30 June, 2011

Silver Phoenix - Review

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

Publication date: 28 April 2009 by HarperTeen

ISBN 10/13: 0061730211 | 9780061730214

Category: Young Adult Fantasy
Format: Paperback
Keywords: Mythology, Asian, power

Thuy's review:

Ai Ling comes from a pretty traditional family and is on her way to becoming betrothed. However, it seems like the old rumors of her father's exile from the Palace haven't died, and her family is unable to find her a match. Her father is then summoned back to the Palace but, when he doesn't return and an associate tries to blackmail Ai Ling into marriage, she flees the city to bring him back. 

On her journey she encounters Chen Yong, a young man of mixed heritage who is also searching for his own answers as well as a whole slew of demons, witches and other mythical creatures all intent on stopping Ai Ling. Luckily for her, her father gives her a jade pendant before he leaves that has mythical properties that protect her and it saves her on more than one occasion. Ai Ling is also coming into powers of her own that she must learn to use. 

I have to admit that I didn't really know what to expect when I picked up this book. I found it by way of a blog post about diversity in young adult lit (sorry but the source escapes me now) and picked it up on the basis of some positive reviews and a beautiful cover (more on that later). 

It took me awhile to get really get into this book. I liked the idea of the story but the writing felt a bit formal and I had a hard time getting into the characters and story. Eventually I did though and I found myself really rooting for Ai Ling and her companions. I would have liked to have learned more about Silver Phoenix. We get a little bit of information on her but not much. I also want to learn more about the origins of Ai Ling's powers and what they mean. 

The descriptions of the demons and creatures was great. I don't know which ones are actual myths but Pon writes them so it doesn't matter. All of them seem like they could have come out of an ancient text. Some people have said that the ending was too abrupt but I liked that it was left open ended and that everything didn't wrap up the way you expected it to. Pon's debut novel has laid a solid foundation for Ai Ling's world and I am looking forward to continuing her journey in the sequel, Fury of the Silver Phoenix.

Note about the cover: Due to lack of sales and booksellers not knowing what to do with the original Silver Phoenix cover, the sequel and paperback edition of Silver Phoenix have been repackaged in the hopes of getting it to a wider audience. While I understand that sometimes compromises have to be made, let me just say that I think the original cover of Silver Phoenix is gorgeous and it's a shame it had to change. 

Visit the author online at cindypon.com and follow @cindypon on Twitter.

28 June, 2011

Teach Me - Review

Teach Me by R. A. Nelson
Publication date: 25 August 2005 by Razorbill
ISBN 10/13: 1595140840 | 9781595140845

Category: Young Adult Contemporary Fiction
Format: Paperback (also available in hadcover and eBook)
Keywords: Love, taboos, obsession

Kimberly's review:

Uncomfortable topic? Yes. Well written? Yes. Carolina "Nine" begins a parent's nightmare of having an affair with her teacher, the complicated, tortured and sensitive Mr. Mann. As the romance intensifies, and then abruptly ends, Nine must deal with the consequences and face who they were to each other; great loves or Mr./Mrs. Right Now. As with most teenage breakups, this one is full of drama, loathing, conflicted feelings and anger. But unlike most, because of the taboo situation, it adds another layer of heartbreak.

Nelson does a fine job showing the relationship as Nine sees it--two lost souls who have finally found each other. Never mind the age difference. Never mind he's her teacher. Never mind she's 17 when they meet. It's first love. It's young love. Then why is it so wrong?

Granted, the novel brings up questions no one has the answer to. Is it wrong because of the age difference, because she's so young, or because of the teacher-student relationship? Perhaps all three. All of these questions are there as Nine begins her descent into chaotic madness. Her drastic actions cause a lot of pain. But she's hurting. Does he deserve it? Didn't he know it was wrong?

I can't say I was rooting for Nine and Mr. Mann. They're both selfish, self-absorbed creatures, so in that way they are perfect for each other. But I'm also sympathetic. I can say she's just a teenager, but really at 17 teenagers aren't quite so innocent as we may like to think. Her obsessive, sad, self destructive behavior I can relate to, as most people can. She goes a little crazy, and really who doesn't go a little crazy when love is gone.

Nelson's writing captures the despair of a teenage break up, the confusion and abandonment. And the ending, well, it does answer who they were to each other, or who they could have been: bittersweet. So in the end, I thought this book is one that should be read and digested slowly: every exciting second of falling in love with Mr. Mann, every uncomfortable moment of tearing out Nine's heart. And putting it all back together again.

Visit R. A. Nelson online at http://www.ranelsonbooks.com and follow @RANelsonYA on Twitter. Alethea also highly recommends Days of Little Texas and Throat.

20 June, 2011

Ondine Giveaway

Thanks to I am a Reader, Not a Writer for hosting this giveaway hop!

I am giving away a paperback copy of Ondine: The Summer of Shambles, by Ebony McKenna!

My blurb for Ondine: Girl meets ferret. Ferret speaks with Scottish accent. Hilarity ensues!

Really, Kimberly and I just about peed our pants laughing. Ondine is SO funny... I will be quoting jokes (particularly footnotes) forever.

By the way, there is a sequel to Ondine: The Autumn Palace. Also very funny and I can't wait to read more (please, Egmont UK, tell me there's more coming!)

If you have already won a prize from me this year, you're out of the running--let someone else win! XD 

This contest is open Internationally anywhere bookdepository.com will mail.

If you are under 13 please get a parent's permission before sharing your email address.

The contest stops at the end of the day, Friday June 24th. I'll announce the winner sometime on Saturday after YA in Bloom.

Ready to enter? Fill out the form! Leaving a comment is nice, but won't enter you in the contest.

Don't forget to visit the rest of the umpteenmillion blogs participating in the hop!

Also YA Book Council is giving away an ARC of Andrea Cremer's WOLFSBANE. With, *gasp!* the original (and IMHO prettier) cover art... Enter to win! Winner will be announced July 1st, and you can get more entries by sending more people to the contest.

19 June, 2011

Canceled due to craziness!

I swear I have been reading this week! Lots and lots of things.

I just don't have time to review right now because YA in Bloom is almost upon us... and by upon us I mean my To-Do List is rolling out the door.

You can check out the madness here:

If by some miracle I finish all of my tasks and can sit and edit the next Song of Ice & Fire podcast, you may hear from me within the next week, maybe.

16 June, 2011

Poster Poll

Would you buy this as a poster? 

My friend Alyson (KidLitFrenzy) and I are trying to come up with a fundraising item so that we can fund our literacy project, Bridge to Books, but we have quite a lot of questions. How big should it be? About how much should it cost? Glossy or matte? If you've got a minute, we'd love your feedback

Actually, I couldn't wait for people to answer the poll so I made one for myself:

Sample produced by posterbrain.com
I really feel like this photo doesn't do
justice to the actual poster--I was too
excited to go find a real camera. I'll
take another photo of it when it's framed.
It's way too expensive to mass produce through posterbrain.com, put their pricing is perfect if you just need a few posters! The quality is fantastic and turnaround time was phenomenal--just 4 days! I'll definitely order from them again.

If you're coming to YA in Bloom, you can see the poster in person.

12 June, 2011

The Crossroads - Review

The Crossroads by Chris Grabenstein
Publication date: 27 May 2008 by Random House
ISBN 10/13:  0375846972 | 9780375846977

Category: Middle Grade Contemporary Mystery
Format: Paperback (also available in hadcover, eBook, and audio)
Keywords: Ghosts, step-family, friendship

Kimberly's review:

Humorous, fun-filled writing is abundant in the novel The Crossroads, while still dealing with some serious topics. Zack, our new boy in town, is suspicious about that old tree that stands at the corner of the intersection in his large backyard. Mysterious things have been happening... Zack and his best friend Davy, who talks charmingly as a boy from Kentucky, investigate to find out why.

Meanwhile,step-mom Judy is also investigating and trying to find her footing in this new family. Well done Mr. Grabenstein for creating her--a smart, funny, sweet woman who is NOT an evil step-mom, and for allowing Zack's recently deceased real mom to be the dark baggage the main character has to deal with. Refreshing!

Why does the old tree look so evil? Why is the cross there? What does this have to do with clocks and the 1950s? And who is that crazy old lady?

The mystery unfolds delicately, and every time new information is given, I yelled, A-HA! (perhaps not aloud but you know what I mean) thinking I knew where this was going. But after reading further down the line, I realized no, I did not see that coming. And Grabenstein does a great job keeping the reader guessing.

The surprises and revelations keep coming all the way to the end of the book. I was surprised by how much I liked this well thought out ghost story, and how well it was done. I'll be reading the rest of the series.

Visit the author online at www.chrisgrabenstein.com.

10 June, 2011

As You Wish - Review

As You Wish by Jackson Pearce
Publication date: 1 September 2009 by HarperTeen
ISBN 10/13:   006166152X  |  9780061661525

Category: Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy
Format: Paperback (Also available in hardcover & eBook)
Keywords: Fantasy, romance

Kimberly's Review: 

After reading Sisters Red and Sweetly, and loving both, I hitched a ride in my time machine, or maybe it was just to my local library, and went back to As You Wish, the first novel by Jackson Pearce.

Viola, a somewhat flimsy, sad teenager, used to have friends, used to be popular. After getting her heart broken by her best friend, she retreats into being a wallflower art student who feels so detached from the world; her wish to belong is so strong, it calls forth a genie, Jinn. Viola now gets three wishes, but as you can imagine, what you think will make you happy, rarely does and as she gets closer and closer to using up her wishes, she realizes that once the wishes are gone, so is Jinn and any memory of him.

Jinn is by far the more interesting of these characters. He's a genie who exists in a magical place, only to be called forth by humans to grant their wishes. It's fun to watch Jinn's transformation from genie who just wants to go home and why won't this human make her stupid wishes already, to Jinn, a sweet boy who may have made some friends, and found what he has been missing for so long. His narration is strong and his journey seems natural. He's by far my favorite.

Viola's narration is different from Jinn's. Although you have to feel for the girl, there's only so long I can read about her wallowing in self pity. And as the wishes go crazy, Viola grows into herself. I would have liked to see the character mature even more as she didn't quite redeem herself to me by the end. Lawrence is the best friend, former boyfriend and he is a nice change from Viola. His relationship with Jinn gives the world an added layer.

A quick fun read, and it's interesting to see how Pearce's writing has progressed. While I might have enjoyed Sisters Red and Sweetly more, Pearce keeps getting better and better. I am excited to read more.

Visit the author online at http://www.jacksonpearce.com and follow @jacksonpearce on Twitter.

YA Saves - Still Going

Sherman Alexie, in his #YASaves article for Wall Street Journal, writes:

Two years ago, I met a young man attending one of the most elite private high schools in the country. He quietly spoke to me of his agony. What kind of pain could a millionaire’s child be suffering? He hadn’t been physically or sexually abused. He hadn’t ever been hungry. He’d never seen one person strike another in anger. He’d never even been to a funeral. So what was his problem? 
 “I want to be a writer,” he said. “But my father won’t let me. He wants me to be a soldier. Like he was.”

He was seventeen and destined to join the military. Yes, he was old enough to die and kill for his country. And old enough to experience the infinite horrors of war. But according to Ms. Gurdon, he might be too young to read a YA novel that vividly portrays those very same horrors.

"Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood"

I can't quote the whole thing and have it still be quotation. So just go read it. I'm going to write to Mr. Alexie soon (just ordered his YA novel, too)... what a writer.

He says what I was trying to say last week. Books to me are the sword in the darkness. Reading is my weapon of choice to defend myself from the awful things in the world which would hurt me and cut me down. I really hope the misguided article by Meghan Cox Gurdon that started this whole brouhaha will have the opposite effect and get people--teens and adults alike--reading more of the dark materials.

07 June, 2011

A Song of Ice & Fire - Week 1 Podcast

Leading up to the July 12 release of A Dance with Dragons, we will be doing a weekly podcast exploring and discusses the series A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R. R. Martin.

Podcast Powered By Podbean

Special guest Roxana discusses George R. R. Martin's series A Song of Ice & Fire. Click on the widget above to play the podcast. You can also subscribe to our podcasts on iTunes. (You may have to refresh iTunes to see the latest podcast.)

I know it sounds a little contradictory at first--we say we discuss mature subjects but also recommend the book to teens... it'll make sense, or maybe not. We tend to ramble.

You can visit the author at www.georgerrmartin.com.

We talk about this poem from A Game of Thrones which we don't read aloud during the podcast because we'll both tear up and cry, so here it is:

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. 

It shall not end until my death... 

I shall live and die at my post. 

I am the sword in the darkness. 

I am the watcher on the walls. 

I am the fire that burns against the cold, 

the light that brings the dawn, 

the horn that wakes the sleepers, 

The shield that guards the realms of men. 

I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.

~ "The Vows of the Night Watch", George R. R. Martin

intro/outro is "Winter." by Entertainment for the Braindead from the Free Music Archive.

05 June, 2011

Live to Read, Read to Live (YA Saves)

The YA litosphere is exploding over a Wall Street Journal article which criticizes contemporary YA for being too dark. As an advocate for young adult literature it riles me no end when people describe YA as too light or too heavy. Make up your minds, people! For that matter, read some of the books. I made a handy-dandy Goodreads list for your perusal.

YA superheroes Maureen Johnson and Libba Bray started tweeting the hashtag #YAsaves, which became the #3 trend in the world in about 30 minutes. Small wonder. Whether you grew up with YA books or not (I didn't, in fact), you probably grew up with a real life. I did.

Zombies aren't the
only living dead.
This book gives
hope and strength to
those living in the dark.
I know my parents love me and would, even now, wish to protect me from all the bad things in the world, but though I know they tried, they didn't. I was sexually abused as a small child (by a "family friend"). Early in childhood it was easy for my mind to block out the memories; but as they began to resurface later (I was about 10) I became--strange. 

There was a general feeling of wrongness, but I couldn't understand what exactly was wrong. I drew inward socially. Was it my fault? I knew for sure "he" was guilty, but I couldn't help but feel like it was my fault too, for being too weak and stupid to do something about it, at the ripe old age of 4 or 5. And as far as I knew, you didn't talk about those things. So I didn't tell my parents. I felt like a sinner. I felt like dying. I was angry at God for not protecting me. So much for the all-powerful.

I read books. Lots of books. We couldn't always afford to buy them, so I borrowed whatever I could from the library, and kind neighbors: books about dragons, and murder, and other worlds. They didn't relate to my real life, but they did help to keep my mind off it. I stayed away from boys.

I read about a kid who lived in the subway, and one who lived in secrecy and fear. I read about sex. They were great books, but there was still something missing--something unrelatable. I could comprehend the literature, but they seemed so far removed. I could understand them; but try as I might, I couldn't understand me.

Yelena from
Maria V. Snyder's
Poison Study
rose out of the
darkness and
gave me hope. 
I love books about fighters. Especially girls who brook no nonsense. Books did give me a little understanding of life and its harshness. I read some more. Over the years I became a little braver. I opened up to people and asked for help. I reached out beyond my books and found friends, support, and love. After many years, I thought to myself, finally, I'm ok.

It wasn't until I read Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott that I felt something click into place inside me--an understanding that I was not alone, and that it's not about what happened to me--it's about what I did after. And what I didn't do. And what I will keep on doing.

That was in 2009. After 27 years of silence, I finally told my parents. And I finally felt free.

I like to think that contemporary YA fiction could have sped up the healing process a little. The truth is, we're ready when we're ready. There's no forcing it. But YA helps.

Read author Laurie Halse
Anderson's blog post on
"Darkness Too Visible"
I read books about annihilation, oppression, and despair. I read about young people thrown into impossible situations. They are outcasts with low self-esteem, no supportive family, and loads of uncertainty. I cheer for them when they find hope and the strength to break free. I draw strength from them and hope I'm not the only one. I work to spread the word about these books so that somewhere, some poor kid who's being beaten, or abused, or whose life is going down the drain can stop, read, and think about what it means to be alive. Think about who's controlling their life--who's in charge here, anyway? Isn't that what learning to become an adult is? Responsibility, self-awareness, and self-control... These aren't things we learn in books where everything is fine. We don't learn to be sensitive to other people's pain, or our own, by reading happy fluff. Fluff is for people who have never been poor, or lonely, or hurt--or for people who want to pretend those things don't exist. 

YA literature helps young people connect the dots--draw conclusions between fiction and real life--reveals information and perspectives to help them navigate the dangerous outside world, and the even more treacherous terrain of their hearts and minds.

 You can't tell me it's not worth reading or writing it, or that kids should somehow be sheltered from it, because YA saved me.

If it saved you, leave a link--I'd like to know how.

You can use this image to link back, if you like. (Image by Kudryashka, license purchased from Veer.) Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for letting me know about the article. 

If you come across any author posts too, they can go in the Linky. You can grab the script below.

<script src="http://www.blenza.com/linkies/autolink.php?owner=frootjoos&postid=05Jun2011" type="text/javascript"></script>

03 June, 2011

The Goddess Test - Review

The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter
Publication date: 19 April 2011 by Harlequin Teen
ISBN 10/13: 0373210264 | 9780373210268

Category: Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy
Format: Paperback
Keywords: Mythology, Mystery, Romance

Alethea's review: 

I love mythology and was really excited to read this debut novel, but the excitement lasted about 60 pages or so before I started skimming. It's not that the story is not intriguing--it's a modernized retelling of the myth of Persephone--and the premise, tagline ("Become immortal or die trying"), and cover (GORGEOUS! I might buy a copy just to have the outsides, though I didn't like the insides!) work together to really sell The Goddess Test as hot, lush, and un-put-downable.

Well, I'm sad to say I put it down at some critical moments. I actually stopped reading in the middle of a sentence as the plot finally hit its climax--and went to do some chores! It wasn't until I got halfway through a sinkful of dishes that I realized that I'd left Kate in the middle of a major life-and-death emergency. (Ugh, and I just had to go look up the protagonist's name, because I forgot it in the two days since I read the book. Whoops.)

Henry, who you figure out pretty quickly is Hades, god of the Underworld, is... very typically Hades, quiet, reserved, and cold. In fact, it's hard for me to swallow the few times he becomes decidedly un-Hades-like. The setup of the plot to make Kate his wife (if she passes seven tests and earns the chance to become immortal) is much too conveniently contrived and it was really difficult for me to read when I was rolling my eyes so much. *eyeroll*

However! I didn't completely dislike the book. There are some fairly redeeming things that will probably bring me back to read the sequel, Goddess Interrupted, which is due out next February. Kate makes an unlikely friend in Ava, a girl at her school who is totally not her kind of girl--head cheerleader, super-pretty and popular, and who begins their relationship by pulling a nasty--and fatal!--prank on the new girl in town. But she overcomes that difference between them, which I thought was really kind of a good message.

Ok, I know I said some in the last paragraph, which implies there are more than one redeeming things but I can't think of any right now. I *do* believe that some reluctant readers will be drawn in, as I was, by the lovely cover, the cool tagline, and the Greek/Roman mythology theme--and that's not a bad thing. They can find it entertaining and even learn something about mythology in the process; Aimee Carter does a pretty good job of manipulating it to tell her story. I just wish the writing had been a little more balanced; I felt like the beginning and end were good but the middle sagged like a damp toga and took all the fun out of my reading.

Oh, and if HarlequinTeen ever decides to do merchandise with the cover art--I am SO there. Put me down for a Goddess Test t-shirt in Medium, please.

Visit the author online at http://www.aimeecarter.com, on Facebook, and Twitter @aimee_carter

We received the ARC for review from the publisher through Netgalley.

Want to read a review from the perspective of someone who liked this book? Check out Beth's review over at Points West.

Comments? What do you think? Is this something you would read? If you've already read it, put in your two cents... (no spoilers, please!)

Audio: You can listen to this review below.

Podcast Powered By Podbean
Intro/outro music is "mont" by Gablé (Free Music Archive).

01 June, 2011

The Magnolia League - Review

The Magnolia League by Katie Crouch
Publication Date: 3 May 2011 by Poppy
ISBN 10/13: 0316078492 | 9780316078498

Category: Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy
Format: Hardcover
Keywords: Suspense, intrigue, romance

Thuy's review (spoilers are hidden):

After the sudden death of her mother, Alex is forced to leave the free spirited commune where she's spent most of her life to live with her very traditional and very southern grandmother in Savannah, Georgia. Alex is like a fish out of water in Savannah. She doesn't fit in with the pretty, superficial girls her age and she certainly has nothing in common with her grandmother.

Alex's grandmother, Miss Lee, is the head of a social group called The Magnolia League. The group elicits both fear and awe in town. Alex initially rebels at the idea of the League but hangs out with a couple of the girls in the League in order to appease her grandmother and alleviate some of her boredom. It's quickly apparent however that things are not what they seem and that there are secrets in the League--secrets that go back many years and may have had something to do with Alex's mother's death.

The books starts of pretty strong. Alex is an independent you woman who is afraid to be herself. She has the same insecurities that most young women have (am I fat, do boys like me, etc.) but in general she comes off as a confident individual. Her two friends, Hayes and Madison are interesting as well. They can be catty and mean but, at the same time, you can see the beginnings of friendship forming and some of the dialogue is truly funny.

Crouch's descriptions of Savannah are also very good, providing a moody atmosphere rich with history in which to lay out her story. Alex is a smart person and she soon figures out that something fishy is going on with members of The Magnolia League. Her grandmother and all of the other women seem unnaturally young and she becomes friends with Sam Buzzard, who seems to know something about her mother and her family.

SPOILERS BELOW! Select the text to read it. 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Then comes the big reveal in which the League performs a spell on Alex in order to get her to stop pining for her lame ex-boyfriend back in California. After that, the cat's out of the bag and Alex finds out that the League has made a pact with the Buzzards to keep them in spells that provide youth, power, money and whatever else the members wish for. Alex dives into this world quickly, not asking too many questions. Her insecurities get the better of her and she signs up for a spell that makes her thin along with skin and hair spells. Before you know it, Alex is a size 0 and is one of the most popular girls in school.

It's around this point that the book goes a little downhill for me. I just expected a bit more from Alex. She becomes everything she didn't like about the Magnolia League. The independent young woman from the commune is replaced someone I am not sure I like. Pieces of the old Alex are still there but they're being overshadowed by the new Alex, and she ends up doing something she swore she would never do. 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

At the end of the book, we do see the spark of the old Alex come back. The ending does seem somewhat abrupt though. Everything seems to happen in the last ten pages and then sets itself up for a sequel. I am definitely interested in seeing where the story goes though. Will Alex live up to her potential and break the curse of the Magnolia League? Guess we'll have to wait and see.

Visit the author online at http://www.katiecrouch.com, on Facebook, and Twitter @ktcrouch

We received the ARC for review at ALA Midwinter 2011.

Comments? What do you think? Is this something you would read? If you've already read it, put in your two cents... (no spoilers, please!)

Radiant Shadows Giveaway

Congratulations to Melissa S. of My Chaotic Ramblings!

She won a hardcover copy of  Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr! Thanks to I am a Reader, Not a Writer and PageTurners for hosting the Splash into Summer Blog Hop.

If you missed any of the Wicked Lovely Week posts, check them out below! Hello and thank you to all of our new followers; we hope you'll enjoy what we have to offer!

Howdy! Kimberly ended up reading a whole bunch of Melissa Marr books recently, so we present an impromptu Wicked Lovely Week. Shortlink to the main post: http://bit.ly/w1ck3dwk

Tuesday 5/24 - Wicked Lovely - review by Kimberly

Thursday 5/26 - Ink Exchange - review by Kimberly

Friday 5/27 - Fragile Eternity - review by Kimberly

Saturday 5/28 - Radiant Shadows - review by Alethea

Sunday 5/29 - Darkest Mercy - podcast with special guest Kate G.

Monday 5/30 - Graveminder - review by Jessica from Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile

Tuesday 5/31 - last chance to enter to win Radiant Shadows - giveaway