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.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins

My teaser:
"The woman was Elizabeth, and with her soft gray hair and little round glasses, I thought she looked like someone's nana; but when I went to shake her hand, she yanked me to her and sniffed my hair.  Great.  Another werewolf."
- page 42 of Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins

Teaser Tuesdays are hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  Anyone can play along!  Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share a few 'teaser' sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • Be careful not to include major spoilers.
  • Share the title and author, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teaser!

Book Review: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Title:  Across the Universe
Author:  Beth Revis 
Publisher:  Razorbill 
Genre: YA / sci-fi / dystopian
Hardcover: 398 pages
ISBN: 1595143971
Summary from Goodreads: 
Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone-one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship-tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.
  • Overall rating: 8/10
To buy this book: IndieBound | The Book Depository Powell's | Amazon
Add this book to your: Goodreads | Shelfari Library Thing Visual Bookshelf

Beth Revis' Across the Universe is the first book in an intriguing dystopian sci-fi trilogy.  After spending two hundred fifty years cryogenically frozen on a spaceship bound for an uncharted planet, Amy is shocked when she is awakened fifty years before her parents are scheduled to be unfrozen.  At first, the prospect of not seeing her parents until she is nearly seventy seems like the worst of her problems.  But in addition to the nightmare of being trapped on a claustrophobic ship and the horror of discovering that many of the ship's inhabitants behave more like drones than humans, she soon learns that a killer is targeting the cryogenically frozen people and her parents may be among the next victims.  From the largely homogeneous and eerily obedient crew members to the ship's dictatorial leader, Amy finds herself very short on allies.  Thankfully, the young man who is next in line to lead the ship is intrigued by Amy, and he may be exactly the ally she needs to keep her parents alive and to figure out how the ship's population has gone in such a disturbing direction in the two hundred fifty years since it left Earth.  But Elder grew up on the ship, and what seems horrifying to Amy has always been described as normal and necessary to him.  Together they must unravel the truth and stop the killing before it is too late.

What I Liked:
-     This book is set on isolated ship hundreds of years away from Earth and some of its inhabitants have made difficult (and troubling) decisions regarding resource management, diversity, and personal freedom.  I was impressed by how disturbing and claustrophobic the atmosphere on the ship feels.
-     Half the chapters are from Amy's point of view and half are from Elder's point of view, which helped keep the tension high from start to finish.  This book is essentially a dystopian novel set aboard a spaceship, so being introduced to the world from two different perspectives, that of a character who is an outsider and that of a character who has only ever known life aboard the ship, really helps set the stage for the story.
-     Elder's friend Harley, an artist who is considered an oddity because of his creativity, is one of the most compelling characters in the book.  Elements of his situation reminded me of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and his outlook as the story progressed brought to mind some interesting questions about what life could have been like if things had progressed differently on Godspeed.
-     My favorite sci-fi novels (as well as my favorite dystopian novels) tackle ethical and political issues that are relevant right here on present-day Earth.  If the setting is well conceived and the story is compelling, great sci-fi and dystopian novels can encourage us to examine hot-button issues like genetic engineering and reproductive rights a bit more thoroughly.  I liked that Across the Universe didn't shy away from pushing some of those concepts to disturbingly plausible extremes.
-     There are some very unlikeable individuals on Godspeed, but some of their motivations held shades of gray, and I like villains who are painted in shades of gray.  They are much more frightening and believable.
-     There is plenty left to be explored in the next two books and the story is wide open for a million different possibilities, but this first book is also surprisingly conclusive.  I look forward to seeing where the rest of the trilogy will go.

What I Liked Less:
-     One of the primary mysteries in this story, the identity of the person unplugging the cryogenically frozen individuals, is too easy to deduce.  Thankfully, that is not the only twist in the story, so there are other surprises and deceptions to keep readers on their toes.
-     While I liked that Elder and Amy's story is not of the whirlwind-romance variety, I was hoping to feel more chemistry between them.  I respected and pitied them both, but I didn't really care whether their relationship ventured beyond friendship.  Perhaps the second book will change my mind about that.
-     I found the plot and setting a bit more compelling than the protagonists.  Amy and Elder both have to deal with some sad and traumatizing situations in this book, but I was more wrapped up in the plot than the characters, so I never found myself in tears.

I would recommend Across the Universe to fans of sci-fi and dystopian novels.  The story moves along at a fast clip, with short chapters and quite a bit of life-and-death drama, so it may also be a good pick for reluctant readers.  If you would like to learn more about Across the Universe or author Beth Revis, please visit her website, blog, facebook, or twitter.  Or check out the Across the Universe website where you can explore the ship and listen to an excerpt from the audiobook.

Read the first chapter of Across the Universe here!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book Review: Wildwing by Emily Whitman

Title:  Wildwing
Author:  Emily Whitman
Publisher:  Greenwillow Books 
Genre: YA / fantasy
Hardcover: 320 pages
ISBN: 0061724521
Summary from Goodreads:
When Addy is swept back in time, she couldn't be happier to leave her miser-able life behind. Now she's mistaken for Lady Matilda, the pampered ward of the king. If Addy can play her part, she'll have glorious gowns, jewels, and something she's always longed for—the respect and admiration of others. But then she meets Will, the falconer's son with sky blue eyes, who unsettles all her plans.

From shipwrecks to castle dungeons, from betrothals to hidden conspiracies, Addy finds herself in a world where she's not the only one with a dangerous secret. When she discovers the truth, Addy must take matters into her own hands. The stakes? Her chance at true love . . . and the life she's meant to live.

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

Emily Whitman's Wildwing is a time-travel fantasy about a girl who leaves her life as a maid in the early 20th century for the life of a Lady in 13th century England.  Born out of wedlock to a mother who is a hardworking, lower class seamstress, Addy has spent the first fifteen years of her life being harassed and taunted by her wealthier classmates who have made her life miserable.  When she is withdrawn from school after getting into one too many fights with her classmates, she is mortified by the idea of spending the rest of her life as a maid.  But her job as a maid turns out to be more pleasant than she expected, especially when she discovers a time machine in her employer's library.  Suddenly she is whisked back to the 13th century where she is mistaken for a wealthy Lady.  But her life as a Lady comes with certain obligations, and as she begins to fall in love with a handsome young falconer who is far below her station, she may realize that wealth doesn't always mean freedom.

What I Liked:
-     I liked that the time travel occurred between one non-modern time period and another.  It is like two historical novels in one.  :)
-     You can feel the author's appreciation for the beauty and majesty of falcons in the way falconry is presented within the story, and that fascination and enthusiasm is contagious.  The tethered freedom of the wild, untameable birds parallels Addy's longing for freedom quite nicely.
-     Addy is not always particularly likeable.  But even when I disliked her behavior or disagreed with her choices, I sympathized with her and still found her believable as a self-absorbed fifteen year old who is enchanted by the wealth and respect she receives as Lady Matilda.  There are plenty of opportunities for character growth throughout the novel, and Addy learns some valuable lessons as the story progresses.
-     Will and Addy's romantic moments are sensual and suggestive without being graphic or explicit.
-     This story is a quick and absorbing read.  I read the whole book aloud, and I was impressed by the pacing and the smooth, easy flow of the narrative.
-     It is refreshing to read a YA novel that is not a part of a series.   Sometimes it is nice not to have to wait a year or more to read the second half (or even the second third) of a story.

What I Wished:
-     I wanted the story to be less predictable.
-     I tried not to be distracted by the lack of scientific explanation as far as the time travel is concerned because Wildwing feels much more like fantasy than sci-fi, but I still struggled to accept the way the time machine is used in the story.
-      (SPOILER WARNING!  Do not scroll over the following text if you want to avoid spoilers.)  I found it difficult to believe that in the fifteen years Mr. Greenwood spent mourning the loss of his son, he never once attempted to use the time machine to venture back to a date shortly before his son's disappearance. If he was that worried about the potential dangers of the modern wiring, then I am truly surprised he would let his only son (who he has just found after years of searching) hop in a machine that was constructed using only rustic medieval tools and components. And why wouldn't he return to the 20th century with Will?

I would recommend Wildwing to fans of light, engaging historical fantasy novels.  If you would like to learn more about Wildwing or author Emily Whitman, please visit her website, facebook, or Harper Collins author page.

Read the first twelve chapters of Wildwing here!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Book Review: StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Title:  StarCrossed
Author:  Elizabeth C. Bunce
Publisher:  Arthur A. Levine
Genre: YA / fantasy
Hardcover: 359 pages
ISBN: 0545136059
Summary from Goodreads: 
Digger thrives as a spy and sneak-thief among the feuding religious factions of Gerse, dodging the Greenmen who have banned all magic. But when a routine job goes horribly wrong and her partner and lover Tegen is killed, she has to get out of the city, fast, and hides herself in a merry group of nobles to do so. Accepted as a lady's maid to shy young Merista Nemair, Digger finds new peace and friendship at the Nemair stronghold--as well as plenty of jewels for the taking. But after the devious Lord Daul catches her in the act of thievery, he blackmails her into becoming his personal spy in the castle, and Digger soon realizes that her noble hosts aren't as apolitical as she thought... that indeed, she may be at the heart of a magical rebellion.

Overall rating:  7/10

Add this book to your:  Goodreads |Shelfari | Library Thing | Visual Bookshelf

Elizabeth C. Bunce's StarCrossed is an intrigue-rich historical fantasy about Digger, a talented thief who finds herself running for her life after a job goes terribly wrong.  She is desperate to escape the streets of Gerse and must assume a false identity in order to evade the dangerous Greenmen.  In a world filled with political tension, religious persecution, and forbidden magic, will Digger be safe posing as a lady's maid among the nobles of Bryn Shaer, far away from the treacherous streets of Gerse?  Or will she become entangled in another deadly dance of secrets and lies?

What I Liked:
-     Digger is a very capable heroine.  She is a skilled thief, spy, and counterfeit artist.  I admired her fearlessness and self-confidence.
-     Many of the inhabitants of Bryn Shaer are more intriguing than they appear at first glance.  I particularly enjoyed getting to know the formidable Lady Lyll and her wounded patient.
-     I enjoyed Digger's clever, survivalist personality, but it was also lovely to see her begin to open herself up to friendship over the course of the book.
-     The historical aspects of the setting, from the clothing to the weapons to the architecture, are all described in beautiful detail and give Llvraneth a believable magical-Renaissance atmosphere.
-     There are a number of plot twists in this book, and two of the larger ones took me totally by surprise.  Fun!
-     I liked the unique type of magic the Sarists practice, which involves finding, gathering, and shaping.  It has an organic and cooperative feel.
-     Several personal and political conflicts are revealed in StarCrossed, and many of the characters and conflicts seem poised to reappear in the second book, Liar's Moon.  I look forward to seeing where the story goes next.

What I Wished:
-     I wanted the story to unfold more quickly and with more consistent tension.  After the initial excitement surrounding Digger's escape from Gerse, the tension lags a bit until her position at Bryn Shaer is put into jeopardy about a third of the way into the book. 
-     Merista and Wierolf are central to two of the most interesting parts of the story (the unique magic system and the looming civil war), but I didn't feel like either of them received enough page-time since the story is told from Digger's point of view and the supporting characters are not always central to her daily activities.
-     I wanted more romance, even if it was only in Digger's memories of Tegen.
-     A few parts of the story seem slightly too convenient, like secretive nobles who seem surprisingly open to confessing key details to Digger.

StarCrossed is an intrigue-filled historical fantasy with a bold heroine.  Fans of Tamora Pierce, Leah Cypess, Shannon Hale, or Kristin Cashore will enjoy the world-building and the gutsy protagonist.  If you would like to learn more about StarCrossed or Elizabeth C. Bunce's other books, please visit her website, blog, or facebook.

Read the first chapter of StarCrossed here!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Lola and the Boy Next Door

Title: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publication date: September 29, 2011
Stephanie Perkins': website | blog | twitter
Pre-order it: B & N | Amazon | The Book Depository
Add it to your: Goodreads | Shelfari | LibraryThing
For budding costume designer Lola Nolan, the more outrageous, the outfit—more sparkly, more fun, more wild—the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins move back into the house next door.

When the family returns and Cricket—a gifted inventor and engineer—steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

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

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Waiting On" Wednesday: The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder

Title:  The Day Before
Author:  Lisa Schroeder
Publication date:  June 28, 2011
Lisa Schroeder's:  website | facebook twitter
Pre-order The Day Before:  IndieBound | Amazon | Borders 
Add The Day Before to your:  Goodreads | Shelfari LibraryThing

Sometimes there's no turning back.

Amber's life is spinning out of control. All she wants is to turn up the volume on her iPod until all of the demands of her family and friends fade away. So she sneaks off to the beach to spend a day by herself.

Then Amber meets Cade. Their attraction is instant, and Amber can tell that he's also looking for an escape. Together they decide to share a perfect day: no pasts, no fears, no regrets.

The more time that Amber spends with Cade, the more she's drawn to him. And the more she's troubled by his darkness. Because Cade's not just living in the now--he's living each moment like it's his las

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

Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Title:  Anna and the French Kiss
Author:  Stephanie Perkins
Publisher:  Dutton 
Genre: Contemporary YA
Hardcover: 372 pages
ISBN: 0525423273
Summary from Goodreads: 
Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets Étienne St. Claire: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he's taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home.

As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near-misses end with the French kiss Anna—and readers—have long awaited?
  • Overall rating: 9/10
To buy this book: IndieBound | The Book Depository Powell's | Amazon
Add this book to your: Goodreads | Shelfari Library Thing Visual Bookshelf

Stephanie Perkins' Anna and the French Kiss is blissfully romantic, sweet, and funny!  I loved so much about this book, but before I start raving about its excellence, I must make a quick confession.  It took me way too long to get around to reading Anna and the French Kiss, and I took my time in picking it up for the silliest reason ever.  I had heard so much positive buzz about it that I was afraid it could not possibly live up to the hype.  Kids, don't be like me.  Don't let glowing reviews scare you away from amazing books.  And if you don't own it already, don't wait another second before buying Anna and the French Kiss!  It is made of awesome and exceeded all of my expectations.  Also, it is under $10 at The Book Depository and Amazon right now.  Just FYI.  ;-)

What I Liked:
-     Um... all of the words on all of the pages.  Okay, I'll try to be slightly more specific...
-     I loved that the characters feel genuine.  Anna and her classmates (and former classmates and former co-workers) all have flaws and realistically complex relationships and personalities.  
-     Every character has a distinct voice.  Meredith doesn't interact with Rashmi in the same way that she interacts with St. Clair.  And St. Clair doesn't talk to Anna the same way he talks to Josh.  If you covered up the names associated with any line of dialogue on any page, I bet you could still tell exactly who said what to whom just by their distinct ways of interacting with one another.  I adore that.
-     This story is totally in harmony with its setting.  Some books have vividly drawn atmospheres, allowing readers to thoroughly immerse themselves in the sights, smells, and flavors of a particular location and time period.  Other books have richly imagined characters that pop off the pages and make readers laugh and cry along with them.  This book has both.
-     The pacing is perfect, so Anna and the reader fall in love with Étienne and Paris simultaneously.
-     Anna is such a dynamic character.  She grows and changes and learns from her mistakes and keeps moving forward right to the very last page.  Her perspective on virtually everything in her life shifts over the course of the year, but she isn't simply redefined by the person (or the place) she falls in love with.  She is still very much herself by the end of the book, just a wiser, more independent, more confident, and perhaps more forgiving version of herself.  I found her likable from start to finish, and I think she is proof that protagonists don't have to be generically good or utterly bland and static to feel like an 'every-girl' character to whom we can all relate.
-     This book is filled with tension, and not just romantic tension.  From friendships, to familial relationships, to romantic entanglements, every relationship in this book captures realistic tension and conflict.  Even her relationship with Paris itself is rich with tension and conflict.  Anna deals with jealousy, frustration, fear, and longing while navigating the streets of Paris and while navigating her increasingly complicated relationships with her old friends, new friends, family, and potential boyfriends.  I loved that she doesn't always make the easiest choices or the kindest choices, but she always makes believable choices.  I enjoyed following every step of Anna's journey from the moments of frustrated anger to the moments of impressive clarity.
-     Étienne St. Clair ... what can I say about that boy?  He is a charming and witty history buff who loves his mother.  And his sexiness doesn't depend solely upon his more obvious charms like his British accent or his perfect hair, it is in his crooked bottom teeth, his shorter-than-average stature, his tidy room full of books, the way he bites his nails, and his willingness to wear the unfashionable stocking cap that his mum knitted despite his friends' objections.  It is also in Point Zero, in his enthusiastic support of Anna's passion for films, in the way he is there for her when she needs encouragement or distraction, and in the way his eyes light up when she says his name.  I can't say for certain when he won my undying allegiance, but it may have been the moment he first said "Fo' shiz" and made me burst into laughter in the middle of a quiet room.
-     I am such a sucker for best friend romances, and this particular story has so many heart-racing flirtatious moments and so many emotionally intimate moments that it feels like watching two people fall in love in deliciously torturous slow-motion.  It is beautiful, sweet, flutter-inducing, heart-breaking, nerve-wracking... and did I mention romantic
-     The plot element that I worried could stand in the way of my being able to fully adore this book, the fact that the boy Anna loves is in a serious relationship with someone else, was handled so honestly (and so painfully) that it did not stop me from loving Étienne or from relating to Anna.
-     I loved that the end of this book is conclusive without feeling like the end of Anna's story.  Instead, it feels like a wonderful beginning.

What I Wished:
-     I wished that Stephanie Perkins had already written ten more books because Lola and the Boy Next Door (9/29/11) and Isla and the Happily Ever After (Fall 2012) seem too far away.

Anna and the French Kiss is a sweet, funny, and romantic story about friendship, growing up, and falling in love.  If you are a fan of contemporary romance or sweet coming of age stories, then you will want to check out Anna and the French Kiss.  If you would like to learn more about Anna and the French Kiss or Stephanie Perkins' upcoming companion novels, please visit her website, blog, or twitter.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce

My teaser:
"For a moment I was distracted.  Books always did that to me, almost more than a locked jewelry chest or a fat purse dangling from a fat nob.  I liked the creamy pages, the smell of ink, all the secrets locked inside."
- page 111 of StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Read the first chapter of StarCrossed here.

Teaser Tuesdays are hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  Anyone can play along!  Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share a few 'teaser' sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • Be careful not to include major spoilers.
  • Share the title and author, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teaser!