Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Scene of the Blog on Kittling: Books!

Want to take a peek at some of our bookshelves or hear about my favorite spot to read and blog?  The very sweet Cathy of Kittling: Books is featuring The Eager Readers in her awesome Scene of the Blog feature today!  Please stop by and say hello! :)

Hop over to Kittling: Books to see us on Scene of the Blog!

A brief health update:  Unfortunately, my condition has worsened in the week since my original health post (hence the lack of blog posts recently).  My neurologist and primary physician both believe that the symptoms I'm encountering now are due to an allergic reaction to one of the medications I was originally given to treat the pseudotumor by reducing the amount of cerebrospinal fluid my body produces.  I had to wean off that medication gradually, but I have now started a new course of treatment and should begin to see improvement as the old medicine works its way out of my system.  This past week felt like a 'one step forward, two steps back' situation, but I am optimistic about seeing some lovely leaps forward in the weeks to come.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Book Review: City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

Title:  City of Fallen Angels
Author:  Cassandra Clare
Publisher:  Margaret K. McElderry 
Genre: YA / urban fantasy
Hardcover: 424 pages
Summary from Goodreads: 
City of Fallen Angels takes place two months after the events of City of Glass. In it, a mysterious someone’s killing the Shadowhunters who used to be in Valentine’s Circle and displaying their bodies around New York City in a manner designed to provoke hostility between Downworlders and Shadowhunters, leaving tensions running high in the city and disrupting Clary’s plan to lead as normal a life as she can — training to be a Shadowhunter, and pursuing her relationship with Jace. As Jace and Clary delve into the issue of the murdered Shadowhunters, they discover a mystery that has deeply personal consequences for them — consequences that may strengthen their relationship, or rip it apart forever.

Meanwhile, internecine warfare among vampires is tearing the Downworld community apart, and only Simon — the Daylighter who everyone wants on their side — can decide the outcome; too bad he wants nothing to do with Downworld politics. Love, blood, betrayal and revenge: the stakes are higher than ever in City of Fallen Angels.

To buy this book: IndieBound | The Book Depository Powell's | Amazon
Add this book to your: Goodreads | Shelfari Library Thing Visual Bookshelf

Cassandra Clare's City of Fallen Angels has taken the Mortal Instruments series to a new level of amazingness!  It was incredibly fun to revisit all the MI characters we adore, and with the shifting perspectives we have the chance to get to know each of them much more intimately.  Also, as I've mentioned before, I freaking love Cassandra Clare's wicked awesome storytelling skills!  Perfect dialogue, a huge cast of compelling characters, vividly described settings, chemistry and tension that sizzles off the page, and a cleverly-plotted mystery that will keep readers guessing until the final pages.  Seriously, what is not to love?!  Obviously, I'm already lapsing into gushing fangirl mode, but that is exactly what Cassandra Clare's books bring out in me.  Before I move on to discussing the bits that I particularly enjoyed, I feel obligated to say that prior to reading City of Fallen Angels, I truly thought City of Glass was the perfect ending to the MI series.  That book blew me away with its excellence, and it immediately became my go-to example of how to end a series right.  So I'll admit to feeling a tiny bit nervous to read City of Fallen Angels.  But now that I have read it (twice), I cannot believe I was ever worried at all and I am beyond excited to read the next two books!

What I Liked:
-     The characters.  One thing I have always liked about this series, is that although the plot threads are sometimes so intricately woven that it feels like reading a really great mystery series or a deliciously intrigue-filled period novel (Remember those wicked storytelling skillz I mentioned?) her stories always feel character-driven.  In City of Fallen Angels, the alternating perspectives take that character-driven feeling to a whole new level by placing the reader right inside many of the main characters' heads, so we get to know each of the characters much more intimately.  At times, we are privy to Simon's thoughts, Jace's thoughts, Clary's thoughts, Alec's thoughts, and even Magnus's thoughts.  (Seriously, who hasn't wanted to get inside Magnus's head since the very first book?!)  In theory, I imagined the head-hopping might make the story feel a bit scattered or leave me missing Clary's POV, but in reality it made me love every single one of the characters even more.  Understanding their motivations a bit better, seeing their insecurities up close and personal, and feeling their sorrows and yearnings firsthand - you can't help caring about each of them.  The first three books familiarized us with the world of Shadowhunters, Demons, and Downworlders, and now the fourth book was able to spend more time subjectively showing us that world from a variety of perspectives.  Fun!
-     On a related note, the characters are all still in-character!  That may sound like a redundant comment, but I truly can't count the number of series books I've read in which at least one main character seems to have inexplicably had a lobotomy or a personality transplant between two of the books.  Occasionally, that is actually part of the story (Mockingjay), but often it just seems to be authorial prerogative or it's justified as being in service of the plot.  Thankfully, this series is still character-driven and every one of the characters was quite recognizably themselves.  When there were subtle changes, which is to be expected as people grow up and mature, they were commented upon and discussed among the other characters.  For instance, Clary feels like Alec is carrying himself more confidently and is more generous with others than he used to be.  Totally understandable when he has spent the last couple of months officially 'out' and in a happy relationship with Magnus.  That type of change is the kind of shift toward adulthood we see in this book.  And some of the things we learn in this book, help shine a new light on aspects of the characters' personalities in a 'Whoa! I did not see that coming!' way.  But it doesn't ever go against anything we already knew about them, so it is perfectly integrated into our previous understanding of the first three books.  Isabelle, in particular, shares something that took me completely by surprise, but it explains a lot about her personality.
-     If you loved Clary and Jace's relationship at the end of City of Glass, you may implode as their chemistry and the dramatic tension between them hits a new level of intensity in City of Fallen Angels.  I am going to attempt to keep this spoiler-free, but let's just say you probably need something nearby to fan yourself with as their chemistry leads them in to delicious uncharted territory, and you will probably also need to have something on hand to dry your tears when their interactions swing from passionate to heartbreaking (and back again).  Ah, the swoon-worthy sexiness.  Oh, the heartache and angst.  I loved every single moment of it!  In previous books, they shared some intense romantic moments and said some very sweet (and sometimes heartbreakingly sad) things to one another, but they stepped it way up in this installment.  Jace is beyond vulnerable in this book.  He is truly broken.  You all know what a sucker I can be for broken boys, right?  Prior to reading CoFA, I actually believed he had already been broken in nearly every sense of the word .... but wow was I proven wrong in a major way!  Like most people with a pulse (my husband, who likes Clary a lot & has always preferred Simon to Jace, will find that statement a bit of an exaggeration), I was in love with Jace before he and Clary even kissed by the midnight flowers and he tasted like green apples, then came the Seelie Court & the (shirtless) scene in his bedroom as he confronted Clary and suggested that they run away together, and of course the manor house and the letter and the night he told her he was tired of pretending that he wasn't in love with her and pleadingly said that he just wanted to fall asleep next to her and wake up next to her once in his life *swoon*, then they fell asleep holding hands like children in a fairytale. *I choke up every single time I read that beautiful scene, even now that I know what is coming*  Then there was Lake Lyn and the kiss they shared on the steps in Idris.  But his 'blasphemous' declaration about the sun and the stars in City of Fallen Angels ...  Wowza, Ladies and Gents!  If you somehow managed not to fall hopelessly in love with him in the prior books, I doubt you'll be so fortunate this time around.  Also, I'm fairly certain that loving Jace will doom you to at least two more years of relentless torture.  Sorry about that.  But I promise you, he is worth it.  ;)
-      Also, Clary rocks in this book.  So much so that I can't wait to see what she will do in City of Lost Souls.  She holds her own in a few fights (as well as a minimally-trained Shadowhunter can be expected to), and she draws a couple of very powerful runes.  I hope to see more of rune-drawing Clary in the next book.  She learns some very valuable lessons about runes this time around, but I am so excited for her to learn even more about them.  She also has at least one major hero moment.  Yay!  But the area that Clary really shines (which also just happens to be her Achilles heel), is that she is unfailingly determined and loyal in a way that is truly admirable.  She encourages Simon to solve his dating-two-girls-at-once problem before it blows up in his face, she knows when to be forceful with her mom and when to back off and give her mom and Luke a bit of space, she shares some really astute observations about Simon with Isabelle, and she stands up to Jace on numerous occasions when it was probably the toughest thing anyone could ask of her.  As their relationship becomes increasingly strained, she holds her own with impressive resolve and calls him on his mistakes.  She also doesn't shy away from doing whatever is necessary to seek help for Jace as soon as she realizes the seriousness of his situation, and she tells him the truth (which is exactly what he so desperately needs to hear and understand when he feels unworthy of her love).  I truly admired her belief in love, and I loved her determination to have faith in Jace (even when his sense of self-worth has crumbled to dust).  I also loved seeing her stand up for herself when Jace was making her miserable, and I especially enjoyed seeing her hold her ground and make him talk to her even as he was trying to punish himself by retreating from the people who care about him the most.  They are perfect for one another.
-      One of my favorite things about the MI series is the dialogue that crackles off the page in distinct and memorable voices.  Seriously, pick any page in any Cassandra Clare novel and read two or three lines of dialogue from it (ignoring the dialogue tags).  I bet you can tell with 99.9% accuracy who said what to whom because every single character in her ensemble casts has a distinct way of speaking.  The dialogue is more phenomenal than ever in City of Fallen Angels because of the shifting perspectives.  In fact, the shifting perspectives felt a bit like seeing behind the wizard's curtain because it quickly became apparent that the dialogue has  been so impressively fantastic all along because Ms. Clare really does know what each character is thinking and feeling motivated by at all times.  Wow!  Some lines made me laugh aloud while others made me ache with sadness.
-      I read aloud a lot, to my husband and to our two children.  It is not unusual for me to spend a couple hours of every day reading aloud (if we get immersed in a great book or series, the number of hours can double or triple).  And I have to say that the MI books are my absolute favorite books to read aloud to my husband (who loves the MI series).  I can't even express how fun they are to read aloud.  There are so many likable characters to care about,  the dialogue all flows smoothly and believably, the humor and dramatic twists are perfectly timed, the action & suspense keep everything moving tensely forward, and there is something for everyone to enjoy.  An imaginative mythology, a variety of paranormal creatures, plenty of charming heroes and heroines to root for, and even little nods to geeky fans like us who have followed Ms. Clare for ages and enjoy the mentions of small details like the Still Not King button Simon gave Clary and Jace's story about the falcon.  I am so excited that we will get to read two Cassandra Clare books this year and next.  Hurray for the overlap of the MI series & the ID series!   
-     As in the previous books, the setting is described very visually and viscerally, and most descriptions are blended into the narrative so well that it never seems like the story's stops abruptly for the author to go into pointless detail about the color of every tile in a room.  If a character does pause to describe a location, it is probably because their particular reaction to that place is important in defining their character or because that location is about to explode into an action scene and you aren't going to want to pause mid-action to hear about curtain color or the furniture layout but you will want to have your bearings in order to better visualize the scene.        
-      Without careful balance, this could have become a book in which readers spent a lot of time waiting for the POV to shift back to the character(s) they wanted to hear about most.  But I am happy to report that no perspective-shift was wasted, each one advanced the story and filled in another piece of the puzzle while helping readers keep track of all the characters in play.
-      I enjoyed learning more about Simon's Mark of Cain and his Daylighter status, and I liked seeing him try to pass as a human too (although that proves to be nearly impossible for him).  The situation with his mother becomes heartbreakingly difficult in this book, and I am very curious to see where that aspect of the story will lead in City of Lost Souls.  I've always really loved Simon, and he has been my husband's favorite character since the very first book, so we were both excited to see him adjusting to life as a much-coveted Daylighter with the Mark of Cain.  Neither of us anticipated exactly the way his Mark would work, but we were not at all stunned by his initial reaction to it.  Also, I loved hearing about Simon's memories of Clary as a little girl.  Seriously, how sweet is Simon?  Even his situation with the two girls, Maia and Isabelle, was handled believably and did not make me dislike him.  His inexperienced idiocy and desire to avoid confrontation with two formidable young women was understandable (if misguided), but it was really his explanation for his actions that made it virtually impossible to be angry with him.  He suffers through a lot in this book, and he still has a lot of adjusting to do so I can't wait to see where the rest of the series takes him.
-      Speaking of Simon, he spends a fair amount of time with a new bandmate, Kyle, in this book.  I don't want to say to much about handsome Kyle and his sexy surfer's drawl, but I think most readers will enjoy his character.  I especially loved any scene that involved Jace, Simon, and Kyle in the same room.  Hi-larious!
-      Ah, Magnus and Alec.  I love them together.  Alec is adorable even when he is jealous and sulking.  And of course, Magnus Bane is eternally awesome even when he is toned-down and relatively glitter-free (Okay, there may be a gondolier's hat and a matador's jacket alluded to in a cell phone photo... hee hee).  He can't really help having been alive for so much longer than most of the people he's fallen in love with over the years.  In fact, I think it is remarkable that he is still willing to give his heart to someone (especially a Shadowhunter, since they live very dangerous lives and tend to die far too young).  If you've read Clockwork Angel, you are already familiar with Camille and can probably guess how the tension between Magnus and Alec starts.  The mortality/immortality issue is going to be a struggle for them, and I definitely don't think we've heard the last of that. I liked how the issue came up as a serious concern because it is sometimes handled quite lightly in immortal/human romances.  I am fairly confident they will work it out, but if Magnus could get a spinoff series after CoHF if they need a bit more time to work it out, I fully support that idea too.  ;) 
-     Oh man, I thought Clary and Jace faced their toughest obstacles in the first three books, but it appears they still have some very serious challenges to endure.  I know that no one really wants to hear that (although admittedly a conflict-free relationship would probably be pretty boring to read about), and I'm biting my nails too.  I just have to keep reminding myself that surviving each difficult challenge in the past has made both of them stronger and even more devoted to one another.  We all just have to have faith.
-      Overall, this story seemed a bit darker and more contemplative than the first three, but there is a still a glimmering thread of hope woven subtly into the darkness, so I will be desperately clinging to that until I read the final pages of CoHF in 2013.  Also, there is still a fair amount of action, but quite a bit of the mystery and adventure is in piecing the clues together like the pieces of a puzzle.  The tensions within their little group of friends have fractured their relationships a bit, so there are a few moments of extreme tension when the reader can guess what is coming but the characters have not shared enough information with one another to figure it out.  Torturous.  Yet even when I was sure I had certain elements figured out, I was often caught a off guard by a sudden twist.  There are a number of well-placed hints that left me suspicious but unsure.  And two twists were total blindside moments for me.  Love that, especially when upon reading it a second time I spotted so many little clues.  Nicely done.
-      I won't say too much about the primary villain, just that the entire situation kept me guessing right up until the reveal.  And while I am not always a fan of villains giving speeches about their dastardly deeds and nefarious plans, in this case it totally worked for me because it gave me a moment or two to consider how long Ms. Clare must have had this planned.  The villain's story and connection to the previous books is both plausible and quite clever.  It made me want to read the original trilogy again.
-     Argh... the ending!  Nearly everything I could say would be a spoiler, so I will just say "Well played, Ms. Clare.  Well, played."  Oh boy, she loves to torture her readers and characters.  Since I was so happy with City of Glass, I plan to keep the faith until City of Heavenly Fire either burns the optimism out of me or rewards me for two years of devoted hopefulness.  But would Ms. Clare really torture her characters so mercilessly if there was truly no hope of redemption?  Where would be the tension in that?  Whether the characters will believe there is hope or not remains to be seen...   

City of Fallen Angels is a terrific addition to the MI series!  If you haven't read any of the Mortal Instruments books yet, you seriously must.  Immediately!  If you are already a fan of Clockwork Angel and the first three MI books, then you will love City of Fallen Angels. If you would like to learn more about City of Fallen Angels or Cassandra Clare's other books, please visit her website, blog, facebook, or twitter.  The next Infernal Devices book, Clockwork Prince, is scheduled for release December 6th.  Yay!   And the next Mortal Instruments book, City of Lost Souls, is scheduled for release in May of 2012.  Can't wait!

Read the first chapter of City of Fallen Angels here!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Personal Note

I have spent the past two weeks dealing with an unexpected health crisis involving a relentless splitting headache, debilitating vision problems, several visits to various specialists (including an opthamologist and a neurologist), an MRI, and a lumbar puncture.  Thankfully, all of my doctors have been working as quickly as possible to rule out something extremely serious like a brain tumor, vasculitis, or a blood clot in my head.  At this point, the swelling on my optic nerve and the elevated spinal fluid levels point to a pseudotumor cerebri (basically a build-up of cerebrospinal fluid that mimics a brain tumor and puts pressure on the optic nerve), and I started taking medication based on that diagnosis last week.  I have already seen some improvement (particularly in reducing the pain when I shift my eyes), which is great.  I have another visit with my opthamologist tomorrow morning to go over my MRI and lumbar puncture results, and she also plans to do a visual field test so that we can monitor my improvement as my condition *hopefully* continues to improve.  

Vision is definitely something you don't fully appreciate until you suddenly begin to lose it.  Of course, all of my favorite hobbies (reading, working on the computer, gardening, genealogy, and sewing) are quite vision-dependent, so I know that I should actually just be thankful for all the blissful years of 20/20 'sparkle-free' vision that didn't hurt when I shifted my eyes up, left, or right.  And I am very lucky to have begun treatment before the vision in my right eye worsened to the degree that my left eye has.  I really haven't had too much difficulty with reading since it is up close and not off to the side (except when I was trying to limit my reading time because my doctor initially believed that the headache and eye pain could be related to eye strain and/or a tension headache), but the computer with its bright screen was initially more of a challenge.  I am ecstatic to report that looking at the computer seems to pose less and less of a challenge with each passing day.  Yay!  

For the past couple of weeks, I've felt uncertain about whether to discuss my health issues here on The Eager Readers because I didn't want to use this space to whine about my ailments.  Plus, I was very scared of receiving unbearably sad news after the MRI (i.e. brain tumor) and that whole concept was frightening to an immobilizing degree.  I couldn't really force myself to discuss that fear with anyone outside of my immediate family.  Basically, it has been an exceedingly scary and miserable two weeks, but I wanted to tell all of you how much I still appreciate having this forum to talk about books I adore with other book-lovers.  I was at my most stressed and panicked last week, right after my opthamologist first mentioned the possibilities of a brain tumor or pseudotumor and I overheard her on the phone with the radiology department at the hospital requesting an 'emergency MRI' that afternoon because she felt it was critical not to wait until the MRI appointment that my neurologist had already scheduled at a later date.  *insert panic here*  At first, I couldn't make myself focus on anything else to take my mind off the overwhelming amount of stress that hit me in that moment.  My headache seemed worse than ever, and I'd started taking three medications, each with upsetting side effects like nausea, fatigue, body aches, and numb/tingling hands and feet.  Blech.  Even if I hadn't been feeling physically wretched that day, hearing that the best-case scenario was one in which my condition may cause blindness? Not particularly ideal.

That was quickly shaping up to be among the most stressful days of my life until we came home from the MRI and my husband put City of Fallen Angels in my hands and asked me if I would continue reading it aloud to him.  Have I mentioned that I love that man more than words can express?  When I am overwhelmed by stress, he often knows just how to be the  perfect calm that I need.  What I needed most that day was normalcy, to immerse myself in a shared activity that was reassuringly familiar, and to feel like we would have a ton of tomorrows to spend reading aloud together just as we have for the past fifteen years.  As I read City of Fallen Angels aloud to my husband that day (and each time we were both free over the next three days), I found myself pleasantly distracted from my nervousness about test results, medical bills, and upcoming appointments.  Reading has been my escape of choice for as long as I can remember, and in the midst of all my anxiety it turned out to be the perfect stress-relief.  This time, it wasn't just because I loved immersing myself in an imaginative fictional world {Which I obviously did, Cassandra Clare's books are freaking phenomenal and so much fun to read aloud!}, but I also loved knowing that I'd get to sit down afterward and think about the whole book all over again in order to write the review here on the blog.  And I loved knowing that the book blogosphere is such a friendly, welcoming place to find other people who are just as passionate about books.  People who are probably just as eager to discuss what they loved or were tortured by in this latest installment of the MI series.  Fun!  I feel so fortunate to be part of a community like that.  So thanks and heartfelt hugs to all of you book-lovers out there!  :)

Also, I would give City of Fallen Angels 100 flowers out of 10 if I could because it was exactly what I needed, and I adored every minute of it despite physical discomfort and my potentially paralyzing anxiety level during some of the most nerve-wracking days of my life.  It seriously helped save my sanity when all signs were pointing toward a stress-induced meltdown.  Do you guys have a book like that?  A book that proved to be exactly what you needed to get you through a trying time?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments.  If my opthamologist doesn't keep me in town for another barrage of tests tomorrow or start me on a new medication that knocks me out, I plan to head up to see Cassandra Clare and Holly Black on tour tomorrow evening.  I'll be the one with a giant stack of books and a ridiculous fangirl smile whose husband will probably be by her side reminding her to take one of her medications every couple of hours.  Haha!  Can't wait!  :-)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Book Review: Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell

Title:  Ten Miles Past Normal
Author:  Frances O'Roark Dowell
Publisher:  Atheneum Books 
Genre: contemporary YA
Hardcover: 224 pages
My copy:  Received from the publisher for honest review.
Summary from Goodreads: 
Janie Gorman wants to be normal. The problem with that: she’s not. She’s smart and creative and a little bit funky. She’s also an unwilling player in her parents’ modern-hippy, let’s-live-on-a-goat-farm experiment (regretfully, instigated by a younger, much more enthusiastic Janie). This, to put it simply, is not helping Janie reach that “normal target.” She has to milk goats every day…and endure her mother’s pseudo celebrity in the homemade-life, crunchy mom blogosphere. Goodbye the days of frozen lasagna and suburban living, hello crazy long bus ride to high school and total isolation—and hovering embarrassments of all kinds. The fresh baked bread is good…the threat of homemade jeans, not so much.

It would be nice to go back to that old suburban life…or some grown up, high school version of it, complete with nice, normal boyfriends who wear crew neck sweaters and like social studies. So, what’s wrong with normal? Well, kind of everything. She knows that, of course, why else would she learn bass and join Jam Band, how else would she know to idolize infamous wild-child and high school senior Emma (her best friend Sarah’s older sister), why else would she get arrested while doing a school project on a local freedom school (jail was not part of the assignment). And, why else would she kind of be falling in "like" with a boy named Monster—yes, that is his real name. Janie was going for normal, but she missed her mark by about ten miles…and we mean that as a compliment
  • Overall rating: 9/10 flowers
To buy this book: IndieBound | The Book Depository Powell's | Amazon
Add this book to your: Goodreads | Shelfari Library Thing Visual Bookshelf

Frances O'Roark Dowell's Ten Miles Past Normal is a funny and insightful novel overflowing with charmingly quirky characters.  When Janie was nine years old her class took a field trip to an organic farm.  She loved it so much that she suggested to her parents that their whole family would be happier living on a farm, raising goats, and baking fresh bread.  Janie had no idea that the concept would appeal to her parents so much, and she could never have predicted that five years later that perfect-sounding farm life would leave her feeling completely ostracized during her freshman year of high school.  Part of her is desperate to fit in and feel like a normal girl, but perhaps life truly is better at ten miles past normal ...

What I Liked:
-     This book had me laughing aloud from start to finish.  Janie is a very funny narrator with a self-deprecating sense of humor and a wry wit.
-     I loved that civil rights played such an important role in this novel.  The teens admire and are inspired by courageous individuals who worked toward equality and justice when that was an unpopular and dangerous choice.
-     This is a book in which the teenage girls are more excited about changing the world than chasing after the hottest boy in school.  Of course, there is a bit of boy-chasing too, but that plays out in a hilariously satisfying way.
-     I thoroughly enjoyed the mommy-blogger angle of the story. Since moving to the country, Janie's mother has taken up blogging to document her family's farm-life adventures.  In fact, she has become a bit of a local celebrity because of her blog, and I liked hearing about that whole experience from Janie's perspective.
-     I enjoyed the quirky collection of characters, from Monster to Emma to Mr. Pritchard.  We should all be lucky enough to encounter memorably awesome people like that in our lives.  There are also characters like Jeremy Fitch, who bear a striking resemblance to people most of us probably knew (or still know) in high school.  I was thrilled that Janie has the good sense to recognize the reality that isn't always obvious when you are distracted by a handsome face and flirtatious banter.
-     Janie has loving parents and they play a vital role in the story, so that sets Ten Miles Past Normal apart from the bulk of YA novels in which parents are absent/evil/negligent.
-     I loved seeing Janie mature as she realizes that being normal is overrated and starts embracing life at ten miles past normal.
What I Wished:
-     I wanted this book to be longer.  Honestly, the author chose the perfect time and place for the story to end.  I just enjoyed the characters so much that I wanted the story to go on for another hundred pages or so.

Ten Miles Past Normal is a sweet coming-of-age tale with a funny, intelligent narrator. Fans of Deb Caletti's Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, John Green's An Abundance of Katherines, Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl or Adriana Trigani's Viola in Reel Life will want to pick up Ten Miles Past Normal.  It is also a very clean read, so I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to fans of middle-grade novels like Lisa Schroeder's It's Raining Cupcakes.  I look forward to reading more of Frances O'Roark Dowell's books.  If you would like to learn more about Ten Miles Past Normal or Frances O'Roark Dowell's other books, please visit her website or Simon & Schuster page.

Read the first chapter of Ten Miles Past Normal here!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Book Review: Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins

Title:  Demonglass
Author:  Rachel Hawkins
Publisher:  Hyperion Books
Genre: YA / paranormal
Hardcover: 359 pages
Summary from Goodreads: 
Sophie Mercer thought she was a witch.

That was the whole reason she was sent to Hex Hall, a reform school for delinquent Prodigium (aka witches, shapeshifters, and fairies). But that was before she discovered the family secret, and that her hot crush, Archer Cross, is an agent for The Eye, a group bent on wiping Prodigium off the face of the earth.

Turns out, Sophie’s a demon, one of only two in the world—the other being her father. What’s worse, she has powers that threaten the lives of everyone she loves. Which is precisely why Sophie decides she must go to London for the Removal, a dangerous procedure that will destroy her powers.

But once Sophie arrives she makes a shocking discovery. Her new friends? They’re demons too. Meaning someone is raising them in secret with creepy plans to use their powers, and probably not for good. Meanwhile, The Eye is set on hunting Sophie down, and they’re using Archer to do it. But it’s not like she has feelings for him anymore. Does she?

  • Overall rating: 7/10
To buy this book: IndieBound | The Book Depository Powell's | Amazon
Add this book to your: Goodreads | Shelfari Library Thing Visual Bookshelf

Rachel Hawkins' Demonglass picks up six months after the conclusion of Hex Hall.  Sophie is awaiting word from her father, the head of the Council, regarding her request to undergo the Removal process.  When he arrives, her father persuades her to spend the summer with him at the Council headquarters in England before making a final decision about the Removal, and they set off for England with her friends Jenna and Cal in tow.  Sophie is shocked by the grandeur of the expansive Abbey where they will be staying, but the beautiful and luxurious setting does not necessarily mean she'll have a peaceful summer vacation in the English countryside.  Instead, she finds herself hunted by the Eye, keeping secrets from her best friend, and unsure who to trust in this fun sequel to Hex Hall.

What I Liked:
-     Sophie's sense of humor is my favorite part of this series.  She has a sarcastic reply to lighten almost any uncomfortable situation, and her snarkiness helps make this book an entertaining, fast read.
-     Cal plays a much larger roll in this book, and I thoroughly enjoyed his interaction with Sophie.  He is kind, compassionate, and good with his hands.  Plus, he really does have the best power ever.  Demonglass put me firmly on Team Cal.
-     I enjoy Sophie and Jenna's friendship.  They complement each other well, and I like that they both try to be supportive and encouraging even when dealing with tricky situations or disagreements.
-     A number of new characters are introduced in this book, and they add some exciting twists to the story.  I also liked that characters from the first book played unexpected roles in Demonglass, specifically Elodie, Cal, and Mrs. Casnoff.
-     Demons, witches, warlocks, werewolves, vampires, and ghosts ... this series has a wide variety of paranormal creatures.
-     I enjoyed learning more about Sophie's long-absent father.  Sophie gains a better understanding of her abilities in this book, and I look forward to discovering what the third book has in store for her.

What I Disliked:
-     I found myself distracted by comparing certain aspects of this story to other book series, like Evernight, Harry Potter, and Twilight.  
-     I was a fan of Sophie and Archer's chemistry in Hex Hall, but I didn't find their chemistry nearly as compelling in Demonglass.  Perhaps that was because of Archer's minimal page-time, Cal's abundant charms, or the general seriousness of the situation keeping Sophie and Archer apart, but their Romeo & Juliet-style romance felt a bit forced to me this time around.
-     The second book in a trilogy can sometimes be more frustrating than fulfilling since none of the major conflicts will be resolved until the final book, and unfortunately this book felt that way to me.  The conclusion definitely leaves readers hanging in a huge way. 

Demonglass is an entertaining sequel to Hex Hall.  Fans of paranormal novels that blend suspenseful and romantic elements with a hefty dose of humor, like Kiersten White's Paranormalcy, will want to pick up this series.  If you would like to learn more about Demonglass, or Rachel Hawkins' upcoming projects like Rebel Belle and the Hex Hall spinoff series she plans to start writing this summer, please visit her website, blog, or twitter.  Or check out the Hex Hall facebook page.

Read the first chapter of Demonglass here!

Friday, April 1, 2011


Thank you to everyone who entered our Desires of the Dead giveaway!  :)  All the winners have been emailed and have 48 hrs to respond before new winners will be drawn.

Marlene won:
Prize #1 -  A signed hardcover copy of Desires of the Dead by Kimberly Derting

Morgyn won:
Prize #2  -  A signed Desires of the Dead poster and bookmark

Tracy, AmburLucie Z., and Sniffly Kitty each won:
Prize #3  - A signed Desires of the Dead bookmark

We hope to see Cassandra Clare and Holly Black on tour later this month, so keep an eye out  for the chance to win more signed books!  :)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Waiting on" Wednesday: Exile by Anne Osterlund

Author:  Anne Osterlund
Publication date:  April 28, 2011
Anne Osterlund's:  website | blogfacebook 
Pre-order Exile:  Powell's | IndieBound | Amazon | Borders | B&N
Add Exile to your:  Goodreads | Shelfari LibraryThing

Summary from Goodreads (contains spoilers for Aurelia):
Crown Princess Aurelia stands in the face of exile. Behind her are the sister who tried to kill her and the father who ignored it. In front of her are the entire kingdom and Robert—the friend she can't help but fall in love with. Aurelia may finally be living her dream . . . but danger is not far behind. When Aurelia and Robert are betrayed by the very guards assigned to protect them, their expedition becomes a fight for survival that carries them from frontier to desert sands. Even with a hunter on their tail, the risks—to their lives, the throne, their hearts—only fuels Aurelia's determination to see her kingdom. And when their perilous journey is finally complete, she will discover just how much her people need her, and just how much of a risk loving Robert can be.  

Exile is the companion novel to Aurelia.
Read an excerpt from Aurelia here!

Buy Aurelia:  Powell's | IndieBound | Amazon | B&N
Add it to your:  Goodreads | Shelfari LibraryThing

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. It spotlights upcoming releases that we are eagerly anticipating.