Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
September 13, 2011; Doubleday


Summary

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

The Night Circus is a book about a circus. Way to state the obvious, right? But if you pick up this book based on the synopsis online or on the cover flap, you won't realize this. The official blurb made me expect an epic romance centered on two characters with a fast moving plot all culminating in love happily ever after. Somewhat like Water For Elephants. That is not The Night Circus. So what is it about? The Night Circus is a book with an ensemble of actors who are each essential cogs in an unusual machine. There is only one star: the circus itself.

Go into The Night Circus expecting a beautiful, but somewhat slow read. The book spans decades and switches back and forth between plotlines and time periods. It's rather confusing at first (scratch that - it's very confusing at first). This was initially a criticism, but the more and more I think about the book, the slight disorientation that you get from the alternating time periods and stories only adds to the mystery and wonderment of the novel. It is set mainly in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but it could have been set in any time period.

The descriptions of the circus are incredible. The Night Circus is a magical circus - it couldn't happen in real life - but the closest thing I can compare it to is Cirque du Soleil. Interspersed between plot focused chapters are small sections describing various aspects of the circus, each written with dark beauty. It feels like you are meandering through the circus as you progress through the novel. Erin Morgenstern must have written this novel with a paintbrush. I could see, smell, and taste the circus. It was enchanting. I wanted to lean into the book in hopes that I could be sucked into the pages. You must read this book simply for the description of that circus.

The various plotlines are hard to piece together at first, but coalesced about halfway through the book as I understood where the story was likely to go and just how the alternating time periods worked. The circus was created as a test for Celia and Marco, highly talented wizards who are pawns in a great chess game devised by their masters. But they love the circus and its people and are not content to merely be the players in the game. They seek to master the circus and protect it. As the synopsis emphasizes, they do fall in love, but theirs is a subtle relationship. It's not the most important part of the story.

The stories of the supporting characters are as interesting and as important to the story as that of Celia and Marco. My favorite were the twins, Widget and Poppet, who were raised in the circus and perform an amazing show with trained kittens. Plus, I loved Bailey, a Massachusetts farm boy who longs for something more than sheep and cows and cannot keep himself away from the circus. The Night Circus switches back and forth between probably a dozen subplots. It is confusing and it is slow, but it is also complex and beautiful and fulfilling.

The Night Circus is a fine wine. Enigmatic, complicated, and full of subtle flavors that only reveal themselves over time. If you chug it down, it will be boring and flat, but if you sip it slowly and savor it, the book will unfold into a thousand layers, each more fascinating than the last. It is the type of book that you like better a month after you read it than when you finished the final page. The magic only grows.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Monday, January 30, 2012

Manga Mondays Meme (87): Dengeki Daisy vol. 3 by Kyousuke Motomi

New Manga Mondays Meme!

I've been doing Manga Mondays every week since I started my blog 18 months ago. It's always been a personal feature, but now I'm going to try turning it into a meme. There are quite a few people who do Manga Mondays. I don't claim by any means that I owned or created the idea of Manga Mondays - it's an obvious choice given the alliteration. I think a meme would be a good way for everyone to publicize their own Manga Mondays and get a little more publicity.

The linky will be below my review.

Dengeki Daisy vol. 3 by Kyousuke Motomi


*I've already read and reviewed Volume 4 and Volume 5. I realized that I forgot to post Volume 3.

Summary

Teru decides to move out of Kurosaki’s apartment, but she wonders if Kurosaki is actually relieved that she’s leaving. As she settles in at her new place, trouble comes knocking when an old business acquaintance of her brother’s appears…(courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

*Warning: Potential spoilers. My manga reviews tend to be more of a summary than a review. I find it hard to review manga in the same way I do regular books.

The third volume of Dengeki Daisy moves the plot along, but isn't one of my favorites. The book begins with Teru preparing to move out of Kurosaki's apartment. She's moving in with her school counselor, an old friend of Kurosaki and Teru's deceased brother.

At a basic level, this volume is more of the same. Kurosaki behaving like a jerk toward Teru and Teru confiding all her hopes and fears in Daisy. We have a brief moment where Teru is in danger from one of her brother's former colleagues. He kidnaps her to a local restaurant to eat cheesecake and to try to steal the information off her cell phone. When he discovers there's nothing on the cell phone and Teru calls him out, he turns into a quasi-good guy and promises to leave Teru alone. Kind of cheesy.

Best lines of the book: Riko tells Kurosaki about their new apartment, "It's not like it's a few minutes by car or something from your place." Turns out it's the apartment next door. Kurosaki asks her "Why did you lie?" And Riko responds, "I didn't lie. We're not a few minutes by car from your place. It's more like two seconds on foot."

There aren't nearly enough passionate scenes between Kurosaki and Teru in this volume. That's the best part about the series - the way Motomi manages to convey love, heartache, and longing in a single drawing. But on the bright side, Teru finally seems to have figured out who Daisy is. Now that she's pretty sure Kurosaki is Daisy, I'm curious to see where their relationship goes in future volumes.

Sign up for the Manga Mondays Meme!


Saturday, January 28, 2012

In My Mailbox #64

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

I'm Alison (on the off chance you couldn't guess that from the name of my blog). I review Young Adult novels with a few Middle Grade books and a weekly manga feature.

Review


To Kill A Mockingbird Blu-Ray/DVD: 50th Anniversary Edition
*So excited to watch this! Thanks to Thinkjam!
*Check out my GIVEAWAY to win a copy of the Blu-Ray/DVD



Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta
*Sequel to Finnikin of the Rock, which I loved. Thanks to Netgalley.


Library Stash


The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
*Already finished this. Absolutely adored it!!!! A must read.



Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini



The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Friday, January 27, 2012

Character Interview and GIVEAWAY!: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth February 7, 2012; Balzer + Bray

Summary

When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief she’ll never have to tell them that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.

But that relief soon turns to heartbreak, as Cam is forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and not making waves, and Cam becomes an expert at this—especially at avoiding any questions about her sexuality.

Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. To Cam’s surprise, she and Coley become best friends—while Cam secretly dreams of something more. Just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, her secret is exposed. Ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to “fix” her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self—even if she’s not quite sure who that is.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a stunning and unforgettable literary debut about discovering who you are and finding the courage to live life according to your own rules. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Please welcome Jane Fonda of The Miseducation of Cameron Post to Alison Can Read!

1. What were the first things you thought about Adam and Cameron?

The very first thing I noticed about Adam was his astounding physical beauty. Really. I think the word I might use is luminous. Adam has luminous physical beauty of the androgynous variety. Sometimes he appears very masculine, other times more feminine, but most of the time its just this incredibly luminous combination of the two. So, given that his beauty is the first thing I noticed, the first thing I actually thought about him was probably, “Woah, this cat is astoundingly beautiful.” Followed quickly by, “I hope that doesn’t make him a total asshole.”

The very first thing I noticed about Cam was how uncomfortable she looked. I mean, she and her Aunt Ruth were just pulling up to the parking lot and I was watching them through the windshield, and once I officially met Ruth I better understood Cam’s discomfort--they had just traveled most of the way across the state of Montana together in a car, after all, and that would have made me pretty uncomfortable, too. Also, Cam wasn’t any too happy about actually coming to Promise, and I could read that all over her. But I could also tell, even in our first interaction, that I was going to like her. She wasn’t stuck up. She wasn’t an idiot. And, best of all, I sensed early on just how little value she put in a place like God’s Promise. That was important. I also thought, even right off the bat, that she seemed maybe a little shellshocked. The specifics of all of that—the business with Coley and everything—took awhile to get at. Cam’s a real pro at getting you to drop subjects she’s not interested in talking about. It’s a kind of gift, I guess.

2. If you met the real Jane Fonda, what would you ask her?

Geeze: what wouldn’t I ask her? For sure I’d want to know all about working with Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin 9-5. I mean, Dolly Parton AND Lily Tomlin: amazing! And that movie is so funny, their scenes together are all so well done, especially the pot smoking scene (or the “Maui-wowee” smoking scene, to quote the movie). But, since she’d probably get annoyed pretty fast that I could only reference one movie out of so many in her career, I’d also ask her these questions.

1. Tell me about working with Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond. What was she like on set?

2. If you had it to do over again would you still launch your line of aerobics videos?

3. I was named after you, sort of, mostly. What do you make of that?

3. Describe an instance where you drove God’s Promise counselor Lydia crazy during a session - group or individual?

The unfortunate thing about Lydia—if you’re actively trying to get a rise out of her, anyway—is that she almost never takes the bait. She just won’t do it. She can be rather annoyingly, persistently, unflappable. I tried all sorts of things in one on one sessions with her. I’d talk about Pat and Candace—a lesbian couple from back on the commune in Idaho—and how strong a relationship they had, what an amazing couple they were, and she’d just ask me to stop sharing details, or she’d twist what I’d said into my own inability to understand and recognize truly “Godly romantic relationships” because of my “same-sex-attraction- disorder.” Lydia was however, somewhat easily bothered (for Lydia) by anything to do with my prosthesis, especially if it made noise when I walked or if I was touching it at its socket or whatever. So sometimes I would do that, just to watch her inwardly shudder a bit and try to control that or pretend like it wasn’t happening. But I didn’t want her, of course—for reasons you already know about—to consider my leg all too carefully, given what was hidden there, so I didn’t call her attention to it with much frequency.

4. If you weren't at Promise, what would you be doing?

Traveling, indubitably. Taking many photographs along the way. Meeting people, hearing their stories. Hanging out, hooking up, breaking up, forgetting myself in a completely different way than you do at God’s Promise. Cooking recipes that don’t call for cream of mushroom or celery or chicken soup (and that don’t have to feed 20+). Dancing. Drinking. Smoking. Gardening. Cultivating. Making art. Making friends. Making enemies. Making my way in the world. Learning to write in calligraphy. Learning to use a printing press. Learning to tie more knots than I know now. Oooh: maybe learning to sail. Falling in and out of love and repeat and repeat and repeat.

5. Name one instance (aside from being an excellent pot holder) where having a prosthetic leg has come in handy.

Hahahaha—pot holder. Very funny. That’s an excellent double entendre if ever I’ve come across one. Well, this leg has given me a very nuanced appreciation of Flannery O’Connor’s wonderful short story “Good Country People.” How’s that? (If you’ve not yet read that story maybe now you will). Also, I think it’s actually made me more sure of myself and my own strength. You might think it would make me less sure, but I’d say it actually works in the opposite way most of the time.


GIVEAWAY!


Leave your e-mail address for a chance to win a SWAG PACK filled with a signed bookmark, stickers, and pencils!

Fine Print

-Contest ends February 3 at 10 PM PST
-Winners will be chosen at random through Random.org
-U.S. only
-You must be 13 years or older
-Alison Can Read is not responsible for items lost or damaged in shipping.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday #81

Welcome to the Feature & Follow


Gain new followers and make new friends with the Book Blogger Feature & Follow! If this is your first time here, welcome! You are about to make some new friends and gain new followers -- but you have to know -- the point of this hop is to follow other bloggers also. I follow you, you follow me.

The Feature & Follow is hosted by TWO hosts, Parajunkee of Parajunkee's View and Alison of Alison Can Read. Each host will have their own Feature Blog and this way it'll allow us to show off more new blogs!

How does this work? First you leave your name here on this post, (using the linky tools -- keep scrolling!) then you create a post on your own blog that links back to this post (easiest way is to just grab the code under the #FF picture and put it in your post) and then you visit as many blogs as you can and tell them "hi" in their comments (on the post that has the #FF image). You follow them, they follow you. Win. Win. Just make sure to follow back if someone follows you!

What sets this Hop apart from others, is our Feature. Each week we will showcase a Featured Blogger, from all different genres and areas. Who is our Feature today? Find out below. Just remember it is required, if you participate, to follow our Features and you must follow the hosts (Parajunkee & Alison Can Read) as a courtesy. How do you follow someone? Well, if you have a preference, state it in your #FF post. A lot of blogs are transitioning to Wordpress in which they do not have the luxury of GFC, so an RSS subscription is appreciated or if you choose an email subscription. If you don't have GFC please state in your post how you would like to be followed.


Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon

Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon
October 4, 2011; HarperTeen

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Summary

From the moment she sets foot at her new school in Ireland, Megan is inexplicably drawn to the darkly handsome Adam DeRis. But Megan soon discovers that her feelings for Adam are tied to a supernatural fate that was sealed long ago—and that the passion and power that unites them could be their ultimate destruction. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Carrier of the Mark is two books in my mind: pre-paranormal and post-paranormal. The beginning of the book was weak, but it grew stronger and far more enjoyable as it went on.

Pre-Paranormal:

Think Twilight in Ireland. Given my affinity for Twilight, I am pretty generous with books that share themes and character profiles with Twilight. But Carrier of the Mark is so blatantly similar to Twilight that even I was rolling my eyes. You have the new girl with a single dad (mom is dead here though) who meets a handsome, mysterious guy. The guy is intrigued by her but also cold and rude. His siblings also treat her strangely. There's even a scene in biology class. Then everything turns and it's INSTA-LOVE!

Post-Paranormal:

The book becomes much more interesting once the paranormal element was introduced. I had no idea what the paranormal twist was from the summary of the book. It was something I haven't read in any other book. Very interesting. There were many Celtic (or Gaelic, I'm not sure) influences.

I liked that Megan wasn't just a weak human who fell in love with a paranormal creature. Unlike Bella, Megan is equally powerful to Adam. I enjoyed reading how all the different abilities interacted with each other.

One Twilight similarity that remains throughout the book is the family element. Adam is very close to his siblings Aine and Rian. Aine is sweet and Alice-like perky. Rian is darker and more cautious. They also have a father figure in Fionn who they care for deeply. The strong set of family characters is a feature that never gets old for me. The different characters was one of the strongest parts of the book. I particularly found Fionn's story tragically compelling. Outside of the DeRis family, Megan's friend Caitlin is a fabulous side-kick character. She has a stronger personality than most best friend characters.

The plot moves very quickly. It's split into the danger element and the romantic conflict. While I'm not an insta-love fan, I couldn't help but be carried away by Adam and worried over the obstacle preventing their everlasting happiness. The plot goes from build-up to major dangerous action very quickly. Too quickly perhaps, but it definitely kept me reading.

Carrier of the Mark borrows too heavily from standard paranormal themes, but it has enough individuality to fascinate the paranormal love. It's a good first novel and I'm curious to see where the series goes.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Giveaway: To Kill A Mockingbird Blu-Ray!

Win a Blu-ray copy of To Kill A Mockingbird 50th Anniversary Edition

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: Top Ten American Classics of Our Time

Digitally Remastered and Fully Restored with Over Three Hours of Bonus Materials Including Two Full­Length Documentaries


On Limited Edition Collector’s Series Blu-ray™ Combo Pack,

Blu-ray™ Combo Pack and DVD

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, one of the screen’s most beloved and critically acclaimed films, celebrates its 50th anniversary with a commemorative Limited Edition Collector’s Series Blu-ray™ Combo Pack as well as on Blu-ray™ Combo Pack and DVD from Universal Studios Home Entertainment on January 31, 2012. The powerful and poignant adaptation of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel hits the half-century mark, digitally remastered and fully restored from high resolution 35MM original film elements, plus more than three-and-a-half hours of bonus features chronicling the making of the cinematic masterpiece.

Unquestionably an American classic, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is one of the most beloved films and novels of our time. In honor of its release on Blu-ray on January 31, we will take a look back at other classic books and movies that have helped define our nation over the last century.


THE GREAT GATSBY (1925)

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Set on Long Island’s North Shore and in New York City during the Roaring Twenties, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is often cited as one of the best novels of the 20th century. The novel has spawned seven film adaptations, numerous book and graphic novel interpretations, stage productions, a BBC radio special, computer games and even an opera.

THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)

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Based on the 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1939’s The Wizard of Oz is adored by both children and adults the world over. This film is unique due to its early use of Technicolor, special effects, and bizarre characters, sets, costumes and makeup. Despite all of the love the film receives now, it was initially a financial failure, but rereleases have more than made up for its early disappointment.


THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1939)

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John Steinbeck’s amazing novel The Grapes of Wrath won the Pulitzer Prize in 140, as well as the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. The novel is set during the Great Depression and focuses on a family trying to escape their bleak life in the wake of the Dust Bowl. This classic American novel has been the inspiration for a great film of the same name, a play, an opera and a song by Bruce Springsteen.

CITIZEN KANE (1941)

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Starring and directed by Orson Welles, Citizen Kane is considered by many to be the absolute greatest American film ever made. The film is loosely based on the lives of both William Randolph Hearst and Welles himself. Citizen Kane is noted for its innovative cinematography and unique narrative structure, and was nominated for nine Academy Awards.


THE CATCHER IN THE RYE (1951)

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J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye has become incredibly popular with teenagers over the past 60 years. The book focuses on angst, alienation and rebellion, and some of the content, like its use of profanity and sexuality, have made it frequently challenged and sometime banned by different governments. This novel has also been famously linked to numerous murders and crimes, most notably that of John Lennon by Mark David Chapman.


TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)

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The 1962 film adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird is often cited as one of the greatest films ever made. This film’s impact on American cinema is widespread, and it has received many honors over the past 50 years, including being preserved in the National Film Registry and winning three Academy Awards. Atticus Finch has often been cited as one of the greatest movie heroes, and Gregory Peck’s performance is widely considered to be one of the great performances in American film history.

IN COLD BLOOD (1966)

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Truman Capote’s 1966 novel In Cold Blood detailed the 1959 murders of a Kansas farmer, his wife, and two of their children. This non-fiction work took Capote six years of work, researching the family, their community and their killers, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, with his childhood friend (and author of To Kill a Mockingbird), Harper Lee. At the time, the book became the best selling crime novel.

THE GODFATHER (1972)

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Based on a 1969 novel of the same name, 1972’s The Godfather is an epic American crime film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The film won three Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Best Picture and helped revitalize Brando’s career. This stunning film also starred film greats Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton.


BELOVED (1987)

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Set after the Civil War, Toni Morrison’s breathtaking 1987 novel Beloved is the story of an American slave who escaped slavery by fleeing to a free state with her children. After killing one of her children rather than sending her back into slavery, the woman and her family are haunted by the presence of the child’s ghost. Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988, and was adapted into a film staring Oprah Winfrey in 1998.

SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)

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1993’s Schindler’s List is a film about a German businessman who saved the lives of thousands of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. The film, directed by Steve Spielberg, won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Schindler’s List stars Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes.

Giveaway!


For your chance to win a copy of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION, simply leave a comment with your e-mail address and the answer to the following question:

To Kill a Mockingbird was written by which Pulitzer-Prize-winning American Author?

-Harper Lee

-Alice Adams

-Isabel Wilkerson

Fine Print

-Contest ends February 8 at 10 PM PST
-Winners will be chosen at random through Random.org
-U.S./Canada only
-You must be 13 years or older
-Alison Can Read is not responsible for items lost or damaged in shipping.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally
December 1, 2011; Sourcebooks Fire


Summary

What girl doesn't want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn't just surrounded by hot guys, though - she leads them as the captain and quarterback on her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys, and that's just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university. But now there's a new guy in town who threatens her starring position on the team... and has her suddenly wishing to be seen as more than just a teammate.(courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

The first few lines of a book are sometimes indicative of whether I'll like the entire book. Most often, the first paragraph is blase - I neither like nor dislike it - I keep reading until the story gets interesting. But occasionally, the first few lines of a book catch you in that indescribable, magical way. The feeling is something akin to neon blinking lights screaming "This book is going to be awesome!" That was my immediate reaction to Catching Jordan. Something about the writing and Jordan as a character immediately spoke to me and carried throughout the entire book.

Jordan is one of the guys. All her friends are guys. She has a brother who she idolizes. The only female influence in her life is her mom, whose attempts at feminizing Jordan are brushed off. Jordan is definitely a unique female YA character. She holds her own in the guy conversations. She laughs off statements that most girls would find insulting or disgusting. She can throw insults as well as she can take them. I've never met or read a character quite like Jordan, yet she felt entirely real and sympathetic.

For all of Jordan's knowledge about guys, she is a late bloomer when it comes to romance. Until new guy Ty moves to town, romance hasn't been on her radar. Pretty soon, all she can think about is handsome Ty. Not only that, but Jordan is entirely blind to the fact that her best friend Henry is in love with her. It is obvious to everyone else, including the reader. It is both frustrating and fun to watch Jordan flounder her way through the sea of boy-girl interaction when she has successfully waded through it for most of her life. On the bright side, I loved that Jordan did not entirely lose her tough exterior once the romance got rolling. Jordan may be as insecure as any other teenage girl when it comes to relationships, but she knows who she is and won't let anyone tell her what to do.

Catching Jordan has one of the best depictions of guy friendships that I've ever read. Dialogue is a prominent feature of this novel. Much of the character development and plot is displayed through conversations between Jordan and her friends. Guys talking nothing like girls, but their conversations are, in some ways, the same. Miranda did a wonderful job of showing how guys joke around constantly, yet occasionally manage to work in a sensitive, emotional comment. There's no angst here. The dialogue was a realistic portrayal of boys' display friendship, anger, sadness, and even love in the "show emotion without actually showing emotion" way of men.

I loved the strong presence of Jordan's family in the novel: her mother, father, and brother. Her mother is a somewhat flat character who supports Jordan and pushes her to be more feminine. Her brother is a fabulous guy. A star college football player who protects and befriends his kid sister. Jordan's relationship with her dad is the most significant subplot. He hates the fact that she plays football and won't even watch her games. As a famous pro football player, he understands the risks that Jordan is taking by playing football. But he fails to recognize that Jordan also understands and accepts these risks.

Slight spoiler alert: I did have one big problem with the book - the role sex played. I did not like the fact that Ty and Jordan have sex at the start of their relationship - I like you, you like me, let's have sex - now we're boyfriend/girlfriend. If the characters were in their 20s, I would find casual sex more realistic, but this seemed like a bit of a stretch. Perhaps I'm too old fashioned, but I don't think that many teenage girls - tomboys or not - would lose their virginity to a guy they like but are not yet dating. Your "first time" is supposed to be special. Major spoiler alert (highlight text to read): When Jordan gets with Henry at the end, you'll notice that she doesn't leap to have sex with him. Clearly symbolizing that her relationship with Ty was just physical while her relationship with Henry is "real."

In almost every way, Catching Jordan was a refreshing burst of light in a field of tired contemporary fiction novels. A one-of-a-kind main character that you can't help love, a sweet romance, great examples of friendship, and a prominent family subplot. I highly recommend Catching Jordan.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, January 23, 2012

Manga Mondays Meme (86): Recommend Contemporary Manga Series

New Manga Mondays Meme!

I've been doing Manga Mondays every week since I started my blog 18 months ago. It's always been a personal feature, but now I'm going to try turning it into a meme. There are quite a few people who do Manga Mondays. I don't claim by any means that I owned or created the idea of Manga Mondays - it's an obvious choice given the alliteration. I think a meme would be a good way for everyone to publicize their own Manga Mondays and get a little more publicity.

The linky will be below my review.

Needed: Good Contemporary Manga Series


Shoujo Manga is filled with fantasy and paranormal series. Just like American teenagers, Japanese teenage girls seem to have an infatuation with vampires. Don't get me wrong, I like my vampires as much as the next girl. In fact, I probably like them even more (Edward Cullen...sigh; Jasper Hale...sigh; Adrian Ivashkov...sign; Christian Ozera...sigh; On the manga side: Zero...sigh).

Sometimes, though, I'm in the mood for something a little more realistic. But realistic manga series aren't that easy to find. That's not true exactly - good, realistic manga series are hard to find.


The only realistic series that I've read and really loved was Sand Chronicles by Hinako Asihara.

I loved the serious issues that the series dealt with, the depth of the characters, and the tragic, drama-filled romance of Ann and Daigo. It was a bit melodramatic but felt more real than any other series I've read. I want to read more like this one.


I just read the first volume of Sugar Princess by Hisaya Nakajo. It was cute and contemporary - although I find it hard to call a series where the main character executes a perfect double axle the first time she put on ice skates realistic.

I've also read the first volumes of:

Peach Girl - Miwa Ueda
Love*Com - Aya Nakahara
Oishinbo: Fish, Sushi, and Sashimi - Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki

These were okay, but I didn't love any of them. Peach Girl and Love*Com both were in the silly/stupid realm to me. Oishinbo was decent, but not in the shoujo world that I like best.

So I am looking to you for advice:

What are some good contemporary fiction manga series? Even better if they are serious, not just a flighty romance and dumb jokes. 



Sign up for the Manga Mondays Meme!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

In My Mailbox #63

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

I'm Alison (on the off chance you couldn't guess that from the name of my blog). I review Young Adult novels with a few Middle Grade books and a weekly manga feature.

Bought


In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard
*Got this for book club. I'm about halfway through. It's decent.


Library Stash


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
*Been meaning to read this for a long time.



Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran



Dengeki Daisy, Vol. 6 by Kyousuke Motomi

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Feature & Follow Friday #80

Welcome to the Feature & Follow


Gain new followers and make new friends with the Book Blogger Feature & Follow! If this is your first time here, welcome! You are about to make some new friends and gain new followers -- but you have to know -- the point of this hop is to follow other bloggers also. I follow you, you follow me.

The Feature & Follow is hosted by TWO hosts, Parajunkee of Parajunkee's View and Alison of Alison Can Read. Each host will have their own Feature Blog and this way it'll allow us to show off more new blogs!

How does this work? First you leave your name here on this post, (using the linky tools -- keep scrolling!) then you create a post on your own blog that links back to this post (easiest way is to just grab the code under the #FF picture and put it in your post) and then you visit as many blogs as you can and tell them "hi" in their comments (on the post that has the #FF image). You follow them, they follow you. Win. Win. Just make sure to follow back if someone follows you!

What sets this Hop apart from others, is our Feature. Each week we will showcase a Featured Blogger, from all different genres and areas. Who is our Feature today? Find out below. Just remember it is required, if you participate, to follow our Features and you must follow the hosts (Parajunkee & Alison Can Read) as a courtesy. How do you follow someone? Well, if you have a preference, state it in your #FF post. A lot of blogs are transitioning to Wordpress in which they do not have the luxury of GFC, so an RSS subscription is appreciated or if you choose an email subscription. If you don't have GFC please state in your post how you would like to be followed.


Wildwood by Colin Meloy, Illustrated by Carson Ellis

Wildwood by Colin Meloy, Illustrated by Carson Ellis
August 30, 2011; Balzer + Bray


Summary

When her baby brother is kidnapped by crows, Prue McKeel begins an adventure that will take her and her friend Curtis way beyond her hometown and deep into the Impassable Wilderness. There they uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval, a world full of warring creatures, peace-loving mystics and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. What begins as a rescue mission becomes something much bigger as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness. A wilderness the locals call Wildwood. Wildwood is a spellbinding tale full of wonder, danger and magic. It combines the thrill of a secret world and the buzz of modern city life. Original and fresh, yet steeped in classic fantasy, this is a novel that could have only come from the imagination of Colin Meloy, celebrated for his inventive and fantastic storytelling as the lead singer and songwriter of The Decemberists. With dozens of intricate and beautiful illustrations by award-winning artist Carson Ellis, Wildwood is truly a new classic for the twenty-first century. (courtesy of Amazon)

Review

Wildwood is an incredible concept and a good book, but it fails to reach its full potential. Like many readers, I picked up this book because I am a crazy obsessed Decemberists fan. Colin Meloy is one of the best songwriters I've ever heard. He turns short (and sometimes long) songs into epic folk tales using language that rarely makes it out of the dictionary, let alone into song.

What works with Wildwood? The idea behind it is fascinating. A secret world exists within the city of Portland. The Impassible Wilderness is full of talking animals and humans and it has its own politics, history, and culture. Meloy does a great job setting up the world. By the end of the book, I felt very knowledgeable about the Impassible Wilderness, which is often not the case with fantasy worlds. The talking animals were also well done. They weren't merely people in fur or feathers. They maintained characteristics of their species despite dressing and talking like humans.

As one would expect with Meloy, the vocabulary of Wildwood is unusually sophisticated. It's like Meloy made a bet that he could write a book without repeating a single word. A child (or an adult) reading this book will encounter a lot of new words, but it's fairly easy to comprehend their meaning through the context.

I also liked the heroine and hero, Prue and Curtis. Prue is a strong, capable girl. She starts out that way and is still essentially the same at the end of the book. Curtis grows tremendously. He starts out as a geeky, clingy, annoying little boy. He is gullible and easily used. By the end of the book, he is still rather geeky but also strong, brave, and capable of determining right and wrong for himself rather than relying on other people. As for villains, the Dowager Governess is classic. Her beauty and guile can easily mislead the gullible or greedy and if that still doesn't get her what she wants, she ruthlessly goes after her goals.

What didn't work? The length, for one. Few children's books can properly pull off 560 pages. Just because it works for Harry Potter doesn't mean it will work for other books. Meloy is an excellent writer. His words create rich images and he is a good plotter. He has not yet perfected his skill at pacing. Wildwood dragged horribly. I wanted to finish the novel, because it was interesting, but it turned into a chore. I got through the book by assigning myself pages. I would read 50-100 pages a day. Luckily, the pages go by pretty fast...but that's mostly because I am a very fast reader and much older than the targeted age group. The average kid would have a lot of trouble getting through the new words and complex plot lines.

Meloy also falls into the too-common trap of children's authors. Prue's parents are simply awful. They have good intentions but they are horribly neglectful of both their children. Curtis's parents don't appear in the book at all until the very end. There's nothing wrong with having absent or bad parents in a book. It works as a plot device for a reason. But it's so overdone that a book where the children can be the stars while also having good parents is far more impressive.

Wildwood is worth reading because it's such a rich fantasy world. It is a good first book, but I hope Meloy improves on his pacing in the future volumes.

Rating: 3 / 5

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Torrent (River of Time #3) by Lisa Tawn Bergren

Torrent (River of Time #3) by Lisa Tawn Bergren
September 1, 2011; David C. Cook


Summary

When Gabi and Lia finally learn to surf the river of time, they realize they must make hard choices about life and love in the third and final book in the River of Time series.

Gabi and Lia Betarrini have learned to control their time travel, and they return from medieval Italy to save their father from his tragic death in modern times. But love calls across the centuries, and the girls are determined to return forever—even though they know the Black Plague is advancing across Europe, claiming the lives of one-third of the population. In the suspenseful conclusion of the River of Time series, every decision is about life … and death. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Forgive me, my friends. I'm going to confess a sin. I cannot profess undying love and adoration for Torrent, the final book of the River of Time series. I can happily claim that I enjoyed the book greatly, but I don't share in the belief common among most reviewers that the book is virtually perfect.

Torrent has a lot of things going for it. There is tons of action. The She-Wolves get into as much trouble as ever. Oftentimes, they purposely lead themselves into trouble in a selfless attempt to help the Forelli's. Someone you care about will die, in a rather horrible way. Once again, the violence is not tamped down. You certainly won't be bored reading this book.

And there is no lack of hot medieval guys. Luca remains cute and funny. Marcello becomes more likable. He is every mother's dream for her daughter - brave, steady, romantic, responsible, kind. I liked him more in Torrent than in the previous books. But my heart belongs to Lord Greco. Swoon! Sexy, dangerous, loyal, good.

Gabi is a highlight of this series. She is one of the better written YA heroines. I love her bravery, that she happily steps up to fight for causes she believes in. In Torrent, she faces difficult choices - between what would be easy and pretty good versus what would be hard but better. I admire her determination to not take the easy route when what is right demands something different. I also like that Gabi makes mistakes and does stupid things that make the fight harder. It makes her more realistic and relatable.

Now for the reason my overall feelings for this book are less than perfect. There's too much cheesiness and convenience. I am happy that Gabi was able to reunite her entire family - Mom, Dad, Lia, and her. She clearly cares for all of them deeply. But the big happy family theme with all four people fighting felt forced. Part of me wanted to cheer them on and the other part wanted to roll my eyes. Plus the fact that all family members were good fighters (even Mom's newly acquired skills) seemed overly convenient. Some parts of the plot cleaned up too nicely to be believable (to the extent that a time travel book can be believable). Other parts, such as the origins of the Brotherhood of which Marcello, Lord Greco, and others were a part, were introduced, but never fully explained. Finally, while I like Marcello, I love Lord Greco. In my ideal book, I would love the main guy in the novel more than the foil. But then again, plenty of people are Team Jacob and I don't think that diminishes Twilight. It's just my preference.

I would recommend that anyone read the River of Time series. While I have a few reservations about it, it is certainly fun, action-packed, and oozing with romance.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Upcoming Giveaway: To Kill a Mockingbird Blu-Ray!

Coming up next week, I'll be hosting an awesome giveaway! Universal Home Entertainment is set to release To Kill a Mockingbird on Blu-Ray on January 31, 2012. In celebration, you'll have the chance to win a copy on Alison Can Read! I am super excited for this release.

The giveaway won't go live for another several days, but until then, enjoy a clip from the movie. Here is Atticus Finch's closing statement at Tom Robinson's trial:



When did you first read To Kill A Mockingbird? What did you think of it when I read it?

I first read the book on my own in 6th grade. I remember liking it, but not fully "getting" it. Mostly, I was pleased that I'd read a classic that kids didn't normally read until high school. I read it for school in 9th grade when I was able to comprehend the social commentary much better. It was at that point that To Kill A Mockingbird became a truly beautiful and special book.

Sirensong (Faeriewalker #3) by Jenna Black

Sirensong (Faeriewalker #3) by Jenna Black
July 5, 2011; St. Martin's Press


Summary

When Dana is invited to Faerie to be officially presented at the Seelie Court, it’s no easy decision. After all, everyone knows Titania, the Seelie Queen, wants her dead. But Titania claims not to be the one behind the death threats; and her son, Prince Henry, makes the decision a whole lot easier when he suggests Dana might be arrested for (supposedly) conspiring with her aunt Grace to usurp the Seelie throne. So she and her father better do as they're told . . .

The journey through Faerie is long—and treacherous. Dana thought it would be a good idea to have friends along, but her sort-of-boyfriend, Ethan, and her bodyguard’s son, Keane, just can’t seem to get along, and Kimber’s crush on Keane isn’t making things any easier. When a violent attack separates Dana from their caravan, the sexy Erlking saves her just in the nick of time . . . and makes it clear that he hasn’t given up on making her his own.

Arriving at Titania’s beautiful palace should be a relief. But Dana is soon implicated in an assassination attempt against Titania’s granddaughter, and is suddenly a fugitive, forced to leave her father behind as she and her friends flee for their lives. Will she be able to prove her innocence before the forces of the Seelie Court—or, worse, the Erlking—catch up with her? And will she save her father before he pays the ultimate price in her stead?(courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Sirensong finishes off Jennie Black's Faeriewalker series with a whimper. There are things I liked about the novel, but also many parts that were highly disappointing.

On the bright side, the setting is moved from Avalon to Faerie in this book. This freshens up the series and enriches Black's world-building. It's a somewhat stereotypical journey plot, where the characters make a dangerous trip, encountering obstacles along their way, and see relationships fall apart and grow. There's another commonly used plot point - the scapegoat. When the queen's granddaughter is nearly killed, Dana gets unfairly blamed. She has to run for her life and hopefully find out who actually committed the crime in order to clear her name. While the plot is nothing original and relatively predictable, there were enough twists along the way that I remained interested.

Dana's love life is a downer. We finished out Book 2 (Shadowspell) with a love rectangle - 3 guys were drooling over Dana (I'm waiting for a love hectagon someday). My favorite was not Dana's professed love Ethan, but rather the sexy, smoldering, powerful, dangerous but with the hint of a softer side Erlking. Even though he repeatedly has Dana's back, she wants nothing to do with him. Sure, he's manipulative and evil, but he's so hot! Dumb girl. Instead, she's dedicated to Ethan the playboy dud. Ethan spends much of the book in a jealous sulk over the presence of Keane, Love Interest #3. Keane is a much better and more interesting guy than Ethan, but his character was also undeveloped in Sirensong.

Many of Dana's issues are of her own making. She trusts no one. She tries to take on the world - to protect everyone around her because no one else is capable of taking care of things. As irritating as this was, I liked it. It was in keeping with life as the daughter of an alcoholic, an absent father, and also a largely friendless childhood. The personality traits held steady throughout the series. I found Dana and interesting character, if not always likable.

Sirensong is an okay book, but could have been so much better. It's rare that I dislike the romance element this much in a novel. The plot itself was interesting and sometimes exciting, but the book ended the series on a down point.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Monday, January 16, 2012

Manga Mondays Meme (85): Sugar Princess vol. 1 by Hisaya Nakajo

New Manga Mondays Meme!

I've been doing Manga Mondays every week since I started my blog 18 months ago. It's always been a personal feature, but now I'm going to try turning it into a meme. There are quite a few people who do Manga Mondays. I don't claim by any means that I owned or created the idea of Manga Mondays - it's an obvious choice given the alliteration. I think a meme would be a good way for everyone to publicize their own Manga Mondays and get a little more publicity.

The linky will be below my review.

Sugar Princess vol. 1 by Hisaya Nakajo


Summary

Maya Kurinoki is an 8th-grader who has no experience in ice-skating but seems to have natural talent. She performs a double axel and impresses a scout named Eiji Todo, who tells her that he can make her a skating "princess." Todo tells Maya that she'll have to convince famous skater Shun Kano to coach her and become her skating partner. Unfortunately for Maya, Shun only wants to skate singles.

When Maya Kurinoki takes her little brother to the local ice-skating rink for the first time, she's got her hands full just trying to get him to let go of the bar. To inspire a bit of bravery in him, she attempts a double axel--and lands it! Maya never imagined that this jump would change her life...or that a coach named Eiji Todo would vow to make her a figure skating "princess"! Now all Maya has to do is convince famous skater Shun Kano to become her partner. Too bad Shun doesn't want to have anything to do with her!(courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

*Warning: Potential spoilers. My manga reviews tend to be more of a summary than a review. I find it hard to review manga in the same way I do regular books.

Sugar Princess is a refreshing change from the fantasy/paranormal manga that I usually read. It's a contemporary (somewhat realistic) fiction. As you see from the summary, Maya executes a double axel her first time ice skating. Call me crazy, but I see no possibility of that happening in real life. Despite the rather unlikely beginning, Sugar Princess is a delightful, somewhat realistic book.

Maya wants to take ice skating lessons. To do so for free, fabulous skater Shun becomes her coach. The real coach thinks that they will make excellent pairs partners some day. Shun is less enthusiastic. As you might imagine, Shun is handsome and brusque, but secretly very kind and chivalrous.

I liked that Maya was a talented but not perfect ice skater. Sure she executed a double axel without experience, but the book is realistic enough to show her struggling a little with skating - not as much as would be realistic, but still something. I also liked how it showed Maya trying to balance school and skating, not quite successfully. She sleeps a lot in school. Maya is soon to take the high school entrance exams, a crucial step for any Japanese student. I'm curious to see what happens in future volumes.

I'm also looking to see more of Maya's family. She has a big family - very big for Japanese standards. Two sisters and a little brother. The parents are largely absent, but I love the relationship between the siblings. It's mostly shown around the dinner table. Maya's friends are the typical loyal manga girl friends. Nothing unique, but likeable.

Sugar Princess is an adorable manga. It's one of those books that has little depth to it, but you don't read it looking for depth. If you want a sweet, fluffy volume of manga, Sugar Princess is a great place to go.

Sign up for the Manga Mondays Meme!


Saturday, January 14, 2012

In My Mailbox #62

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

I'm Alison (on the off chance you couldn't guess that from the name of my blog). I review Young Adult novels with a few Middle Grade books and a weekly manga feature.

For Review


Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder
*Finished this about 20 minutes ago. Loved it! Thanks to Netgalley!



dancergirl by Carol M. Tanzman
*Thanks to Harlequin!


Library Stash


Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
*I have a weakness for cooking memoirs.



The A Circuit by Catherine Hapka and Georgina Bloomberg
*On the cover, Georgina is listed as first author, but I'm guessing that my order is more appropriate. Still, I think this will be fun, light reading.



Sugar Princess: Skating To Win, Vol. 1 by Hisaya Nakajo
*I don't know what to expect with this, but it looks cute.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Feature & Follow Friday #79

Welcome to Feature & Follow Friday (err Thursday) on Parajunkee.com


If you are new to the #FF fun, Feature & Follow Friday is a blog hop that expands your blog following by a joint effort between bloggers. Feature & Follow Friday is now hosted by TWO hosts, Rachel of Parajunkee and Alison of Alison Can Read. Each host will have their own Feature Blog and this way it'll allow us to show off more new blogs!

*Thanks so much to Rachel for allowing me to be part of the Follow Friday fun. Parajunkee is one of the best blogs out there and FF is a highlight of the blogging community. The FF has been one of my favorite parts of my week for over a year and I'm so excited to help my fellow book bloggers get to know each other better.

How does this work? First you leave your name here on this post, then you create a post on your own blog that links back to this post (easiest way is to just grab the code under the #FF picture and put it in your post) and then you visit as many blogs as you can and tell them "hi" in their comments (on the post that has the #FF image). You follow them, they follow you. Win. Win. Just make sure to follow back if someone follows you! Now to make this #FF interesting we do a FEATURE blogger.

If you are interested in becoming a Feature click on the link here for Follow Friday Feature or go to Parajunkee and click the drop down link above FEATURES > Feature & Follow Friday and get on the waiting list!

It is also required, that if you participate you must follow the hosts (Parajunkee & Alison Can Read) and the two Feature blogs.


Our Feature - Bad Ass Book Reviews



Photobucket

My name is Erika, I own the blog Badass Book Reviews. I'm a mom to four children who are seven and under. I started blogging to get my opinion on whatever books I was reading out there to the masses. I didn't realize just HOW many bloggers there are out there! *Waves Hi* I find I like to have fun, blogging allows me to socialize with other readers and more grown-up type people :lol: Talking to kids all day get's old fast, like that commercial where the Mom talks babyish and gibberish at her husband when he comes home from work--I didn't want to be that woman. So, after being a goodreads nerd for over a year, I started a blog. (did I mention I have template ADD?) I think I have found a look I like, but we'll see.

I tend to be snarky --hence the name badass book reviews. I am addicted to Starbucks Peppermint Syrup in my Coffee. I like Dark Chocolate. I mostly read Urban Fantasy, Paranormals, Romantic Suspense and Contemporary Romance, but if it sounds interesting to me, I will read it.

Question of the Week: Many readers/bloggers are also big music fans. Tell us about a few of your favorite bands/singers that we should listen to in 2012.


Music is a huge deal for me. I listen to a wide variety of bands/singers. My favorite groups probably fall into the Indie Folk category. Here are a few of my favs:

Bands:

The Decemberists
Death Cab For Cutie
Bon Iver
: Check out the video for my favorite song "Calgary." So beautiful:



The National
Blind Pilot
The Civil Wars
The Wailin' Jennys
Metric
Fleet Foxes
Mumford & Sons
Florence and the Machines
The Shins
- new album coming out in March!
Cloud Cult - a Minnesota band with lyrics speaking of life, love, religion, and death. Shaped by the death of the singer's 2 year old child in 2002. It's a different sound but very beautiful once you get used to it. Here's a video of "Running with the Wolves," from the newest album - one of their most accessible songs:



Singers:

Gillian Welch
Neko Case
Iron & Wine
- A signer named Sam Beam. This song, "Love Vigilantes" never fails to make me tear up:



Abigail Washburn
Sufjan Stevens
Tegan & Sara
Laura Marling
: Check out "Sophia," one of my favorite songs from 2011. It changes from slow to very upbeat about 3 minutes in:



Jeremy Messersmith
Sarah Jarosz
Laura Veirs
Alison Krauss


Now for the Follow Fun!








RULES To join the fun and make new book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:



  1. (Required) Follow the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts {Parajunkee & Alison Can Read}
  2. (Required) Follow our Featured Bloggers - Bad Ass Book Reviews & Book Lover Musings.
  3. Put your Blog name & URL in the Linky thing. You can also grab the code if you would like to insert it into your posts.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say "hi" in your comments and that they are now following you.
  5. Follow Follow Follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "HI"
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the Love...and the followers
  7. If you're new to the follow friday hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!


Happy Follow Friday! Follow it up with your twitter address if you want to get that one out!

*********

Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez

Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez
October 18, 2011; Simon Pulse


Summary

Now is not the time for Carmen to fall in love. And Jeremy is hands-down the wrong guy for her to fall for. He is infuriating, arrogant, and the only person who can stand in the way of Carmen getting the one thing she wants most: to win the prestigious Guarneri competition. Carmen's whole life is violin, and until she met Jeremy, her whole focus was winning. But what if Jeremy isn't just hot...what if Jeremy is better?

Carmen knows that kissing Jeremy can't end well, but she just can't stay away. Nobody else understands her--and riles her up--like he does. Still, she can't trust him with her biggest secret: She is so desperate to win she takes anti-anxiety drugs to perform, and what started as an easy fix has become a hungry addiction. Carmen is sick of not feeling anything on stage and even more sick of always doing what she’s told, doing what's expected.

Sometimes, being on top just means you have a long way to fall....(courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Virtuosity is your typical forbidden romance tale with a classic music twist. It's amazing how one of the oldest literary themes, when done well, manages to feel fresh.

Our stars:

Carmen: 17 year old year old musical prodigy whose life consists of the violin and is entirely steered by her mother. She is extremely sheltered - homeschooled and friends only with her tutor Heidi. Dependent on anti-anxiety pills to relieve stage fright and every other anxiety. One of those people whose life appears perfect but is falling apart on the inside.

Jeremy: Another teen musical prodigy. British, handsome, arrogant, ambitious, independent.

Jeremy + Carmen: At first I thought Carmen would wilt under Jeremy's sharp tongue. She seems backbone-less. But she surprisingly held her own. I enjoyed watching them throw sharp, witty comments at each other. There is an element of insta-love, or more accurately insta-chemistry, here that could be off-putting, but it wasn't. Jeremy and Carmen lead lives immensely different from most teens. Jeremy is one of the only people who can understand Carmen and vice versa. In that situation, the quick connection makes sense.

Our minor stars: Carmen's mother is the most important influence in Carmen's life. She starts out mildly dislikable - no different than any parent who pushes their child to excel in some activity, but her character grows increasingly worse as the novel goes on. Still, while she is a villain of sorts, I understood why she acted as she did. Carmen is lucky to have a great stepfather and tutor. Both Clark and Heidi do their best to imbue a tiny bit of normalcy into Carmen's high-flying life. It helps relieve the pressure from her mother.

The romance between Carmen and Jeremy is gentle and sweet. Not to say that it isn't complicated. Carmen doesn't know Jeremy's motives for being interested in her. Does he really like her or is he just trying to psyche her out before the big competition? Neither Carmen nor the reader knows the answer to this. I liked how Jeremy evolved as a character yet also stayed the same. He is a kind, funny guy, but remains arrogant and ambitious.

Like most contemporary novels, Virtuosity is primarily character driven. I enjoyed the romance plot, the music element, and the stunning conclusion to the Guarneri competition. However, what I loved best was meeting Carmen and Jeremy and the minor characters - learning about their hope, dreams, fears, and motivation. The book reads easily. It's never a page turner, but steadily glides along. The prose is simple. I wouldn't say it's a bare style, but the sentences and paragraphs are fairly short, which means the words flow quickly.

I highly recommend Virtuosity for a well-written contemporary novels with well-drawn characters and a great infusion of music.

Rating: 4 / 5

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
September 20, 2011; Greenwillow Books


Summary

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.(courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

The Girl of Fire and Thorns is an unusual book. A book where the main character does a complete 180 throughout the course of the plot, in looks and personality. A book that emphasizes the characters' faith in a way that fits seemlessly with the plot and is never preachy. A book that starts out weak and grows stronger and stronger. A book that incorporates Spanish language, culture, food, architecture, and more. A book where romance is present but not nearly as important as the protagonist. A book with major plot twists.

Elisa is one of the best fantasy characters I've read in a long time. She starts out this novel at a low place. She's fat, lonely, and undervalued. At least she thinks she's these things. Elisa was born with a great gift: the godstone - a stone embedded in her navel - only one person receives this gift each century and each is endowed with some great, unknown duty. For a girl who holds a position even higher than the princess she was born as, she sure is underappreciated. No one thinks anything of Elisa. Even her beloved nanny coddles and overprotects her. Her family is tough on her. Her new husband is embarrassed by her. Elisa's only friend is food. While it's difficult to see a nice, smart girl constantly berate herself and use food as a form of comfort, the author did a fabulous job of making Elisa relatable. I cared about her and understood why she felt so horribly about herself.

All this changes when Elisa is kidnapped. In fact, the entire book changes. It goes from being a slow, somewhat depressing novel, to being a action-packed, girl-power thriller. Elisa undergoes tremendous physical and mental change as she walks through the desert for days with her captors. And as she learns more about the world around her - the world that was hidden from her during her sheltered childhood - her idea of who's right and who's wrong begins to change. Elisa is ready to fight and to assume her birthright of the godstone bearer. And fight she does. Don't underestimate Elisa.

There's a great cast of side characters. I loved Elisa's nanny Ximena. One of the few people from Elisa's childhood who truly cares for her. And she's no Mary Poppins. I loved the complexity of Ximena's fighting skills as well as what Ximena hid from Elisa. Elisa's kidnappers are also an interesting lot. They start out as enemies and slowly turn into friends. Each had their own personality and relationship to Elisa. I especially loved Humberto. Sweetest guy and so perfect for Elisa! It added a nice element of romance to this story. Even Elisa's sister, who spends much of her time degrading Elisa, serves a valuable role for Elisa as she grows stronger.

The culture and world-building of the godstone was well done. My main problem with this book was the idea of the "chosen one" having a gemstone in her belly button. *Snicker snicker* I am apparently not mature enough to get entirely beyond that. But otherwise, I loved how the author took the framework of a familiar religion and imbued it with an entirely different mythology. By the end of the book, I felt familiar with the various kingdoms, politics, and long-standing wars. The reader is in the dark for the first third of the novel about most of the book's religion, culture, and history - but so is Elisa. We learn alongside her.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns ends on a strong note. I will say that there is a shocking *shocking* twist near the end. I admire the author for taking that route. The story has a logical conclusion - no big cliff-hanger - but leaves plenty of plot options open for future novels. Elisa finishes the book at the top. She is confident, brave, and ready for more. I can't wait to see where she goes next.

Rating: 4 / 5

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sapphique (Incarceron #2) by Catherine Fisher

Sapphique (Incarceron #2) by Catherine Fisher
September 6, 2011; Firebird


Summary

Check out my review of Incarceron for an introduction to this series!

Finn has escaped Incarceron, but Keiro and Attia are still Inside. Outside, things are not at all what Finn expected - and both Finn's and Claudia's very lives hang on Finn convincing the Court that he is the lost prince. Back Inside, Keiro and Attia are on the hunt for Sapphique's glove, which legend says he used to escape. In order to find it, they must battle the prison itself. Incarceron has built itself a body and it wants to go Outside - just like Sapphique, the only prisoner Incarceron ever loved. (courtesy of Amazon)

Review

With Incarceron and Sapphique, Catherine Fisher created a marvelously rich, complex story that bridges dystopia, high fantasy, and science fiction. It's quite an accomplishment.

Like Incarceron, Sapphique switches back and forth between the Court and the Prison. We get to know the characters much better, especially Jared, Keiro, and Attia. The Prison and the Court are also bigger characters. We understand better how the Prison has a personality of its own and how the Court is really one big illusion. We also learn more about Sapphique, the god-like prophet who is worshiped by the people of Incarceron. Each chapter starts with a little epigraph of Sapphique's legend and Keiro and Attia essentially follow the journey that Sapphique supposedly took.

The characters in Sapphique are really not all that likeable. I admire the author for not bowing to the pressure for nice, sweet characters. A lot of people were turned off by the characters, but I had no trouble related to them, even Keiro. Fisher does a good job of showing their motivations, fears, and hopes. Keiro in particular seems evil, but you can see his underlying desperation to get out of Incarceron, his anger at being betrayed by Finn (he believes), and his fear of being a half-man. Claudia continues to act like a spoiled brat, but I thought her personality was believable given the pressures being placed upon her and always having to watch her back. Finn too seems frustrating, because he doesn't shape up to his princely image as quick as one would hope, but in reality who would? He acts realistically for a boy as damaged as he is.

There's so much going on in this book. You have the battle to decide whether Finn is Prince Giles or whether the title belongs to a new interloper. You have Jared trying to repair the portal and also hoping to treat his illness. You have the Warden stuck in Incarceron. You have Keiro and Attia making a long journey to try to get out of Incarceron. The book switches back and forth between different stories quickly - the sections are often only a few pages. Fisher does a good job at having enough action that the book doesn't drag.

My main complaint about this book is one that I also had in Incarceron, only it was magnified in Sapphique. The book is so complicated that I felt like I didn't entirely get it. You could take that as a compliment - the book is so rich that to be properly appreciated it really needs at least two readings. And that would be fine if I loved the book enough or had enough time to devote to re-reading Sapphique, but I don't. While I love really strong stories that require me to think, I also like being able to relax and let the book do the work for me. Sapphique was sometimes too much work.

Overall, Sapphique was a great conclusion to Incarceron. I liked that it tied up loose ends, but still left a few things open. Perhaps there will eventually be a third book. There are a lot of places Fisher could still go with this world, but I also feel like things were concluded well enough that it doesn't need a third book to finish off the plot.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

 
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