunning metaphors (would you look at that - she was). Truth be told, I had to keep stopping every few chapters just so I could reread particular passages aloud because they were so poetic. Take this section which occurs on the morning Laura received her 'premonition.' Going aganist all her instincts, she's ignored the warning and is now about to cross paths with the mysterious (to her) Sorry Carlisle at school.
Laura was alone with the day. It panted at her with a stale sweetness on its breath, with a faint, used-peppermint smell that made her want to be sick in the gutter, but she shut her mouth tightly and walked on.

"Hurry up, Chant!" said the prefect at the gate. It was Sorry Carlisle himself, checking that people riding bikes were doing so in a sober fashion, not doing wheelies or riding on the footpath. "First bell's gone!"

He had grey eyes with the curious trick of turning silver if you looked at them from the side. Some people thought they looked dependable, but to Laura there was nothing safe about them. They were tricky, looking-glass eyes with quicksilver surfaces, and tunnels, staircases and mirror mazes hidden behind them, none of them leading anywhere that was recognizable.

Laura and Sorensen looked at each other now, smiling but not in friendship. They smiled out of cunning, and a shared secret flicked from eye to eye. Laura walked past him in at the school gates, bravely turning right into the mouth of the day, right into its open jaws which she must enter despite all warnings. She felt the jaws snap down behind her and knew she had been swallowed up. The day spread its strangeness before her resigned eyes, its horror growing thin and wispy as it sank away. The flow cam back into the world once more, and the warning became a memory, eagerly forgotten because it was useless to remember it. The warning had come. She had ignored it. There was nothing more to be said.
There's nothing I love better than a novel that can capture this type of knowing coupled with foreboding in such detail. Not to mention the ridiculously intriguing relationship Mahy sets up between Sorry and Laura (and between Laura and her mum, and with Sonny's mom and grandmother, etc.). To Laura, Sorry is much less controlled and somewhat less than human in his emotions. They continually experience this wonderful give-and-take; where both are expecting something from the other, but usually the timing is way off and so they continue to circle each other until another attempt to close the distance between them is made.

The Changeover was such a wonderful, unexpected find. I can only imagine how popular it could become (again) with a shiny cover makeover and some focused marketing (publishers, are you listening?). Laura's compelling and dark coming of age story was a unique discovery, full of wit and charm, and one I'll be passing along with pleasure.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
A Book A Week review
Bookshelves of Doom review
Chachic's Book Nook review
Justine Larbalestier's review
Things Mean A Lot review

book source: my local library

Smart Chicks! Get Yer Smart Chicks!

I've mentioned, repeatedly, how much I adore Sarah Rees Brennan and her two lovelies The Demon's Lexicon and The Demon's Covenant. The woman is hilarious. And smart. What else would you expect from the someone who brought us not only the unforgettable Ryves brothers, Nick and Alan, but two of the smartest heroines, Mae and Sin, I've read in quite some time. Seeing as I can't sit down to reread her books every single day (well, I could but that would be a bit unproductive on my TBR pile), I get my periodic Sarah Fix by stalking following her around the internets - either on her journal or at the newly created Smart Chicks Tour Blog. Recently Ms. Brennan wrote about some of her favorite Smart Chicks from the books she loves. In her words, they are:
These are all very different ladies, with one thing in common: in a crisis, they tend to keep their head (just about, anyway. Usually. Just enough.) They have their own very strong views on things, and when they act, they act practically and decisively, using all the weapons they have to hand (brains, brawn, magic) to the very best of their ability.

Another thing they have in common is that I really, really love them.
I especially like that bit about them "usually or just enough" keeping their head in a crisis. At the end of her post, she asked her readers (that's me!) to put on their thinking caps and list our favorite Smart Chicks. Now, Sarah already mentioned a couple of ladies that automatically go on my top 5 list: Kate Daniels (clearly, she is a god) and Attolia (woman is like a machine, but a loveable one) so I won't include them here, because I'm just say amen to her reasoning and be done with it. Minus those two, these are the Smart Chicks that immediately came to mind.
Liadan from Son of the Shadows ~ Despite being handed a pretty raw deal by the fae, Liadan truly fights for everything she wants. The Fae say: choose between your son and the man you love. She says: Nope. Not gonna do it. And then she goes on to keep both.  She MAKES her own happily ever after come true and I love her so much for that alone.

Meg Powers from The President's Daughter series ~ I know I keep going on and on about how wonderful these books are, but it's because Meg truly is one of Smartest Chicks out there in YA lit. Even though she's suffered emmensly (emotionally and physically) due to her mother's elected office, Meg still refuses to back down. I'm sure she's up there on the genius level, but it's her clever yet snarky off-the-cuff remarks she's constantly spouting to basically everyone she meets that make me look up to her so.

Fire from Fire ~ Fire is an outcast. She'll always be mistrusted by society simply because of her heritage but Fire refuses to give up or turn into the monster her father was. Incredibly strong and forward-thinking, she's never once refused help to those in need or backed down from making the hard choice. Obviously she's someone who knows how to keep her wits in a crisis.

Do any of these Smart Chicks strike a chord with you too? Who would make your list?

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

So last week I mentioned that the family and I were taking a beach holiday for a few days. Knowing this had been dubbed as The Vacation Wherein NOTHING is Planned, I knew I'd need a wide array of brainless yet instantly engrossing reads that I could pick up in between bouts of sunbathing, eating, and boogie-boarding in the ocean. Obviously, I've heard about the popularity of Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series but just hadn't gotten around to picking them up myself. As usual, I am late to the Rose party, but let me go ahead and adjust my little hat and cut the cake, cause Vampire Academy earned the top spot from my vacation reading list.

Best Friends Forever has a whole new meaning when it comes to bffs Rose and Lissa. Instead of sharing clothes and makeup, the bond between Rose and Lissa is a little bit more complicated. As a vampire princess - known as Moroi royalty - Lissa is in need of constant protection for a group of 'evil' vampires, called Strigoi, who drink the blood of the Moroi vampires in order to gain immortality and enhanced powers. Enter Lissa's best friend Rose Hathaway. Rose is a dhampir - what you could call a half-breed vampire - someone born with extreme physical strength, who is then trained to become guardians for the Moroi vampires.

For almost two years, Rose and Lissa have been on the run after escaping from the elite academy St. Vladimir's. Unfortunately, their past finally catches up with the girls and they are forced to return to structured academy life of St. Vladimir's. Together, Rose and Lissa must try to navigate the intense social structure of the academy while dealing with numerous secrets from their past. Even the usually reckless and fearless Rose agrees to abide by the school's strict rules in addition to putting in extra hours practicing with the demanding guardian trainer Dimitri or else face expulsion and separation from Lissa. Something Rose isn't about to let happen.

Like I said, Vampire Academy struck just the right chord at the right time for me. I was looking for an engrossing vacation read and Vampire Academy delivered. Richelle Mead has created an intriguing world with a tough and layered heroine in Rose. I can't begin to tell you how much I love reading about a female lead who is willing - and more than able - to fight for herself and those she loves. And then to go and witness scenes that highlight her softer, more emotional side as well? Well, that pretty much sold me. Although not the most intellectual novel, I still found plenty to enjoy in this engaging read - most of all, Mead's cast of characters. Basically I was in love from the moment Dimirtri opened his mouth and a stream of Russian-accented English burst forth (I may have a slight crush on *anything* Russian, especially cute guys with a sexy accent). I also must include Christian - a loner Moroi who obviously would like to get closer to Lissa - who will remain high on my Characters To Watch list. Vampire Academy contains some really good stuff, which can only mean good things for me since I've got the next four books already waiting.

series reading order:
~ Vampire Academy
~ Frostbite
~ Shadow Kiss
~ Blood Promise
~ Spirit Bound
~ Last Sacrifice (December 2010)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
The Book Smugglers review
Bookworm Nation review
Steph Su Reads review
YA Reads review

book source: purchased

Beach Week

For the next few days, I'll be taking some time off from this here bloggy, in order to go to the beach with my family.
Hopefully, I'll get a lot of reading done while seeing a lot of this face:
And maybe some of this one too:
See y'all next week!

Forget You by Jennifer Echols

Last fall, I fell extremely hard for Jennifer Echols and her intensely brilliant YA novel Going Too Far. Echols has this knack for beautifully portraying teens trying to figure out relationships while dealing with some pretty weighty family and personal crisis to boot. Naturally, I've been eagerly awaiting the release of her latest YA novel, Forget You, with a heavy dose of giddy anticipation.

Doug and Zoey are not what you'd call the best of friends. Doug has always gone out of his way to torment and be rude Zoey but she hasn't extactly extended the olive branch either. Knowing Doug spent time in Juvie several years ago, Zoey made sure he didn't get a summer job life-guarding at her father's water park with the rest of their swim team.

So when Doug unexpectedly appears at her house acting like her boyfriend, though all he did was rescue her from a car crash the night before, she's more than confused. Especially since Zoey can't remember a single thing about that night before or after the car wreck. All Zoey knows is that she's not Doug's girlfriend because she's dating the handsome - if fickle - football player Brandon. Given their past animosity, Zoey knows she has to figure things out with Doug since he is the only person who knows about her mother's recent nervous breakdown following her father's decision to leave them for his 24 year-old pregnant girlfriend and Zoey really doesn't want that information spread around school. Yet swift as an ocean current, the normally in-control and disciplined Zoey finds her life tearing apart at the seams as her family is one big messed-up tangle, her boyfriend continues to remain suspiciously absent, while another boy, one whom Zoey shouldn't want but can't seem to stay away from either, is fast becoming a constant presence.

Forget You is one of those novels that captures all the breathless joy of a summer romance while doling out its fair share of heartache and hurt at the same time. The premise of the novel itself is incredibly intriguing - a girl who can't stand not being in control, yet who can't remember the details from the one night that significantly changed her life.

As much as I wanted to fall head over heels in love with this story and even though Jennifer Echols has this innate connection to the psyche of the average teen, I never once believed Zoey's assertion that she and Brandon were in fact an item. Zoey's a smart girl, she knew all about Brandon's tendency to wander (he'd told her in detail himself), not to mention that she was basing their entire relationship on one hurried sexual encounter with no discussion about a relationship whatsoever. Yet she persisted in believing that she and Brandon were a couple despite her feelings for Doug. I can see her wanting to hold onto that 'relationship' as a way of anchoring her out-of-control life, yet it just seemed like she was just grasping at straws.

What I can fully understand however is Zoey's inexplicable (to her) attraction to Doug because, boy howdy, is he ever a winner. Whereas Zoey often irritated me, Doug constantly impressed me with his maturity, depth, and willingness to sacrifice. That said, Zoey and Doug as a couple exhibit some real chemistry. I'm just not sure if should be classified as anything deeper or longer-lasting than lust. They are like two magnets, who despite all their best efforts can't but help be drawn to each other. Every encounter leaves both feeling raw and frustrated yet wanting more than ever to spend time together. Fundamentally Forget You is in large part a novel about sex. The consequences of sex, the longing for the opposite sex and how sex itself is viewed differently by different people. How simple yet how complicated sex can be at the same time. All of this information which constitutes Zoey's crash-course on the subject during the first few weeks of her senior year.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
The Book Whisperer review
Cleverly Inked review
Gossamer Obsessions review
Lurv a la Mode review
The Story Siren review
Wondrous Reads review

book source: provided by the publisher

Cover Alert: River Marked

Holy crap guys! I just saw this cover of the sixth Mercy Thompson book via KMont on Twitter - the lovely leading lady of Lurv a la Mode - and basically had to pick my jaw off the floor.
I am in love with every single thing about it and am now sitting here, all giddy-like, wondering if Patricia Briggs plans to give Mercy a taste of her own Native American heritage. Thoughts?

As for me: Can. Not. Wait.

Plus by Veronica Chambers

At only 17 years old, Beatrice Wilson is exactly where she wants to be: a student at a respected Ivy League college taking a full load and dating Brian, the boy of her dreams. Or, at least she was until Brian dumps her without warning and Bee is left stunned and depressed. Twenty-five pounds and one broken heart later, Bee is still determined to find a way to get Brian back when a modeling agency executive signs her as the newest, hottest plus-sized model. Although she's thrilled at first, the former egg-head turned fashionista quickly realizes that modeling encompasses a lot more than just standing around, taking pictures. Surprise! Bee's agent expects her to be dressed and ready for 5:00 AM shoots, follow a strict diet, work out twice daily and maintain her grades at school. But with encouragement from her best friend Chela and an up-and-coming rapper, Bee is determined to do the best she can -- even in the face of psychotic models and boys who just want to a ride on her fame.

Plus is a lighthearted, fun novel with a real winner in the voice of Bee Wilson. She's young and funny and most of her account was simply an entertaining read. As someone who will confess to being sucked in (repeatedly) by episodes of America's Next Top Model, Bee's meteoric rise to superstardom was eye-opening and immensely gratifying. Who doesn't love a good Cinderella story? At times however, I found myself wanting to shake some sense into Bee because I could not understand why she persisted in chasing the horrible Brian. The guy treated her like dirt, broke her heart and then proceeded to use her repeatedly. I did not understand the attraction. Nor did I feel like Bee was always the best friend to Chela -- who had repeatedly rescued Bee -- but felt like she saw her as a 'fall-back friend.' And maybe it's the realist in me, but I couldn't see Bee (as a minor) jet-setting off to all these exotic locales without at least one of her parents along for the ride. If they had been, I'm thinking some of the tight spots Bee finds herself in would not have occurred. But that doesn't make for the best reading, does it?

What Veronica Chambers really excels at is broadcasting her message, loud and proud, that you have to learn to love yourself as a person first -- outside and in. It was immensely refreshing to encounter a plus-sized protagonist who is beautiful and smart and ready to tackle any challenge set before her. At each new obstacle Bee encountered, I found myself rooting for this funny young woman, hoping she'd be able to make things work. Overall, Plus is a light yet entertaining summer read with lots of heart.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Cornucopia of Reviews
las risas review
Smitten with Books review
YA Addict review

book source: giveaway from las risas

Robot Lovestory

Anyone else out there watching this crazy new web 'series' called LXD? Knowing how much I love dance, last night the Hubby showed me Robot Lovestory and I immediately had to watch the first two episodes as well - you can watch one and two here. So far this episode is my favorite though. This guy's ticking is INSANE!

Happy Friday!

Beyond Exile by J.L. Bourne

The first book of Day by Day Armageddon took us deep into the mind of a military officer and survivor as he made a New Year's resolution to start keeping a journal. The man kept his resolution and brought to us the fall of humanity, day by day. We see the man transition from the life that you and I live to the prospect of fighting for his very survival against the overwhelming hordes of the dead. We see him bleed, we see him make mistakes, we witness him evolve. The highly anticipated sequel to the bestselling underground cult classic, Day by Day Armageddon begins where the first novel left off.

Armies of undead have risen up across the U.S. and around the globe; there is no safe haven from the diseased corpses hungering to feed off human flesh. But in the heat of a Texas wasteland, a small band of survivors attempt to counter the millions closing in around them.

Day by day, the handwritten journal entries of one man caught in a worldwide cataclysm capture the desperation—and the will to survive—as he joins forces with a handful of refugees to battle soulless enemies both human and inhuman from inside the abandoned Hotel 23.

But in the world of the undead, is mere survival enough?
In an effort to maintain a shred of humanity, our anonymous narrator has made a resolution to daily pick up his pen and record his experiences facing a world decimated by hoards of undead zombies. With his military background, he's an ideal leader to watch over the various survivors he's rescued from a gruesome fate, now concealed in a bunker-type facility called Hotel 23.

To be honest, I was hoping this narrative would be reminiscent of the thrilling first-hand account based novel World War Z by Max Brooks - which I eagerly devoured. J. L. Bourne's narrative unfortunately can only be described as periodically gruesome and oftentimes dry at best. Yes, in the face of certain death on multiple occasions, our narrator is always resourceful and cunning yet I found his account lacking in any emotion that I could connect with as a reader. Perhaps that was due to the format - diary entries - which did not allow for much interaction with other characters; which could provide a more complete picture of his character. Additionally the large of amount of technical/military and weaponry jargon was confusing and distracting more often than not since I am not what you would call 'gun savvy.'

Sad to say, the blah cover is nothing to write home about either. But it does stay true to the overall feel of the novel: there is nothing fluffy or endearing about Beyond Exile. It's dark and horrific and full of the dark moments. For true zombie fiction fanatics, I'm sure this one will be instantly gobbled up; but since I like my books with a little more heart and character interaction, it just wasn't my cuppa.

series reading order:
~ Day by Day Armageddon
~ Beyond Exile

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Books and Things review 
Gnostalgia review
Lorrie Jeanne review
Must Read Faster review
Wayfaring Writer review

book source: provided by the publisher

Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs

As I was sitting down to write my review for the latest Mercy Thompson novel, Silver Borne, I came across an astonishing fact. I have never before reviewed a Mercy Thompson novel here on the blog! Seriously? WHY NOT?!? Hands-down, Patricia Briggs writes some of the best urban fantasy out there folks. It seems like I'm constantly pimping her out to all my friends and fellow readers. Just yesterday I had a friend leave my home happily clutching the first four Mercy books with promises to start in right away. So why haven't I taken the time here on this lovely bloggy to proclaim my love for one smart yet fierce, coyote/mechanic with a sense of humor? No clue. Though now seems like a good a time as ever to fix that glaring oversight right up.

Over the last few months, life has settled into a rhythm for Mercy. Still dealing with the aftermath of her recent trauma, Mercy's taking her newly established relationship with Adam, local werewolf pack Alpha, slowly yet surely forward even if their bond and her position in the Pack only work sporadically at best. Adam's pack has never really welcomed Mercy with open arms (troublesome coyote that she is), but she never would have expected some of Adam's wolves to meddle directly with their relationship. Upset and unsure of her next move, Mercy distances herself from the pack only to discover that her good friend and werewolf-roommate Samuel isn't coping as well as he had claimed to be. Deciding to keep stick to Samuel's side like glue, Mercy takes him on a short trip to return a borrowed book about the fae (a little light bedtime reading) when she determines that what she has, is in fact a powerful and ancient object - full of secrets about the fae - and worth more, to some, than her very life.

Patricia Briggs is one of those authors who understands how to deftly compound kick-butt action with emotional turmoil. Her novels always contain a hefty portion of Mercy fighting tooth-and-nail to protect those she loves, but in Silver Borne, she also gave us a Mercy who had to struggle just as hard to keep the emotional aspects of her relationships intact. Mercy and Adam, as a couple, are really put through the ringer this go-round but, dang it, there is just something about those two together that makes my heart sing. Something that makes me want to stand up and cheer every time they get a moment of quiet together. Either that or giggle at every shared oddball joke. Adam has always been a big winner for me, but his selfless actions toward - and defense of - Mercy in Silver Borne, left me straight-up Adam's #1 Fan.

And although this is gonna sound like a obvious contradiction after my above statement, I was a tiny (very, very tiny) bit disappointed with Samuel's role in this novel. Ms. Briggs said that would be his book, but the end resolution for the demons he was staring down seemed a touch rushed. That said, I'm more than willing to overlook that small detail due to the enormous amount of goodness otherwise found in Silver Borne. Simply put: it's vintage Mercy. It's about a shapeshifting mechanic who, with brains and a heart, is always willing to go the distance to make things right for those she loves. I just love her to bits.

Furthermore, a word about these covers. Every single one of the Mercy Thompson books have been blessed with phenomenal covers, but I think my favorite to date has to be this one for Silver Borne. It's stunning and sublime and just plain gorgeous. I love the color scheme mixed with the shining gold window and even the look on Mercy's face is something special. Dan dos Santos does it again.

series reading order:
~ Moon Called
~ Blood Bound
~ Iron Kissed
~ Bone Crossed
~ Silver Borne
~ River Marked (Spring 2011)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
All Things Urban Fantasy review
Angieville review
Book Harbinger review
Book Smugglers review
Dear Author review

book source: my local library

Summer Break Reading Challenge #8: Read-a-Like

For our next Summer Break Reading Challenge, Karin has asked each of the participants to create a read-a-like list for one of our favorite novels/genres. As soon as I saw this challenge, I immediately thought of one of my favorite fairy tale retellings, the spectacular Beauty by Robin McKinley. McKinley is a favorite author for many people (including me) and so I thought I'd create a read-a-like list of those books that are also retellings of the timeless story of Beauty and the Beast. Enjoy!

Beauty by Robin McKinley

Sixteen-year-old Beauty has never liked her nickname. Thin, awkward, and undersized, with big hands and huge feet, she has always thought of herself as the plainest girl in her family--certainly not nearly as lovely as her elder sisters Hope and Grace. But what she lacks in looks, she makes up for in courage. When her father comes home one day with the strange tale of an enchanted castle in the wood and the terrible promise he has made to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows what she must do. She must go the castle and tame the Beast--if such a thing is possible...
Here is the unusual love story of a mostly unlikely couple: Beauty and the Beast.
- Goodreads


Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted - my review
Beastly by Alex Flinn - my review
 Hearts Blood by Juliet Marillier - my review


Here's another three retellings that I haven't read yet but discovered when I was searching around the internets. I'm not sure how good the second two are but I have it on good authority that Rose Daughter is something special. It's one that's been on my TBR list for sometime now.
Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley

Twenty years ago, Robin McKinley dazzled readers with the power of her novel Beauty. Now this extraordinarily gifted novelist returns to the story of Beauty and the Beast with a fresh perspective, ingenuity, and mature insight. With Rose Daughter, she presents her finest and most deeply felt work—a compelling, richly imagined, and haunting exploration of the transforming power of love. - Goodreads

Beast by Donna Jo Napoli

In a narrative as glittering and richly detailed as a Persian miniature, Donna Jo Napoli interprets and amplifies the tale of Beauty and the Beast with startling originality. [...] 

Here she uses the intriguing setting of ancient Persia in a glorious retelling of the now-Disneyfied favorite--a bold undertaking with which authors from Robin McKinley to Francesca Lia Block have also challenged themselves. Napoli, however, brings a fresh slant to the story through the eyes of the Beast, Prince Orasmyn, who has been transformed by a curse into a lion--and can only be redeemed by the love of a woman. From this four-footed perspective, the young prince struggles to learn how to survive as a beast while retaining his humanity in devotion to Islamic moral principles. Fleeing his father's hunting park, he travels as an animal across Asia to France, where he at last finds an abandoned chateau. There, using paws and jaws, he plants a rose garden and prepares the castle for the woman he hopes will come to love him. Enter the merchant, the plucked rose, the brave Beauty, and the story wends to its traditional end--but this time with compassion and a new vividness. Into this sumptuous tapestry Napoli has woven a wealth of lore about Persian literature, the tenets of Islam, rose culture, animal behavior--even a leonine mating scene. This level of detail makes for a leisurely pace and a novel that may be more appropriate for older teens who are willing to savor the journey rather than the destination. After all, we all know how the story ends. - Goodreads

Belle: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Cameron Dokey

Belle is convinced she has the wrong name, as she lacks her sisters' awe-inspiring beauty. So she withdraws from society, devoting her time to wood carving. Secretly, Belle longs to find the fabled Heartwood Tree. If carved by the right hands, the Heartwood will reveal the face of one's true love.

During a fierce storm, Belle's father stumbles upon the mysterious Heartwood -- and encounters a terrifying and lonely Beast. Now Belle must carve the Heartwood to save her father, and learn to see not with the eyes of her mind, but with the eyes of her heart. - Goodreads

Are there any other favorite Beauty and the Beast retellings I should know about? Please don't be shy in filling in my gaps.

The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty

In the interest of full-disclosure I'd like to say up front that I have recently formed a new author crush. And it's a big one. In fact, my sole purpose in writing this love letter review is so that all of you will go out and immediately read The Ghosts of Ashbury High, therefore developing your very own all-consuming book crush in return. Considerate of me, eh?

Riley and Amelia have been a couple since they were fourteen years old. They are mysterious and beautiful and immediately cause a stir upon their arrival as Year 12 scholarship students at the exclusive private school in Castle Hill, Australia, Ashbury High. No one seems to know anything about these two, but everyone is noticing them and wants to be noticed by them. Even best friends Emily, Lydia, and Cassie. Emily, resident Drama Queen, quickly becomes obsessed with all things Riley and Amelia - her blog entries, even her answers to test questions focus on her observations of the pair (even if she sometimes confuses the definitions of words):
When I say they were "always together" I don't mean in the way of other couples.

Those couples who walk around making gurgling noises into the sides of each other's necks?


Those couples are as disgusting as a gothic sewerage system.

Riley and Amelia had rhythm that matched and yet they were separate. Like bicycle wheels.

Sometimes they spoke and it's true that their voices were murmurs. But not the too-much-cheap-chocolate-weird-feeling-in-my-chin murmur of those other couples. It was more like the way my parents talked this one time when we went camping. It was late, and my brother and I were in our sleeping bags in the tent, and we could hear Mum and Dad by the campfire. Their low voices talked about strange, important things, and I couldn't really catch what they were saying. But it seemed to me to be all about how their kids were kind of stupid, but funny.

That's the kind of murmuring Riley and Amelia shared.
Enigmatic and Unknown to Emily and her friends, Riley and Amelia seem to float above all their regular high school drama. Although, like in the finest gothic novels, there occurs within the hallowed halls of Ashbury High more excitement and drama than just the arrival of two unexpected (albeit spectacular) teens. With their final, end of high school, career-deciding, HSC exams just around the corner; Emily is sure a ghost is haunting Ashbury High, Lydia is holding onto an alienating, destructive secret, and the lovable Toby cannot seem to talk about anything but Irish convicts and black holes. And that's not even mentioning the ghost that is haunting Riley and Amelia.

The Ghosts of Ashbury High is unlike any other novel I have ever read. It's a ghost story. It's about growing up. It's a Gothic novel. It's about judgment and prejudices. It's a historical novel. It's about friends. It's about finishing high school. Furthermore, it's HILARIOUS, yet also dark and filled with heavy secrets. Jaclyn Moriarty effortlessly floats back and forth from the perspective of multiple characters through the medium of homework assignments, meeting minutes, blog entries, letters, and even exam answers on gothic literature. You would think this arrangement would be confusing or irritating to read, but really, just the opposite occurs. The quirky format allows the multi-faceted and multi-layered secrets of the students of Ashbury High to reveal themselves bit by bit; forming an interconnected web so stunning and complex, I was utterly entranced with every one of its hefty 480 pages. Every single character leaps off the page, fully-formed and independent. I cannot tell you how Ms. Moriarty has managed it, but I am in awe. If this is what I can expect from her other novels, I'll be picking those up without hesitation. Especially as I am happy to report that I currently have a copy of The Year of Secret Assignments sitting pretty on my shelf. Guess what I'll be reading next?

Other Ashbury High novels (not necessary to read in order)
~ Feeling Sorry for Celia
~ The Murder of Bindy MacKenzie (Becoming Bindy MacKenzie/The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie)
~ The Year of Secret Assignments (Finding Cassie Crazy)

~ The Ghosts of Ashbury High (Dreaming of Amelia)
Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
The Bookette review
Kiss the Book review
Oops...Wrong Cookie review
Pipedreaming review

book source: publisher giveaway (thank you! thank you!)

One Wedding Dress & A Book Cover

When I got married several years ago, I originally I wanted to get hitched in this:
Though once I discovered the cost of antique lace (ACK!), I decided I liked this one much better - but without the whole scandalous see-through top...thing.
 This is how it turned out:
Favorite. Dress. Ever.

Today I saw this cover here:
I immediately think...ohhhhh! Pretty 20s style lace! Pretty pink sash!

wait a minute...

And suddenly I was having flashbacks to my own lace-filled happily ever after.
And it's still the best dress I've ever worn. 

Pick Your Kids' (Literary) Friends

So as I was making my usual rounds this morning, I saw a post over at Angieville about the Characters She'd Let Her Daughter Date. I'm such a sucker for this sort of thing - love the concept, love the list. The guys that made her shortlist are all tremendously outstanding. I mean, every single one of them (including Aragorn of The Lord of the Rings - one of my first crushes) would be more than welcome to date my fictional daughter.

And as usually happens, her list got me to thinking. I do not have a daughter. It's something I hope changes in the future, but in the mean time, I do have the cutest little boy EVER and so I began running through the list of possible female characters I'd want him to date.

And then hit a wall.

See, he's my son. And he's two. I can't even begin to think about girls and dating in relation to my little man or I think my head just might explode. So after reminding myself that he still loves tractors and trains more than any 'ole smelly girl, I took a deep breath, went to my happy place and began to think about all the literary characters I'd love for him to have as FRIENDS. Much more therapeutic.
~ Paul Fisher of Edward Bloor's astounding Tangerine. He's a soccer player, a mystery solver and someone who is good at seeing what others can't. Plus, he's a hero. Very good company to keep.

~ Todd Hewitt from the Chaos Walking books by Patrick Ness. He's a boy who is trying so hard to do what he thinks is right even in the face of multiple life-altering surprises. Every time he gets knocked down, he picks himself right back up and keeps fighting.

~ Will Parry from His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Determined and fierce in the face of danger, yet kind and loyal and oh so sweet to those he loves. Talk about a guy who understands the value of relationships.

~ DJ Schwenk from Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Dairy Queen. I have a sneaky suspicion my boy is gonna love sports, so this one might seem like a no-brainer. Since DJ is a tough farm girl, she'd teach him not to be afraid of work or going after the things you truly want. She might scare him (a bit) but she'd teach him buckets.

~ Spencer Martin from Maureen Johnson's Suite Scarlett and Scarlett Fever. One of the best fictional older brothers I can think of, Spencer gets the importance of family and has one of the best oddball-ist sense of humor I know. Plus, all that physical comedy must surely make him an ideal friend for any guy.

People always say you can't choose your kids' friends, but if I could, these are the ones I pick for my own. Although what made this exercise so much fun is that I will be able to introduce my little man to every single one of these characters one day. Ahhh, the lasting power of books.

Anybody I missed? Who would you pick to be friends with your kid?

Firespell by Chloe Neill

Even though Lily Parker never thought she'd be spending her junior year anywhere except in Sagamore, NY, here she is - bag in hand, on the doorsteps of Chicago's most exclusive girls' boarding school St. Sophia's, while her parents spend the next two years on sabbatical in Germany. Not expecting to fit in with any of her trust-fund-baby classmates, Lily resigns herself to two years of torture until she finds an unexpected friend in the quirky Scout. Vastly different from all of Lily's Ivy League bound or spoiled rich girl classmates, Scout has a witty sense of humor and the two become instant friends. But Lily will soon discover that Scout's dark humor isn't the only thing that separates her from the other girls - it's her late night forays into the underbelly of St. Sohpia's that have Lily curious about and anxious for her friend's safety.

Firespell surprised me on so many levels. I don't know what exactly I was expecting from Chloe Neill's first foray into the YA genre, but Lily and Scout's constant stream of snarky commentary and firm friendship instantly struck a chord with me. I loved how their exchanges, while always funny, always managed to also convey a reminder of the dark and evil things Scout is trying to defeat.
"I'll have to keep an eye on you," she said as we reentered the main building and headed across the labyrinth, "in case anything happens."

"In case I get attacked by a Reaper, or in case I suddenly develop the ability to summon unicorns?" My voice was toast-dry.

"Oh, please," Scout said. "Don't take that tone with me. You know you'd love to have a minion. Someone at your beck and call. Someone to do your bidding. How many times have you said to yourself, 'Self, I need a unicorn to run errands and such'?"

"Not that often till lately, to be real honest," I said, but managed a small smile.

"Yeah, well, welcome to the jungle," she said again, but this time, darkly.
Their relationship reminded me of the first few weeks of my own freshman year at college in the dorms, where lasting friendships were instantly created - albeit lacking the whole magical spellcaster, demons, and werewolf thing. That said, I too found Firespell to be a little slow going from the outset. I mean, come on, you know from the get-go that something shady has to going down at St. Sohpia's School for Privileged Girls. There's the creepy headmistress, prone to pop out of secret passageways, multiple dark and scary underground passageways and a roomie sneaking out during middle of the night. It's the perfect setup for some major reveals, so once the story gets going, it really takes off. About half-way through the novel Lily begins to uncover reason for Scout's secret comings and goings and even gets herself a glimpse of the magical power-corrupted Reapers. 

If this is the type of snarky and witty dialogue I can expect from all of Chloe Neill's books, then I'm more than ready to track down her Chicagoland Vampires books right now. Anybody know if this is the case? I sure hope so, because Firespell was a pleasant surprise, full of twists and sarcastic teens fighting evil. At the very least, I'll be sure to pick up the next Dark Elite novel, Hexbound.

series reading order
~ Firespell
~ Hexbound (January 2011)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Book Rat review 
Dark Faerie Tales review
The O.W.L. review
Parajunkee's View review
Pure Imagination review
Wondrous Reads review

book source: giveaway from Flipping Pages for All Ages

The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong's Darkest Powers series has been a big hit for me. Although I felt like the series started off a little slow in The Summoning, I saw much potential plot and character-wise. Luckily, I stuck with the books and was rewarded with some truly fabulous storytelling in The Awakening. I loved everything about Chloe's gradual discovery of her powers and the way her relationship with the other Edison Group teens was allowed to naturally develop - all of which left me with some very high hopes for the conclusion of Chloe's story in The Reckoning.

The Reckoning picks up right where The Awakening so cruelly left us hanging: Chloe, Derek, Simon, and Tori are hiding out (again) in hopes of finally evading the nefarious Edison Group, who used the four teens - and others - as lab rats in hopes of genetically altering their supernatural powers. The Edison Group didn't exactly succeed with their little experiment which resulted in some super-charged teens who don't have the foggiest notion of how to control their powers. While Simon can barely cast a spell to save his life, Tori is picking up powerful spells with no apparent effort, and Derek is struggling to cope with his first change into a werewolf with absolutely no direction. Chloe herself is a impressive necromancer but doesn't have a clue how to control her abilities. What these four teens have become masters at however is loyalty. Hoping they have finally stumbled upon allies they can actually trust, Chloe et al set out to rescue the remaining super-teens from the clutches of the Edison Group in hopes of finally shutting the laboratory down once and for all.

I am so sad to see this series at an end. The entire concept of a group of extra-powerful genetically altered teens held under lock and key caught my interest from the first but the well-developed characters and non-stop action kept me happy. Even though much of the story arc and plot devices were similar to those found in the earlier two books, The Reckoning was vastly different from its predecessors. The pace itself was set at a much slower rate: the teens spent much of their time waiting around, gathering information about the Edison Group a bit at a time. This left a lot of time for Chloe to digest her feelings on the Boy Front. To me at least, it's been obvious all along which direction her hormones would lead her, but when Chloe finally admitted to herself which guy she was crushing on, well, my heart did a happy little flip-flop of joy. Despite the fact that I wanted to shake her (repeatedly) for taking so long to figure it out.

Chloe is a powerful necromancer but aside from being able to raise the dead, she's short, average, and doesn't have a clue when it comes to boys. There is much to like about Chloe. I found it intriguing to watch her grow as a character over the course of this series. She's finally got a better grip on her necromancer powers and was even learning to stand up for herself now and again *gasp* - my only complaint is that in The Reckoning Chloe decides she needs to tell us that fact several times. Which quickly got old. On multiple occasions, Chloe repeats that she is no longer a little girl or that her Aunt Lauren was finally seeing her 'all grown up.' Just let the story tell us for itself, mmmkay Chloe? Other than a few issues of that nature, I was happy with this final conclusion - it wasn't as great as The Awakening, but still a solid read.

And... I just stumbled across the new cover for the companion books to the Darkest Powers trilogy:  The Gathering, set to be released next spring. Read an excerpt here. This cover is so purdy. I'm digging the darker color scheme and wonder if they plan to continue with the jewelry theme again.
series reading order:
~ The Summoning - my review
~ The Awakening - my review
~ The Reckoning

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Em's Bookshelf review 
Girls in the Stacks review 
Lavender Lines review
Pure Imagination review
Today's Adventure review

book source: my local library

Dairy Queen Winner!

The randomizer gods have spoken! A big thanks to everyone who entered my giveaway for a well-loved copy of Dairy Queen.

The winner is...

Go ahead and email me your address within the next 48 hours and I'll get this book off to you soon.

90 Books in 181 Days

I cannot believe it is already July! But seeing as we are half way through 2010, I thought I'd take a moment to look back at the books that have caught my eye over the past six months. Since January, I've managed to read a whopping total of 90 books - which included two DNFs. None too shabby, since it looks like I'm averaging about a half a book a day. Out of all these books read, I wanted to highlight the ones that stood head and shoulders above the rest, ones that I'd recommend without hesitation to anyone.

I'm sure you're all dying to discover which books I've loved the most. So, I give you - in no particular order - my favorite reads for the first half of 2010...

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
This slim little volume has more quotable sections on the joys of reading and loving books in general than you could ever find posted in your local library. Heart-warming and just perfect, it's one that I'm finding is a no-brainer pass-along.
A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner
Megan Whalen Turner is a genius. Who else could bring life to Sophos, Gen, Attolia, and Eddes. And Gen. No one, that's who. This series is just getting a little bit better with each book. Sophos is so strong and determined in the face of multiple rock-and-a-hard-place moments. Also, this cover is brilliant. You've got to give it an award just for that alone.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Ginormously magical fantasy debut that actually lived up to all the hype. Kvothe's voice is mysterious and captivating and I was more than happy to fall into his uncommon story without hesitation. Plus, the man understands the importance of a good cloak. I think I'm in love.
Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews
Ahhhh.... And then we come to what has to be the best Kate Daniels book to date. Not to mention the longest. Which can only be a good thing in my opinion. I sincerely believe Ilona Andrews is trying to give me a heart-attack from a constant onslaught of awesomeness as far as Kate is concerend.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
YA modern classic that I had NEVER previously read. For shame. But I must confess that my life is much more complete now that I have. Ponyboys' honest voice is one I'm not going to forget anytime soon.
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Best dystopian book I've read this year to date. Folks, I called it back in January and nothing has even come close to taking that status away. Todd's voice blew my mind. And Manchee stole my heart.

The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan
What can I say? It's what Sarah Rees Brennan called 'the make-out book,' so of course I'm gonna love that. Mae of the pink hair seriously rocks, as do the ever-complicated Ryves brothers.
Tangerine by Edward Bloor
Best middle grade book I've read. Ever. Tangerines, soccer, heroes, mysteries. I can't wait to give this one to my son.

There we have it. My top 8 picks from the last 181 days. How bout you? What books have turned your world upside down in the last 6 months? And be sure to stay tuned for next week's list: wherein I list my most anticipated books for the second half of 2010.