Friday, February 25, 2011

Clarity by Kim Harrington

Simple, clean, and well crafted... that’s how I described Kim Harrington’s “Clarity” today when I was describing it to my younger sister. Kim Harrington adds a paranormal twist to a classic “who done it?” style murder mystery. Our heroine is Clare, a sixteen year old psychic, who can see the past and memories associated with objects. She’s from a family of “freaks” - her mother is a hippie telepath and her brother is a womanizer and oh yeah, a medium! Their little tourist town is shaken when a teenage girl is found murdered in her motel room and Clare is asked by her cheating ex-boyfriend (and son of the mayor) to help investigate along with the mysterious new hot shot detective’s delectable son. Will Clare be able to solve the mysteries of the murder and her heart? Well, you’ll just have to read to find out!

Harrington’s writing (unlike my own) stays away from what could become a teenage soap opera and remains solid and clean throughout. Sure, there is some lusty tension, but she keeps it clean and appropriate for its audience. Her story telling is simple, easy to read, and a lot of fun! I read this one when I was held hostage on the couch by a napping toddler. It made being unable to move (and being incredibly hungry!) so much FUN!

If you’re looking for a fun and light YA mystery, then you should grab a copy of “Clarity” as soon as possible. It is a solid debut novel that will leave you satisfied, but ready for more! I think Clare could end up being the Nancy Drew of this generation. What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know!

I received this ARC at ALA Midwinter from Scholastic. “Clarity” comes out next week on March 1st and is already in stock on! Pick up a copy at your local bookstore or online.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

E's Pick of the Week - The "In My..." series by Sara Gillingham, Illustrations by Lorena Siminovich

E’s “Pick of the Week” this week comes from Sara Gillingham and Petit Collage (Chronicle Books). They are sweet little stories about animals and their homes, told with the help of folksy puppets! E is enamoured with these books. We read the four we own (“In My Den” about a little bear, “In My Pond” about a fish, “In My Tree” about an owl and “In My Nest” about a baby bird) multiple times a day. They are short and sweet little interactive stories that are perfect for those days where your child has “ants in his pants” and can’t sit for a longer story. The illustrations by Lorena Siminovich are really something special, layered die cut pages with lots of things for little ones to discover as they re-read. The puppets are attached to the back cover and book through a hole in the illustrations so that they can talk to your little ones from every page. Each story ends with the little animals snuggled up at home with their family.

This series of books is published by Petit Collage/Chronicle Books and can be found at your local bookstores or online. Check it out today! It is recommend for infants through age 4 according to the publisher’s website.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Oldie, but a goodie – The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Hey there folks! I thought it’d be fun to start an “oldies but goodies” segment to my blog. As much as I love reading and writing about upcoming young adult releases, I also like to read books that have already been published. I thought it might be fun to also post reviews for these books including some of my absolute favorite YA books of all time. I’ll probably do this once or twice a month. So keep an eye out for it!

Our first “oldie but goodie” book is a novel by one of my favorite YA authors, Shannon Hale. I do not re-read books often since I have so much on my “to read” list already, but “The Goose Girl” is something I pick up every once in a while to read again. This is the book that helped me endure a cross-country trip in a big junky U-Haul truck when I moved from Wisconsin to California. I get carsick pretty easily and I still devoured this book.

The story is a retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale. It follows Ani or you could call her, Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree. When the king dies, Ani is supposed to step up and take the throne, but instead her mother decides to marry her off to a foreign prince. While en route to meet her husband-to-be, her jealous lady-in-waiting, Selia, uses her persuasive abilities to convince the guard to discard Ani and make Selia the new “princess”. Ani now has to figure out a way to survive on her own for the first time and convince the royalty of this foreign land of her true identity, all while trying to make sure she isn’t murdered by the impostor princess Selia. Action, romance, prince and princesses, magical powers, evil doers..."The Goose Girl” has it all!

Alright folks, let’s do this.
  • What really attracts me to Shannon Hale’s books is her whimsical writing style. It embraces the world that she’s created which is full of princesses, strange magical powers and tons of incredible adventures. Ms. Hale does a wonderful job setting the tone and feel of the story from the very first page.
  • It’s a fun twist on fantasy. It’s fantasy light. This isn’t an epic tale full of sorcerers and magical items. However, some really cool fantasy elements exist that I really enjoyed discovering along the way (new powers are discovered in the sequels).
  • The Goose Girl, or Ani, is a wonderful strong female lead. She starts out this story as a pretty helpless princess, but not because she’s whiny or wimpy. She’s just sheltered and na├»ve. Ani grows throughout the story due to her circumstances and becomes an incredibly well rounded heroine. I love how real she is too. That’s not easy to do in YA fantasy.
  • It’s a story about finding out who you are and not worrying so much about fitting in. As someone who had trouble “fitting in” during her high school years, I found I really connected to Ani and her struggles finding out who she really was.
  • The love story is adorable. It’s a refreshing break from the angsty, sexual love triangles that are popular in YA fiction these days (though you know I love that too!). It makes you feel all warm and fuzzy.
Shannon Hale’s story is a wonderful fairy tale with beautiful writing that readers of all ages can enjoy. I have had to actually buy multiple copies of this book because I loan it to friends/family and it never makes it back to me! That’s just how awesome it is. If you’ve missed this one along the way, I highly recommend going and picking up a copy today. It is not to be missed!

"The Goose Girl" by Shannon Hale is published by Bloomsbury and is available everywhere you can find awesome books. It has a different cover now, but I like this old school cover better! Go and get yourself a copy today.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Nightshade and Wolfsbane by Andrea Cremer

I devoured “Nightshade” and “Wolfsbane” by Andrea Cremer over a period of 48 hours and they were delicious. Seriously, these books are worth staying up late for.. and that’s a big sacrifice considering I have a toddler who thinks 5:30AM is a wonderful time to be awake. What makes them so great? Well let’s review Michelle’s paranormal/fantasy YA romance checklist and talk about it, shall we?
  • Strong female heroine - CHECK. Calla is KICK ASS. She not only possesses some awesome powers and skills from being able to transform into a wolf, but she’s a strong willed person. The events of this book rock her safe little world and she has to deal with emotions she hasn’t really experienced. I loved seeing Calla discover her own vulnerability and the injustices in her world’s society. I look forward to seeing her grow more from these experiences in the third book.
  • Love triangle (and not one of those “wimpy maybe I sorta like this guy, but this guy is clearly the winner despite guy #2”) - CHECK and it is angst-i-licious. Yes, so much that I had to make up a word for it.
  • Creative Paranormal/Fantasy elements - CHECK! I love the world within our world that Ms. Cremer has created.
  • Good writing - again, CHECK-A-ROONY. Ms. Cremer’s writing is exciting and fluid. I didn’t ever feel the need to stop because of some bad phrasing or ridiculous situation. She does a great job at foreshadowing without frustrating the reader (a problem I’ve run into a lot recently in YA paranormal books) and she didn’t do any crazy deus ex machina stuff to rush through explanations. She was able to maintain an element of suspense throughout while giving the reader little bursts of knowledge. Well done, Ms. Cremer.
  • Great action sequences and suspense - I know I already mentioned this when I discussed the writing, but wow. Ms. Cremer got my heart pounding during some of these big action sequences.
Yeah, so I’d have to say Ms. Cremer’s “Nightshade” series is all that and a bag of chips. If you like paranormal/fantasy young adult romance, this should DEFINITELY be on your list. I know that the genre is an acquired taste, but it’s one of my favorites. I am anxiously awaiting the third book in this triology.

I was provided with an ARC of "Wolfsbane" by the publisher at the ALA Midwinter Conference. "Nightshade" is already available and "Wolfsbane" will be released in July of this year. It is published by Philomel (Penguin). Go to your local bookstore or library and pick up a copy of Nightshade today.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Shine by Lauren Myracle

“Shine” by Lauren Myracle was hard to read, but not because it was bad. It was just so good, intense and gripping that I found myself savoring this tale of self-discovery and mystery. It deals with some very heavy topics including drug use, alcohol abuse, sexual molestation/pedophiles, violence, and homophobia. So, be warned if that isn’t your cup of tea. It isn’t my usual either, but Ms. Myracle’s writing brought me in and kept me engrossed until the very end.

Set in the deep south, “Shine” is the story of an innocent young woman who takes the law into her own hands when she finds out her childhood friend (who is gay) has been brutally beaten and left for dead in a degrading and hateful way. Along the way, she faces the shadows of her own past and learns how to overcome in order to do what is right.

Y’all might like these parts:
  • Setting - AMAZING choice. The setting of a small mountain town in the South adds so many interesting layers to what could have ended up being a simple mystery. The drug use, alcohol abuse, and homophobia all comes about due to the setting. It’s an impoverished town with small-town, somewhat religious values. The tight knit community protecting its own and their belief systems provide a dynamic challenge to Cat’s investigation.
  • Cat - Cat really discovers her strength as a woman when she comes up against road blocks in her investigation and is forced to face her own personal demons. Ms. Myracle did a great job at slowing peeling back the layers to Cat’s psyche, creating additional mystery besides our main plot. Absolutely lovely character development!
Maybe could use a little less moonshine:
  • I would have liked to seen more of our other main male character. I feel like sometimes he became an afterthought. I can see how developing him further though could have hurt the pacing.
“Shine” is an interesting combination of self-discovery and mystery that I think adults and teens would both find engaging. The setting is what really makes the story. Not only is our heroine, Cat, facing some pretty major demons of her own, but she’s trying to go up against this tight knit, impoverished community to find justice for her friend. The setting creates additional challenges for Cat and adds a really fascinating layer to the story. This is a story that will stick with you afterwards and really make you think. It’s definitely intense, but well worth the read. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing this one winning many awards this year!

“Shine” is scheduled to be released on May 1st of this year by Amulet Books (an imprint of Abrams). Thank you to Amulet/Abrams & NetGalley for the digital ARC.

Stylish Blogger Award!

Awwwwww. I feel so special! I was chosen for this great "pass on the love" award called the "Stylish Blogger Award". I'd like to thank the academy...err.. "Books, Personally" for sharing the joy of this award with me. Check out her blog!

The rules of this award are:
Thank the person who gave you the award - DONE!

Post 7 random things about yourself
1. My mom started my love of reading. She always encouraged me to use my imagination. My mother-in-law continued that love of books as my elementary school media specialist. :D
2. YA books, specifically paranormal/fantasy romance, is like candy to me. Candy that I eat for BREAKFAST. OM NOM NOM.
3. I'm a cat person. I have a cute scruffy Border Terrier, but he kinda drives me crazy. I could have a whole house full of cats though if my husband would let me. Haha!
4. I love the smells of fresh cut grass, dirt after it rains, and bookstores.
5. Despite my crazy love of books, I don't keep many in the house. I have a pretty big digital library on my Kindle and love visiting my local libraries.
6. I never wanted to be a mom growing up, but now I can't imagine NOT being a mom. I love my little booger so much!
7. I am a passionate person, sometimes to the point of driving my husband crazy. I always dive into new hobbies or interests head first and sometimes get in a little over my head.

Give the award to other blogs. (The original post said 15, but I think you should spread the love however you want!). These aren't all book review blogs, but they are all related to the industry. :)
Reading Everywhere
Dreaming In Books
Ticket to Anywhere
The Elliott Review
Everything Little Thing
Julie Kagawa
& story
a blurred history (Andrea Cremer)

Well, my toddler is waking up for his nap, so that's it for me folks. My review of "Shine" by Lauren Myracle will be hitting the blog in the next day or two.

E's Pick of the Week - Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann

I know most parents have probably already heard of “Good Night, Gorilla”, but E has been having me read it morning, noon and night lately sooo... it’s da-da-DUUUUUN, “E’s Pick of the Week”! “Good Night, Gorilla” by Peggy Rathmann is a simple story about a zookeeper, his wife, and the animals they care for at the neighboring zoo. It’s silly, cute, and full of great illustrations. We use this book as part of our night time routine. It helps settle E down for the night, but it still a little silly to make him giggle. He loves to make a “shocked” noise along with the zookeeper’s wife and giggle with the gorilla when he’s been found out! This book is great for toddlers as it is mostly illustrations and very interactive.

“Good Night, Gorilla” by Peggy Rathmann is available in paperback, hardcover and board book form by Putnam Juvenile. We prefer board book since we have a little guy who can do a number on paper! You can find it everywhere so be sure to support your local bookstore and pick up a copy next time you visit.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg

When describing “Prom & Prejudice” by Elizabeth Eulberg to my husband, I said it was like cotton candy. It is a sweet and fluffy treat with little substance that I enjoy eating on special occasions. After reading some dystopian books lately, “Prom & Prejudice” was just the light reading snack I needed to lighten the mood. I devoured it in less than 24 hours.

Yum yum:
  • It was fun seeing how Ms. Eulberg adapted Austen’s romance to fit into today’s society and make it relevant to teenagers.
  • Lizzy is absolutely adorable. I loved her character and I had fun following her adventure. Her reaction to finding out about Will’s parentage was incredibly well written.
  • This book is SO charming. I think Austen fans will definitely appreciate it and that Ms. Eulberg did a great job handling the application of a modern world with Austen’s original story. It also may end up introducing teens to the world of Austen too which is wonderful. A+ Ms Eulberg!

The calories:
  • Will Darcy was a bit flat as a character. Obviously, since I know P&P so well, I knew he had the hots for Lizzy, but I don’t think my 17 year old sister would have had a clue.
  • I know that this book deals with the upper crust of society, but at times, I felt like Ms. Eulberg was trying to hard to stay too close to Austen-esque language. It felt like a bit of a stretch. I didn’t mind it, but I would worry about it appealing to a crowd unfamiliar with formal speech patterns.

Overall, Ms. Eulberg’s “Prom & Prejudice” is positively delightful and a book I would recommend to anyone who is looking for something light and fun to read.

Thanks to Scholastic for providing me with a copy of "Prom & Prejudice” to review. It is currently available online and at your local bookstores.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

E's Pick of the Week - Little White Rabbit by Kevin Henkes

The “E's Pick of the Week” for this lovely Tuesday is Kevin Henkes’ new picture book, “Little White Rabbit”, which just came out from Greenwillow Books on January 25th. What can I say? My son is in the know about hot new books! Haha. I saw this book at ALA Midwinter and knew that we had to purchase it as soon as it was released.

This book is absolutely adorable. It says the age range is 4-8, but my toddler absolutely loves it. His face lights up when he sees the book and he runs to the couch so we can read it together. I grew up on a rabbit farm in Wisconsin (Mr. Henkes’ home state!) so rabbits are one of my favorite animals. Put it together with a story about imagining things and incredibly beautiful art... you get one fantastic book for your children.

You can find it online or at your local bookstore. You can visit and get a look inside the book to preview Mr. Henkes’ beautiful artwork.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

It’s weird for me to rate something 4 or 5 stars on and have it not be a book that I absolutely devoured. “Strings Attached” by Judy Blundell seems to be an exception. It took me awhile to get through, but I enjoyed every moment of it.

The story revolves around Kit Corrigan, an Irish teenager trying to make it as a performer in post-WWII New York City. She came to the city on her own, after breaking up with her boyfriend, and is struggling to make it. She ends up getting tangled up with her ex-boyfriend’s mob attorney father in an attempt to survive in the city and she ends up learning more than her fair share about life as an adult.

“Strings Attached” is a very solid piece of historical fiction. While our heroine is 17, I actually think this book would appeal more to an older audience. Just like with “The Betrayal of Maggie Blair”, I think its appeal rests with an older crowd or with teens that specifically enjoy historical fiction. I also think that theatre types (such as myself) will really be able to connect with Kit and understand her overwhelming desire to perform.

The writing by Ms. Blundell is solid. She does a great job at getting the audience into Kit’s head so that we can feel the turmoil she’s going through as she faces tough decisions one after another. It’s an incredible story of self-discovery and strength of character set in a time period full of intrigue, deceit, and yes, muuuurrrrrrdeerrr (major points to whoever guesses what TV show I’m referencing. One clue: it’s on USA!).

If you enjoy historical fiction, then you should definitely pick this up. If not, try it anyways. Go into it with an open mind and give it the chance it deserves. It may seem slow at first, but the pace picks up and you’ll be glad you gave it a shot!

Thanks to Scholastic at the ALA Midwinter Meeting for the ARC of “Strings Attached”. It is scheduled to be released in March of this year.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Book Blogging - Are you a responsible blogger?

There has been a lot of Twitter debate going on about ARCs, bloggers, and the like. I just thought I'd put up an actual blog post to let you (readers and publishers) know a bit about me as a blogger.

1. I am a reader first, blogger second. I write blog reviews because I love to read and share my thoughts on the books I've read. I'm not writing in this blog to make any money. Yes, I am a member of the NBCC because I do write reviews for other publications from time to time. I will not use Amazon links or any ads on this blog.
2. I buy Kindle or physical copies of all the books I recommend, even though I already have an ARC. I support the authors and the publishing industry. I am also big on buying books as gifts so I may end up purchasing a LOT of copies of books that I love to give to friends who may not be as motivated as me to go their local library or book store.
3. I give almost all of my ARCs (except the most precious, which I treasure) to my friend who is a teen services librarian.
4. OMG yes, I love getting ARCs! Nothing makes me happier than going to the mail box and finding BOOKS. Books are my drug, okay people? I am completely addicted. However, I do NOT feel entitled to free books just because I blog about books. I'm starting a feature on this blog soon for books that have been out for awhile so it's not just about the ARCs I get. I also write about my son's favorite books. I JUST LOVE BOOKS!!!! I feel honored that some publishers have been sharing ARCs with me. As I said above, whatever I don't donate, I treasure.

So, that's me as a blogger. What about me as a person? Well, I guess I might as well cover that here too.
1. I am an actor. I do voice over work to pay the bills... from animation & video games to commercials to radio imaging. Heck, I've even done a book trailer or two. (And publishers, if you want, I'd be happy to do more. Haha!) I play pretend for a living. It's the best.
2. I'm a mom. I have a son who is 18 months old and he is the light of my life. He also loves books. That's why I now do a post once a week with "E's Pick of the Week"!
3. I'm a bit goofy. Okay, I don't think I needed to say that. You probably could have figured that out.
4. And let's see...let's do one random fact - OH! My mother-in-law was my elementary school librarian. Yup, true story. Cute, right?

Okie dokie. That is seriously enough about me. This blog is not about me. It's about BOOKS. So, let's get back to our regular programming. Okay?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergen

“Waterfall” is Lisa Tawn Bergen’s first foray into the world of young adult fiction and the first in a three part series that is scheduled to be released throughout 2011. From the author’s website, “a teen time travel series in which two girls go from modern times to medieval Italy. Adventure, romance, suspense, and a hefty dose of conflict will hopefully make this series page-turners for young women…that’s my goal, anyway! I conceptualized the series after reading the Twilight series with my teen."

Overall, I would have to say that Ms. Bergen succeeded in her goal. It’s a book full of romance, adventure, and a dash of mystery. “Waterfall” was a page-turner that kept me engaged right from the action-packed beginning. The story follows a strong-willed young woman named Gabi and her sister, Lia, who mysteriously ends up centuries in the past, in the middle of a turf war in 14th century Italy. Ms. Bergen is a Christian fiction writer and while there are undertones of religion, they are plot appropriate. It’s completely natural and in character, which I really appreciate. I tend to shy away from Christian fantasy just because the religious aspect becomes more important and the story/characters suffer for it. Ms. Bergen didn’t let this happen.

I felt like I really got to know Gabi and her sister. Gabi is a delightful heroine – strong-willed, mature and ready to take anything life throws at her. She’s human though and we see her vulnerable side. It was refreshing to see such a real character in the midst of this time traveling young adult novel. She faces some big issues head on and becomes someone I know I’d want to be friends with! The romance is delightfully angsty (but clean!) and the love interest, the nobleman Marcello Forelli, is an interesting character. As a quiet, brooding, and extremely good looking man, he appears pretty stereotypical, but as the characters get to know each other better, the reader gets to see the depth to Marcello’s character. And seriously, who doesn’t love a book filled with Italian hotties? Ms. Bergen’s writing style is clean and simple. It’s not full of artistic flourishes, but it’s solid. The prose are easy to read and the storyline flows well.

I think this book should come with a warning that it may make you crave a good plate of gnocchi and some red wine. If you are looking for a fun romp into history with a strong female character and some drool-worthy guys, then this is the book for you. Ms. Bergen ended the book with a bit of a cliffhanger so I’m anxious to see how the storyline continues to develop in books 2 and 3. Ahh! Why isn’t it June already?!

The publisher, David C. Cook, provided me with an ARC of this book. Waterfall was released today (February 1st, 2011). You can get a sneak peek at the author's website.

This review is also being published in Book/Mark, a quarterly small press review. You can subscribe to Book/Mark by emailing or by mailing $12 ($15 for institutions or $3.50 for a single issue) to Book/Mark, PO Box 516, Miller Place, NY 11764.

E’s Pick of the Week - “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” by Mo Willems

E’s Pick of the Week - “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” by Mo Willems

“Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” by Mo Willems is my son E’s “Pick of the Week.” This book is going to be worn out before the week is over! He can’t just read it once. We have to at least read it 3 times. It’s the third time when the magic really happens. Haha! It’s a fun little book with adorable, simple illustrations. I wouldn’t recommend it to parents who don’t enjoy acting a little bit when they read. I think it requires some performing in order for kids (especially young ones) enjoy it. Being that my day job is as a voice actor, I .. have a tendency to go all out when reading to him which makes this book HIGHLY entertaining. If that isn’t for you though, I’d recommend waiting until your child is preschool age as there are some concepts that they may not understand and the illustrations are simple enough they may get bored. My 18 month old loves it, but mostly because his mom is insane... I mean, I’m silly. Yes. Silly. Not crazy. SILLY.

I really enjoy reading this book with my little guy and I know you will too. Be prepared to be a goof and I think you and your child will have a GREAT time.
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