Thursday, May 31, 2012

YA Book Club is hosted by Tracey Neithercott at Words on Paper. Thanks for bring us all together, Tracey!

This month we're discussing Insurgent by Veronica Roth.

Insurgent is the second book in the Divergent trilogy. It's difficult to discuss a sequel without giving away the secrets of the first book, but I'm going to try. Here is an adapted Goodreads summary that avoids major spoilers:

War looms as conflict between the factions grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence to survive, no matter what the cost.

Things I love about Insurgent:

1. It picks up right where Divergent leaves off.
This works so much better that picking up a few weeks or months later. When an author skips ahead, she inevitably uses flashbacks to the time that was missed. Roth doesn't do that, keeping the writing and flow clean. Instead of easing readers back into the story, Roth sucks us back in with the snap of a finger.

2. The break-neck pace refuses to be put down.
I read so many tweets about people forcing themselves to slow down, to savor Insurgent for as long as possible. Not me. I love being so absorbed in a story that everything else falls away, and Roth maintains the same intensity all the way through. The only downside is waiting over a year for Book 3, which until further notice shall be known as Detergent.

3. Tris and Tobias have a real relationship.
One of Insurgent's major themes is the role of secrets and trust in relationships. I dig a great love story just as much as the next girl, but I'm tired of the old standby that THIS ONE SPECIAL LOVE can withstand anything, and can never be undone. Real people have problems. Real people have insecurities. Real people make mistakes that are hard to forgive. These things don't weaken the power of love; they prove how amazing it is, that it survives anyway. Tris and Tobias react to their situation and keep secrets in a way that feels authentic to me. It's the same quality that attracts readers to Katniss in The Hunger Games, only Tris is more relatable. She carries the burden of guilt and expectations the same way that I might, in her situation.

I loved Insurgent. I realized flipping through Goodreads the other day that my ratings tend to skew high, which isn't really fair to the true 5 star books. A second book in a trilogy is a difficult monster, but I truly feel that Roth knocked it out of the park.

Insurgent is everything I hoped it would be.

Music for today: Hysteria by Muse

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Today I'm reviewing Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, as a part of an ARC tour with the Southern Book Bloggers. Reunited will be released on June 12th, 2012.

The Summary:

In middle school, Alice, Summer, and Tiernan were best friends and the world's biggest fans of the rock band Level3. But everything changed when they started high school. The band broke up, and the girls went their separate ways. Four years later, Level3 announces a one-time reunion show in Texas. Alice buys three tickets, the trio sets off on a 2000 mile road trip, and the girls learn if their former friendship has what it takes to survive being Reunited.

The Review:

Reunited is a fun summer read, told from the alternating points of view of Alice, Summer, and Teirnan. Graham explores how and why friendships change with the catchy, common thread of the girls' love for a rock band, complete with lyrics from Level3. The three girls are all unique and well drawn.

I enjoyed how the characters tested the boundaries of new adulthood through both their physical and emotional journeys. Graham excels at layering dimensions into the plot. The biggest drawback for me was a failing in my suspension of disbelief. When I read contemporary YA, I like to have a strong sense of reality. Many of the scenarios just pushed my limits of what could be plausibly real. I kept asking myself where the girls were getting the money to do things, when none of their parents seemed to be wealthy. But I know many readers want a level of fantasy in their contemps, so I don't think this would be a problem for every reader.

Reunited would be a great beach read, and I would recommend it to someone looking for a contemporary YA without a strong romantic element. 3 1/2  out of 5 stars.  

Music for today: Eyes Wide Open by Gotye

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Summer is breathing down my neck like a three-headed dog named Fluffy. Responsibilities keep piling up, and every time I cross one thing off the to-do list, three more items magically appear. And my kids only have 10 days of school left. Needless to say, I've fallen behind on my blogging.

Having ALL the boys home ALL the time severely gnaws away at my writing time, but I'm hoping our family will share a summer filled with loads of books. (Reading counts as research, right?) Next week I'll be reviewing Insurgent by Veronica Roth for YA Book Club and Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham for the Southern Book Bloggers. If you have any suggestions for summer reads, let me know in the comments!

Today on Twitter I'll be throwing my hat in the ring for The Writer's Voice Twitter Pitch Party. For more information about The Writer's Voice, and to read some amazing queries, check out these blogs: Love YA, Cupid's Literary ConnectionMother. Write. (Repeat.), and Brenda Drake Writes. If you have a finished manuscript ready to pitch to agents, come and join us on the hashtag #WVTP.

Also, welcome and thank you to my new followers! I'm only 16 away from my 100 Follower Give-Away. When I reach 90, I'll start revealing the prizes!

Happy Thursday, Everyone!

Music for today: Brains by Lower Dens

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

This week's Road Trip Wednesday question is:

What book brings back memories?

Books and memories go hand-in-hand for me, but I'll never forget when I discovered Anita Shreve. I had run out of books at home and didn't have time to go to the book store, so I picked up the first cover that grabbed me in the grocery store: The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve. She was well-known for The Pilot's Wife, thanks to Oprah's Book Club, but I didn't know that at the time.

I remember that trip to the grocery store so clearly now, because it just always felt like a twist of fate. (I'd never before and haven't since bought a book at a Kroger.) I was absolutely floored by The Last Time They Met. The beautiful prose. The unique story structure, unlike anything I'd ever read. And of course, the characters and their heart-breaking love story.

Of course I went out immediately and bought all of her other novels, and I've read all of the new releases since then. I have loved most of them, and even the ones I didn't love are still excellent books. But here's the kicker: The Pilot's Wife was my least favorite. If I had picked up that one first, the highly-promoted one with the big "O" sticker, I wouldn't have fallen in love with Shreve's writing, and I may have missed out on all those other amazing stories.

Shreve writes adult fiction, but the common theme that attracts me to her work is the same thing that attracts me to YA. Many of her characters have that knock-you-in-the-gut, life-changing love as teenagers, and they struggle for the rest of their lives to move past it.

In all of the recent discussion of New Adult, I've actually thought of Anita Shreve. Her book Testimony is certainly adult in nature, but it is about a scandal at a high school, and in addition to a teacher and one of the parents, most of the main characters are teenagers. If  her books are an indicator, and with the lines constantly blurring, a book that the writer considers NA is probably more marketable as general adult fiction.

How about you? What books get you thinking about times gone by?

** As a post script today, Angelica Jackson is holding a writing community auction to raise funds for the animal rescue Fat Kitty City. She has tons of amazing items up for auction. Please stop by Pens for Paws to check it out!

Music for today: Helicopter by Bloc Party

Monday, May 14, 2012

May 1st marked two amazing book birthdays. Veronica Roth's follow-up Insurgent, and Kristin Cashore's Bitterblue, the long-awaited sequel to Graceling.

Reading these two books back-to-back illustrated how sequels can be very different but equally fantastic. I'll be reviewing Insurgent for YA Book Club later this month, but I can't help comparing and contrasting a little for my review of Bitterblue today.

Bitterblue is about a young queen struggling to rule after her sadistic father, King Leck. It can be read as a stand-alone novel, but it is both a sequel to Graceling and a companion book to Fire. I strongly recommend reading Graceling and Fire first, in that order, to fully appreciate Bitterblue. With that in mind, I'm using a format to keep the review as spoiler-free as possible. For me, the two strongest qualities of Bitterblue are the characters and pacing.

In Cashore's world, a graceling is someone with a special 'grace,' or talent, marked by eyes of two colors. Both her graceling characters and the non-graced are all complex and realistic, with both endearing qualities and weaknesses. As in many fantasies, the sheer number of characters could overwhelm the reader, but Cashore paints even her minor players so completely that they enhance the story rather than distract from it.  And then there's the villain. Her villain is one of the most atrocious, chilling characters I've ever read. And I've read more than my fair share of Stephen King. On that front, Bitterblue is not for the faint of heart.

I read Insurgent in less than 48 hours, in the midst of multiple family sicknesses. It's that kind of book, with a break-neck pace that I couldn't put down for long without running back to it. But I took a solid six days to read Bitterblue. I was equally invested in unravelling the mystery, but each time I sat down to read it, I wanted to be fully immersed. Sometimes I put it down for a few hours to let the events stew before moving on. I'm accustomed to reading faster-paced YA, and I would normally say that I prefer it. But Bitterblue is an example of a perfectly executed, slower, building pace, and of the two books, Bitterblue is still sticking with me more, days after finishing.

If you enjoy fantasy of any type, I highly recommend Bitterblue. 5 out of 5 stars.

Music for today: Bandages by Hot Hot Heat

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

For this Road Trip Wednesday, the Highwayers asked:

What's your favorite use for a book besides reading it?

We have so many books in our house that they inevitably end up as decorations. We have some scattered around, but most reside in my husband's office. (We generally keep his books on the most visible shelves, since so many of mine are YA.)

I've also pressed a few flowers with books in my day. But as a child, my brother and I loved to do this:
I'm sure a more artistic person could do a much better job, but this is actually what most of our little scenes looked like back then.

How about you? Do you do anything with books besides reading them?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Happy Friday! Due to some family things, including sick kids and a trip to the ER, my blog posting has been sporadic lately. Everyone is fine, and I'm hoping life will get back to normal soon. I thought I'd catch up by sharing a few odds and ends to wrap up the week.

  • I want to send out a special thanks to Cynthia at Read is the New Black. Last month she had a giveaway to celebrate her 100th follower, and I won the children's book I Feel Better with a Frog in my Throat: History's Strangest Cures by Carlyn Beccia. My boys absolutely loved it, and I did, too.
  • On that note, I will also have a giveaway celebration when I reach 100 followers. More details will come when I get closer. Welcome to my new followers! I'm only 20 lovely people away from reaching that goal, and if you're just stopping by, I'd love to add you to the list!
  • Another special thanks goes to Jenn Baker-Henry, who sent me an ARC of Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron for my recognition in the Second Campaigner Challenge.
  • Last weekend I read The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith. I haven't had time for a proper review, but I really loved it. It's my favorite contemporary YA I've read this year.
  • Finally, if you're here looking for my entry in The Writer's Voice, you can find it using the tab under my banner.
I hope you have a wonderful, healthy weekend!

Music for today: Love Song by Adele